Thursday, November 26, 2009

Red Sox, Blue Jays to swap shortstops?

It had to be the Blue Jays.

Of all the teams that could have snapped up Alex Gonzalez this early in free agency, it had to be the Blue Jays.


The Blue Jays signed infielder John McDonald to a two-year deal on Wednesday, and word leaked on Thursday that the Blue Jays have signed former Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez for $2.75 million in 2010 with a team option for $2.5 million in 2011.

Many have taken the news to mean that the Blue Jays won't offer salary arbitration to incumbent shortstop Marco Scutaro, a free agent who happens to fit exactly what the Red Sox are going to want in their next shortstop.

The move doesn't necessarily preclude an offer of arbitration -- Scutaro earned $1.1 million last season and wouldn't be awarded more than $3 million even by a friendly arbitrator, far from an impossible number to absorb. But it also doesn't make any sense for the Blue Jays to bring Gonzalez, McDonald, Scutaro and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion to spring training next season with only two positions to split among them.

It's almost stunning, actually, that the Blue Jays would eliminate Scutaro as an option this early in free agency -- especially in favor of the light-hitting Gonzalez.

If the Red Sox can land Scutaro -- and the Boston Herald says they're at or near the top of his list -- they wouldn't just be replacing Gonzalez. They'd be upgrading on Gonzalez. Consider the head-to-head comparison:

Age on Opening Day
Gonzalez: 33
Scutaro: 34

Gonzalez: .238/.279/.355
Scutaro: .282/.379/.381

Gonzalez: .247/.294/.395
Scutaro: .265/.337/.384

Swinging at pitches out of the strike zone
Gonzalez: 37.1 percent
Scutaro: 12.3 percent*
*2nd in major leagues

Making contact with pitches in the strike zone
Gonzalez: 92.7 percent
Scutaro: 95.7 percent*
*5th in major leagues

Pitches per plate appearance
Gonzalez: 3.57 (3.54 in 2009)
Scutaro: 3.79 (4.06 in 2009)

Ultimate Zone Rating (per 150 games) at SS in 2009
Gonzalez: 10.5
Scutaro: 1.0

Fielding Bible plus-minus at SS in 2009
Gonzalez: minus-7
Scutaro: plus-16

Sure, Scutaro is a 34-year-old journeyman who just enjoyed a career year. But his peripherals -- including the fact that he's better than J.D. Drew at ignoring pitches out of the strike zone -- indicate that his on-base percentage isn't fluky.

He doesn't have to hit cleanup in the Red Sox batting order. He'd probably hit ninth most of the time. But he's a guy who would work deep into counts even from the bottom of the batting order and who could get on base in front of Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. All indications are that he'd play a terrific defensive shortstop -- and third base, if necessary -- on top of that.

In a lot of ways, the Blue Jays' signing of Gonzalez this week is the best break the Red Sox could have gotten. It gives Theo Epstein a chance to make a huge upgrade at shortstop.

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