Pretty exciting Winter Meetings this year, no? Aside from the Miami Marlins' (gonna take some getting used to) spending spree and the Albert Pujols derby, there has been some closer musical chairs, a rush on mediocre utility infielders, some smaller trades and a couple players (Papi) tucking their tales between their legs and accepting arbitration to come back to their old teams.
One very interesting development that could have an impact on the Red Sox is that the top 2 short stops on the market, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, are about to come off the market. Reyes took Miami's sweet sweet tax-payer-robbed-stadium money and Rollins appears to be heading back to the Phillies. What that leaves on the free agent market is Rafael Furcal and a bunch of players that probably belong in Eric Idle's wheel barrow (with Miguel Tejada playing the role of the dude saying "I'm not dead yet!") and a lot of teams needing to replace equally decaying options.
Enter Boston. The Red Sox find themselves in a position of relative strength with 2 and a half short stops on the big league team (Mike Aviles should not be considered a full time option) and the hopeful short stop of the future knocking on the major league door. With David Ortiz back (he is going to accept arbitration), Kevin Youkilis will likely stay at third base so the Red Sox are left with Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro fighting for the starting SS gig. Both players have been injury prone and neither is very expensive so the team could just hang onto both. But with Aviles as a backup and Jose Iglesias possibly joining the team after the All-Star break or in September, Boston can seriously think about trading Scutaro or Lowrie. Both offer a team in need a serious improvement over the remaining free agent options save for Furcal. So let's see if we can match up one of our guys with a team in need and see if they have some useful pitching to send back in a deal (because let's be honest, pitching is really the top need of this Boston team).
First, a list of all the teams that need a short stop, as I see it:
Right away, I think we can cross Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston off the list. They are all either just starting to rebuild or still rebuilding. Scutaro would definitely not be a fit and though Lowrie is youngish (28 next year), he is entering his first year of arbitration so he's not totally cheap, so I don't think he'd be a fit for these teams.
Minnesota has enough (shitty) options to make do at short so they should be out. Seattle has Brendan Ryan who is one of the game's best defensive short stops; they seem to understand the value of strong defense at premium positions, but if they decide this is a position where they want more offense they could pick up the phone and call Ben Cherington, but I doubt it. Ditto Oakland and Cliff Pennington (unless they want Lowrie at third).
That leaves 5 teams that could be intrigued by Lowrie or Scutaro if they whiff on Furcal. Here they are in reverse order of who I think is the best fit (not necessarily the most likely to make a deal):
I have seen conflicting reports saying the Mets are looking to deal anybody that isn't bolted down (David Wright) and that the Mets are not ready to tear it all down. In the former case, the Mets probably aren't a fit, unless teams view Lowrie as a short stop of the future type. In the latter, Scutaro would be a great fit. The Mets just lost one of their franchise players (Reyes) and have someone they think could be his replacement in Ruben Tejada. Tejada will be just 22 years old this year. He had a decent season last year filling in for the injured Reyes, but I think he could use more seasoning in AAA. The Mets have been notorious for rushing their prospects the last half decade so they probably see him as their starter next year, but Scutaro would provide them a great opportunity to be patient.
The Mets have some interesting pitching options to send back to the Sox in the bullpen and the rotation. 25-year old Jonathan Niese is the best starter available, but Scutaro won't bring him to Boston. R.A. Dickey would be a really cool addition because he is Tim Wakefield's knuckle ball heir and could spend a season learning from Wake, but Scutaro still probably is not enough. Bobby Parnell was given the opportunity to close last year, but blew 6 saves in 12 chances so the Mets went out and signed two potential new closers. He has a high strike out rate and he puts a lot of men on base, but I think he'd be worth a look. He'd be my target.
4) St. Louis
Had I wrote this yesterday when it looked like Pujols was going to Miami, I would have put St. Louis number 1. If the team lost Albert they probably would have used their money to improve their rotation in the form of Mark Buerhle, C.J. Wilson or Edwin Jackson and would have had some pitchers to trade. Now, with Pujols coming back they probably can't afford any of those pitchers (especially Buerhle, because, you know, he's not a free agent anymore) so they do not have as much starting depth to trade. In addition, I see this as the most likely landing spot for Furcal, who won a long overdue World Series ring with the team last year.
3) San Fran
I've long since given up trying to figure out what Brian Sabean thinks when putting together his teams. He did an incredible job drafting Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner (not to mention Buster Posey), but seems to have no idea how to put together an offense. The team wasted so many roster spots on aging veterans who can't hit last year that they failed to capitalize on the second best pitching staff in baseball. Right now they appear poised to give the job to 25-year old Brandon Crawford. The same Brandon Crawford who posted a triple slash line of .204/.288/.296 last year.
Should Sabean decide that offense is a priority (because it is), they have some good bullpen arms to deal for Scutaro including Jeremy Affeldt, Javy Lopez (former Sox) and, my choice, Sergio Romo and his 13.1 strike outs per nine. Since Sabean looooooooooooves veterans, Scutaro is the more likely target. However, if I were running the Giants, I would target Lowrie. And if I were simultaneously running the Red Sox (a boy can dream, it is the holidays) I would only take Romo for Lowrie.
The Braves are cheap. Let's just get that out of the way. In that event, they will most likely settle for one of the bottom of the barrel players on the market like Orlando Cabrera or Alex Gonzalez again (to Red Sox fans that long for these players, they are nowhere near what they used to be). They are another offense-starved team that could really use either Scutaro or Lowrie, but with Scutaro's $6 million salary and Lowrie entering arbitration, the Braves could be scared off. Lucky for us, the Red Sox have a lot of money and could afford to kick in some money in any deal with the Braves.
Atlanta could part with Kris Medlen, Peter Moylan or lefty Eric O'Flaherty for Scutaro with that aforementioned money kicked in. OR, the Sox could aim for a starting pitcher like Mike Minor or Jair Jurjens (I prefer Minor) if they want to expand the deal to include either Ryan Kalish or Josh Reddick and a prospect. This is unlikely, but it is definitely my favorite option if they could make it work. A starter would be a much more important add to this team than a bullpen arm, especially a young one.
Let's run through what it takes for a team to make a trade one more time:
- A need: The Brewers employed Yuni Betancourt at short last year, one of the worst players in baseball for several years now. Their top two shortstops in the minors last year were 16 and 29 years old.
- Money: The team is probably not going to bring back Prince Fielder; they whiffed on Jimmy Rollins (and will probably whiff on Furcal); they may or may not bring in Aramis Ramirez to play third but that shouldn't break the bank.
- Assets: The Brewers had a very good bullpen last year that they improved at the deadline with the acquisition of Francisco Rodriguez, who is now a free agent. Except, reports are that he is set to accept the Brewers offer of arbitration tonight, meaning he will return to the team on a 1-year deal, likely north of $10 million. I think the man formerly known as K-Rod is the perfect return for Marco Scutaro. The Sox would only take on $4-7 million in this deal. The Brewers get a solid short stop on a 1 year deal so they free up money in subsequent years to extend either Shaun Marcum or Zack Greinke, or both. Finally, the Sox get a motivated K-Rod in either the 8th or 9th inning looking to prove that he can close again and get a bigger contract in 2012 when the closer market shouldn't be as flooded as this year. With the differences in salary, the Sox may even be able to ask for a second bullpen arm that would deepen the pen. If I am Ben Cherington, I am eagerly waiting K-Rod's arbitration decision. Like when Rafael Soriano accepted the Braves arbitration in 2007, the Brewers are unlikely to want to keep a setup man at that price.
Of course, the Sox will probably trade Aviles to the Pirates for Evan Meek. Who's excited for 2012?