Before we delve further into the Red Sox shortstop situation, let’s make something clear. The off-season trade of Marco Scutaro was surprising, but it will not have a negative impact on the 2012 season for the Red Sox. After all, we are talking about a 36-year-old veteran who is best suited as a utility infielder and is much better defensively as a second baseman, the position he is now manning for the Colorado Rockies.
Fast forward to today. Opening Day is nearing, and Bobby Valentine still has not named a starting shortstop. Media reports indicate that the new manager is favoring defensive phenom Jose Iglesias while new general manager Ben Cherington prefers to let the 22-year-old Iglesias get at-bats at Triple-A Pawtucket and open the season with Mike Aviles at shortstop.
Ideally, Iglesias would be major league ready with the bat, and the Sox could start him at shortstop and use the 31-year-old Aviles, who is proficient with the bat and respectable with the glove, in a super utility role. Aviles can play second base, shortstop, third base and now right field, and he is a solid right-handed hitter with a career average of .288 in four major league seasons, including a .317 mark in 101 at-bats after he was acquired by the Sox from the Royals last season.
Iglesias, who was 1-for-2 with an RBI single this afternoon, is batting .200 (5-for-25) in spring training action. Reports that he is a subpar hitter, though, are unfair considering that he was a .300 hitter in Cuba and batted .285 in 221 at-bats at Double-A Portland in 2010. True, he hit just .235 in 357 at-bats last year at Triple-A Pawtucket, and recorded just a .285 OBP. Yet, it is important to keep in mind that if Iglesias was playing college ball, he would currently be in his senior season.
Valentine believes that Iglesias will hit more like Omar Vizquel (who has a .272 career average) than Rey Ordonez (who was brilliant with the glove but hit only .246 with a .289 OBP over a nine-year major league career). Of course, since Iglesias is still developing his hitting, it is unlikely he would bat .230 or .240 if he was a major league starting shortstop this season.
Would it hurt his development if he was thrown into the starting shortstop fire and batted .200 this year? And, could the Red Sox afford to have a No. 9 hitter with a .200 average and a sub-.300 OBP?
Iglesias will likely help the Red Sox at some point in 2012, but to open the season, it would be better for him and the Sox if he gets regular at-bats at Pawtucket. Aviles is athletic, and he is capable of providing respectable defense at shortstop. He is no Iglesias with the glove, but there is no other current major league shortstop who is. Iglesias is that good in the field.
If Iglesias opens the year at Pawtucket and Aviles is the starting shortstop, Valentine will still have flexibility. Nick Punto is a plus defensive utility man, and since Carl Crawford will open the season on the disabled list, Pedro Ciriaco could make the Opening Day roster. The 26-year-old Ciriaco has been impressive this spring, and he can play second and shortstop. That he has a spring training batting average of .441 (15-for-34) certainly helps his cause.
Since their 40-man roster is currently full, the Sox would have to make a move – like placing Daisuke Matsuzaka on the 60-day DL – to clear a spot for Ciriaco. Whether or not Ciriaco makes the Opening Day roster, Matsuzaka will probably be put on the 60-day DL since he is not expected to return until June anyway, and a stint on the 60-day DL would make him eligible to be activated on June 5.
Aviles, who was Kansas City’s starting shortstop in 2008, is hitting .333 (15-for-45) and has committed just one error at shortstop in spring training. He does not have exceptional range, but he makes the routine plays, and he is not a defensive liability. He is a better shortstop than Scutaro, who was not always accurate with his throws.
As long as Aviles and Punto are healthy, the Sox will likely – and should – have Iglesias open the season at Pawtucket. Yet it is comforting to know that he is near major league ready, and he is one of the team’s next wave of difference-making regulars, along with Will Middlebrooks and Ryan Lavarnway.