There aren't many shortstops available on the free-agent market -- or, at least, many appealing shortstops available. If Bobby Crosby or Adam Everett excite you, well, you might want to calm down.
That means, barring a run after blog favorite Marco Scutaro, a slick-fielding shortstop and third baseman coming off a career year, the Twins' acquisition of J.J. Hardy means the Red Sox still see Jed Lowrie as their long-term shortstop.
The report Sunday that the Red Sox had declined their option on Alex Gonzalez, well, that only reinforces the idea.
Theo Epstein told reporters after the season that he didn't envision Lowrie going into spring training as the unquestioned starting shortstop based on his up-and-down health history in his short career in the major leagues.
"I don’t think we can hand a job to him because he hasn’t proved his health yet at this point," Epstein said. "But at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here at this time next year, ... looking back and saying, 'Wow, he really got healthy and proved himself in winning that job or playing his way into a meaningful role.'"
But Lowrie spent most of September telling reporters his surgically repaired wrist would be fine after a winter of rest.
"Going into the offseason," he said, "if I do what I did last offseason, I think I'm going to feel like I did during spring training -- but have a structurally sound wrist as opposed to having a broken wrist."
If the Red Sox didn't share that sentiment, they wouldn't have declined their option on Gonzalez -- and they might have made a harder run at Hardy. Gonzalez seemed like a natural fit as a one-year stopgap for Lowrie, and Hardy looked like a potential long-term solution at the position if he could show that his .229 batting average and .659 OPS a year ago was a fluke.
But neither Gonzalez nor Hardy has ever OBP'ed better than .343 for a single season. Hardy's .368 on-base percentage in a full season in Double-A was his highest as a professional; in five seasons in the minor leagues, his career OBP is .332.
Lowrie, on the other hand, got on base at a .339 clip in his first prolonged action in the major leagues in 2008 and hadn't ever OBP'ed less than .350 in the minor leagues until his injury-plagued season in 2009. In a season split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2007, Lowrie OBP'ed .393 and slugged .503 -- his 47 doubles in fewer than 600 plate appearances a remarkable feat.
(For the sake of comparison, Dustin Pedroia hit 48 doubles for the Red Sox this season but needed 714 plate appearances to do it.)
Two injury-plagued seasons aren't enough for the Red Sox to give up on Jed Lowrie. He might never hit 20 home runs in a season, but he's capable of 40 or 50 doubles a season to go along with steady defense at the infield's most important position.
The Red Sox still might try to bring Gonzalez back at a lower number to provide a little insurance. But if they deemed him critical to the team's success, they'd have picked up his $6 million option -- a relative pittance for a team with a $100 million payroll and World Series aspirations.
Actions speak louder than words. The Red Sox still believe they're a better team with Lowrie at shortstop than with Gonzalez or Hardy -- or just about any of their other options.