News just hit that the Boston Red Sox have traded projected 2012 starting shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. It is a classic salary dump and another curious move by new general manager, Ben Cherington. While the move frees up about $6 million for 2012, allowing the Red Sox to do a little more shopping and avoid the luxury tax, it also creates more questions on a team that seems to be accumulating them at an alarming rate over the past few months.
Scutaro is 36 and has never been a star, but his .299/.358/.781 line and slightly below average defense from last year showed that he is a more than adequate shortstop. Now that he is gone, it appears that Boston will fill shortstop with some sort of platoon between Nick Punto, Mike Aviles, and possibly Jose Iglesias. Combining this reality with Ryan Sweeney likely being the starter in right and Carl Crawford possibly not being ready for the start of the year, and the Red Sox suddenly have some real holes in their lineup.
Although some reporters are talking about the Red Sox viewing Mortensen as a starter, I believe he was just a minimum wage guy they could take back to make the trade work. Mortensen is a former first round pick, but has never developed into a consistent big league pitcher. In all likelihood he will be in the Pawtucket rotation this year, with an outside shot to be the 6th inning guy in the Red Sox bullpen, or a temporary starting fill-in if a couple of starters get injured. I am sure Boston will be ecstatic if they get anything out of Mortensen, but I also don’t believe that they have any real expectations.
Allegedly, the true motive of this trade was to give Boston more financial flexibility so they can pursue free agent starter Roy Oswalt. Cherington really seems to be scrambling now that the New York Yankees’ acquisitions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda announced that there was an arms race in the American League East. Oswalt has been very good during his career, but had some injuries last year, and at the age of 34, is not the pitcher he once was. With his recent back issues, the Red Sox would be entering into a high risk/high reward type situation if they are able to sign him.
I would much rather see the Red Sox try to be more creative and make a run at a player like disgruntled Miami shortstop, Hanley Ramirez. While he struggled last year and is one of the most renowned head cases in baseball, he is also a top 5-10 player in the game when right, and looks like he desperately needs a change of scenery. He is also signed to a reasonable deal for a player of his stature through 2014 (3 years and about $46.5 million left), and putting him at shortstop in Boston would be an absolute coup.
The main reason this trade bothers me is because in recent years the Red Sox moved aggressively in free agency and trades. This past off-season they have appeared decidedly reactionary to the moves of other teams, which is never a good sign for a team that is supposed to be an annual championship contender. Maybe it will all work out and maybe it won’t, but this trade reeks of desperation, and Red Sox fans have come to discover that is not something they will gladly suffer any more.