If reports are to be believed, the Boston Red Sox have agreed to a two-year deal (plus option) with free agent shortstop Marco Scutaro. Scutaro, a 34 year old journeyman coming off a career season, will be expected to hold down the SS position – one that has been a revolving door in Boston the past few years.
Despite the challenges the Sox have faced at SS, I’m not impressed with this deal. I don’t mind the cost at all. Even if he regresses to utility infielder quality, his salary shouldn’t affect Boston’s ability to acquire other players in order to improve the roster. Furthermore, I recognize that Scutaro is a top-tier defensive player, and that he’s excellent at working the count. Nonetheless, I don’t believe this is a good move for the Sox.
Scutaro is graded as a ‘Type A’ free agent, meaning that the team who signs him surrenders their first round pick in June’s amateur player draft (and if Boston signs another ‘Type A’, such as Matt Holliday, they will lose their second round pick as well). A comparable player could likely be had for less by other means – signing a free agent not graded ‘Type A’, giving up lesser prospects or considerations in a trade, or sticking with who they have internally. On that note, will Scutaro be that much better than Jed Lowrie over the next few years? PECOTA projections put the two players in the same territory, and being nine years younger, Lowrie is more likely to improve over this period. If they want an upgrade in the middle infield, why not pursue Orlando Hudson to play second and move Dustin Pedroia to short, as Peter Gammons infers that they considered doing? Hudson would cost them nothing beyond his salary, seeing as he was non-tendered as a free agent and has no compensation attached?
Coming back to the draft pick Boston will give up, teams are not allowed to trade picks. The only way they exchange hands is through compensation for free agent signings. The importance of hanging on to draft picks is increased in the current economic climate, where the Sox are one of a handful of teams that can bid on top-tier players such as Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, Felix Hernandez, or Adrian Gonzales should their respective teams put them on the trade market. Having more assets to a) offer in a trade, and b) ensure there is still depth remaining in the farm system should you be successful in making a trade, is critical. I don’t think Scutaro justifies giving up a draft pick in this context. Even though that pick is at the bottom of the first round, Boston is likely to get a player ranked higher than their spot on the board since they are one of a few teams who generally pays players above the MLB slot recommendations for salary. This means that some teams will be scared off from the highest ranked players, letting them fall to the big spenders such as Boston, New York, and Detroit.
Even for a high payroll team like the Red Sox, good decisions and allocation of resources are critical. I don’t feel that Scutaro justifies what they are giving up; I hope it’s an outlier, not a trend, of how the club will be managed going forward.