A lot has been made about the Red Sox and the, umm, well, rather quiet offseason they’ve had up to date. With the potential luxury tax hanging over head, Boston has had the type of offseason that has come to be expected from Tampa Bay, Cleveland, or even the cash-strapped New York Mets; certainly not the Boston Red Sox.
Sure, they quietly addressed some lingering bullpen concerns with the acquisitions of former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey and soon-to-be-setup-man Mark Melancon, but, to date, the biggest free agent inked to a Boston contract has been Nick Punto. Yes, that Nick Punto!
In fact, what has become a very un-Boston-like offseason just continued as new GM Ben Cherington shipped starting shortstop Marco Scutaro in a cash saving deal. The Boston Red in a salary dump move? Obviously, this is likely a precursor to signing another free agent (maybe Roy Oswalt?). But, still, it takes a little time for the mind to wrap around a team like Boston making a move like that.
So, now that Scutaro is yesterday’s news in Boston, who’s the starting shortstop? Is it former Kansas City second baseman/shortstop Mike Aviles? Is it minor league defensive wunderkind Jose Iglesias? Or is it the team’s “prized” free agent Nick Punto?
Truthfully, it’s a mixed bag of flawed players: Aviles is the strongest offensive option; Iglesias, the best defensive option and Punto has neither the offensive potential of the former, nor the defensive chops of the latter.
Aviles, unlike both Punto and Iglesias, has a decent-sized track record of solid, near-league average offensive production; his Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) throughout his four-year big league career is 96, and during his best season, 2008, he was 17-percent better than the league average. But during his big league time his defensive numbers have been, well, inconsistent.
He’s logged more than 1000 innings short and has the results – albeit in smallish sample sizes – have ranged from really good (2008) to mediocre (2010 and 2011) to below average (2009). And what complicates matters further is the fact that Aviles hasn’t appeared in more than 35 games at the position since 2008. Oh, yeah, he turns 31-years-old in less than two months. So his defensive performance is fairly uncertain, unlike Jose Iglesias’s.
According to Baseball America, Iglesias, who was recognized as the team’s top prospect prior to last season, “is an exceptional defender who could challenge for a Gold Glove in the big leagues right now. He plays low to the ground, using his quick feet, lightning-fast hands and strong arm to make all the plays.” All of which sounds fantastic: the team has a long term solution to the ongoing shortstop problems (remember Julio Lugo, or Orlando Cabrera, or the recently departed Scutaro?) who could step in from day one and provide well above-average defense. Awesome! Except, umm, Iglesias couldn’t hit his way out of a brown paper bag last season, or last season. Not so awesome.
Make no mistake about it: the overwhelming majority of his value will be derived from his contributions away from the batter’s box, not it in. But in nearly 700 minor league plate appearances, the young Cuban has hit .261/.308/.316, with little pitch recognition (115-to-36 walk-to-strikeout ratio) and even less power; his ISO (isolated power) is 0.055. Obviously, his bat will never be a strong area, but he needs to develop some type of offensive skill set other than becoming an automatic out. Mark Belanger eventually did, at least for a couple seasons. So maybe Iglesias will too. Plus, he’s barely 22 and has still has plenty of time.
Finally, there’s Nick Punto. Punto, a career .249/.325/.327 hitter, is coming off of a career best season: his wRC+, 123, was 27 points above his second highest mark. He got 166 plate appearances last season, and is 34-years-old. Meaning: he’s not likely to ever match that mark again. He will, however, provide some defensive value; he’s been worth 3.6 dWAR over his career.
So, who’s the likely 2012 Opening Day starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox?
Jose Iglesias is, without a doubt, the long term solution at the position, but there’s no reason to rush his offensive development any more than it already has been, and Punto could be a solid late inning defensive replacement. Potentially, the Red Sox actually have a solid, and semi-interesting, platoon at the position in 2012.
And, perhaps, Iglesias will be ready to step in as the fulltime starter in 2013.