The Red Sox shortstop “problem”

Reflecting back, there’s a critical period in the Red Sox development which is largely under-remembered due to what happened in October, 2004. But it began in November, 1997 when the Sox actually traded for a young star – Pedro Martinez – as opposed to their typical coveting of used-to-be-stars approach. And it ended in July, 2004 when the new-era Sox traded away oft injured Nomar Garciaparra. Between those pivotal events the Sox bandwagon became heavy, but not many noticed (outside of the fact that seats suddenly became hard to come by) because the Sox were still the lovable losers at that time as opposed to recent World Series Champions.

Pedro joined the Sox immediately following Nomar’s Rookie-of-the-Year, All Star, Silver Slugger campaign of 1996. And suddenly the Red Sox had the best young starter in the game, complemented by one of the best young position players.

In that first year Pedro (Age: 26) went 19-7, 2.89, and Nomar (Age: 24) hit .323/35/122 with a .946 OPS. The next season Pedro stepped it up to 23-4, 2.07, and Nomar responded with a batting title (.357) and a 1.022 OPS. Year three saw Pedro and Nomar dropping equally ridiculous seasons. Pedro went 18-6, 1.74, and Nomar won a second straight batting title (.372), hit 51 doubles, and had a 1.033 OPS.

Then Sports Illustrated put Nomar on the cover, he promptly screwed up his wrist, and the rest is history. Nomar would be traded during the 2004 season, right before the Red Sox finally won a Title.

But during that time the Sox fans (new and old) became accustomed to having a SHORTSTOP. In seasons where he didn’t suffer some sort of debilitating injury Nomar started at least 133 games at SS for six of his seven full seasons. In the decade since, Marco Scutaro is the only player to start at least 100 games at SS for two seasons.

The post-Nomar era looks like this (with the starts at SS for the primary and secondary starters in parenthesis):

2004: Pokey Reese (57), Orlando Cabrera (57)

2005: Edgar Renteria (150), Ramon Vasquez (12)

2006: Alex Gonzalez (110), Alex Cora (47)

2007: Julio Lugo (139), Alex Cora (22)

2008: Julio Lugo (79), Jed Lowrie (45)

2009: Nick Green (74), Alex Gonzalez (43)

2010: Marco Scutaro (131), Jed Lowrie (21)

2011: Marco Scutaro (103), Jed Lowrie (46)

2012: Mike Aviles (123), Jose Iglesias (23)

2013: Stephen Drew (16), Jose Iglesias (6)

This year the Sox signed Stephen Drew to a one-year, $9.5 million contract. Their next best option (or best option, depending on how you see things) was 23-year-old Cuban prospect Jose Iglesias who might be the best fielder in in the minor leagues.  But his bat is questionable, proved by his .118/.200/.191 major league tryout last year (25 games).

Then in Spring Training, Drew got hit in the head, suffered a concussion, and missed the beginning of this season. All Iglesias did in Boston while Drew was out was hit .450/.476/.550 in 21 plate appearances. Drew came back. Iglesias went down. Here we are.

Drew, in 52 plate appearances, is hitting a whopping .154/.267/.250. Pedro Ciriaco, starting against lefties, is hitting .222/.348/.389. At AAA Pawtucket Iglesias has cooled down from his hot MLB start, and is hitting .242/.288/.419.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have the best record in baseball, despite this being a season where virtually no one predicted them to the playoffs. Obviously, it’s early, as only 16% of the season has been played, but the outlook is promising.

So what to do about Jose Iglesias? My hunch is that Boston will let Drew play out the season barring some disastrous sub-.600 OPS (his was .601 two years ago) that lingers into the summer AND Iglesias rips (comparatively, AAA pitching). Otherwise Drew will become the latest in the post-Nomar line of stopgap shortstops who play a season while the Sox wait for someone else to appear.

The “problem” for Boston is that they’re deep at the position in the minors. They have Iglesias at AAA. Xander Bogaerts at AA, and Deven Marrero at A.

While Marrero is an excellent prospect, the real one to watch is Bogaerts, who John Sickels ranks as the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball, ESPN ranks No. 5, and Baseball America ranks No. 8. Bogaerts has a solid glove and elite power, and is likely the shortstop of the future.

So what to do with Iglesias?

In 2011 he was rushed to AAA (at 21) and installing him now in the majors would most likely be rushing him again. But he’s a better defensive player than Drew (who, in his own right, is pretty solid), and unless Drew returns to pre-2011 form, could Iglesias really be any worse of a hitter? The Sox have a chance to win now, and which player gives them the better shot?

The other complication is that every day Iglesias remains in the minors, is another day Bogaerts is closer to the majors (and, as of 4/30, Bogaerts is .306/.379/.412 at AA, and he’s 20). Ideally, they’d be separated by another year, but they aren’t. So the Sox need to figure out if Iglesias and his slick glove is the SS of the future, or if Bogaerts is. Bogaerts could provide value at other positions. Iglesias cannot.

Either way, Red Sox fans need a new Nomar, and by that, I mean they need a shortstop who is their guy.