According to recent reports, the Red Sox have asked Dustin Pedroia about his willingness to move from second base to shortstop. And apparently, Pedroia is open to the idea. It might not be a bad move.
The Sox have been struggling to find a long-term solution at the shortstop position ever since Norma Garciaparra left town. Excluding time missed due to (repeated) injuries, Nomar was a fixture at the position for roughly seven and a half seasons. Called up late in 1996, Garciaparra made an immediate impact; in addition being a solid middle infielder, he was one of Boston’s primary power sources during his tenure. However, a lack of durability proved to be too much for the organization to overcome, and “Nomah” was traded to the Cubs midway through the 2004 season.
Since that time, the Sox have cycled through a nondescript list of stand-ins that included Pokey Reese, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Alex Cora, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, and Nick Green. In other words, a veritable Who’s Who of Who’s that?
When you consider games played at the shortstop position, these eight players combined to produce an on-base percentage right around .300 with about 45 home runs, and 370 RBI in just under 1,000 games (give or take a few plate appearances as designated and pinch hitters). Offensively, it’s been six seasons of junk, and the defense has been only slightly better. Glove problems forced the Sox to reacquire Gonzalez last season, marking his second tour of duty in Boston. But free agency whisked him away, and his lousy career OPS of .689 certainly didn’t motivate the club to ante up for his continued presence.
The takeaway here is that shortstop has been a sore spot for the better part of a decade, and despite the team’s successes during that stretch, it’s obvious that a long-term solution needs to be found.
If Pedroia is willing, it could be found only a few feet to the left.
For those of you wondering how likely it is that Pedroia would be able to make the switch, remember that before becoming an MVP and Gold Glove-winning second baseman, El Caballito was an All-American shortstop for Arizona State. If that’s not convincing enough, you should also be aware that he played short at the AAA level, and that he routinely practices at both positions during the season… in case of emergency.
In a discussion with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, Pedroia was enthusiastic about the idea:
“They’ve asked me if I think I could play shortstop. They’ve put it out there and I’ve told them I’m all for it. I can do it. I can’t wait for [Terry Francona] to call me and ask, ‘Can you do it?’ I can do it. I really want to do it.”
If indeed the organization is serious about pursuing the idea, it appears that all systems are go. This report could quickly evolve into an experiment, then a firm reality in short order. If it does, it would resolve a major issue facing the club this off-season.
Prior to the suggested switch, Boston’s best options at shortstop involved bringing someone in from the outside. Atop their wish list was Toronto’s Marco Scutaro. Last season, the former Oakland A set career highs in hits (162), homers (12), walks (90), and OPS (.789). He tied his career RBI mark with 60. That performance made him a very attractive free agent in a year where middle infielders are in relatively short supply. However, the Blue Jays appear to be interested in keeping him on board, and have announced that they will offer arbitration. They will likely attempt to sign Scutaro to a long-term contract.
This development may have forced Boston’s hand in terms of looking at alternatives. If they can exchange a second baseman for a shortstop by moving Pedroia, then they’ll be free to attack the market where it’s a bit deeper. They’ll likely go after someone like Type A free agent Orlando Hudson, or attempt to make a trade. If all else fails, there are lesser free agent options available in Placido Polanco and Felipe Lopez. The Tigers elected not to offer arbitration to Polanco, and Lopez would be stuck behind Rickie Weeks if he remains in Milwaukee. While neither is a complete player, both would be reasonable options if the price is right.
Possible trades include the Marlins’ Dan Uggla and the Reds’ Brandon Phillips. Either of these would provide decent power- Uggla is good for about 30 homers per year and Phillips has hit 20 or more in three consecutive seasons. Phillips is the better defender and a year younger. Uggla is more of a slugger- a rarity at the second base position. Neither is a great on-base guy. Still, if the Sox could acquire one of the two in exchange for a reasonable offer, it would be a significant upgrade.
The first step is to move forward with the Pedroia switch. Once that becomes official, the team’s next objective will be clarified. Though displacing an MVP may seem shocking on the surface, it actually might be the answer that Boston needs.