Theo Epstein has done an impressive job of overseeing the Boston Red Sox since becoming general manager, mixing the need to win now with an ability to maintain a productive farm system.
The one failing for Epstein has been consistently coming up short in the search for a shortstop.
In the six seasons since Nomar Garciaparra was displaced as the primary shortstop, the Red Sox have used 19 different players at the position and have had five different primary starters — Nick Green last year, Julio Lugo in 2007-08, Alex Gonzalez in 2006, Edgar Renteria in 2005 and Orlando Cabrera in 2004.
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The next hope for the Red Sox is Marco Scutaro, who at the age of 34 and coming off the first season in his career in which he played 100 games at shortstop, was signed to a two-year, $12.5 million deal.
The groundwork for what will happen in the summer of 2010 is being laid this offseason. A mid-winter look at how AL teams have done in addressing their needs:
NEW YORK has ignored the big-name free agents, much to the chagrin of outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, who are waiting for somebody to begin a bidding war. They have, however, addressed their areas of concern. They gave up a group of prospects, including right-hander Ian Kennedy, to fill an outfield need by acquiring Curtis Granderson from Detroit. And then they filled a rotation void by adding Javier Vazquez, along with left-handed reliever Boone Logan, from Atlanta for outfielder Melky Cabrera and two prospects.
Oh, they did dabble in free agency, signing first baseman Nick Johnson, who returns to the organization where his career began. But they have ignored Bay and Holliday, and held firm with outfielder Johnny Damon, who wants to return but not at the two-year, $20 million level the Yankees have declined to surpass.
BOSTON made the move on Scutaro, but has stood its ground on its four-year, $60 million offer to re-sign Bay and has so far ignored the temptation of pursuing Holliday, who has rejected offers worth more than what Boston is willing to give Bay.
The Red Sox did, however, add the quality starting pitcher they had on their wish list. They failed to trade for Roy Halladay but signed John Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract that underscored the lack of top-of-the-rotation starters on the market this offseason.
What remains to be seen is if the Sox really feel the defense of recently signed center fielder Mike Cameron will offset the possible loss of Bay’s offense. The arrival of Cameron allows Jacoby Ellsbury to move to left field.
BALTIMORE is grasping for a shred of respectability on the heels of a 12th consecutive losing season, equaling a franchise record set from 1930-41 when the team was known as the St. Louis Browns. Feeling the farm system is on the verge of producing help, they have sought short-term reinforcements. In a swap of disappointments, they sent reliever Chris Ray to Texas for right-hander Kevin Millwood. They signed left-handed closer Mike Gonzalez and third baseman Garrett Atkins, who was released by Colorado and quickly signed with the Orioles, hoping the bandbox known as Camden Yards allows him to revitalize his career in advance of free agency next fall.
TORONTO finally ended the reign of ruin of J.P. Ricciardi, and the new administration began trying to rebuild the franchise Ricciardi and Co. tore apart. The Jays dealt the game’s premier pitcher, Roy Halladay, in a trade designed to replenish what once was the most productive system in baseball that has gone fallow in recent years.
TAMPA BAY was able to succeed without a reliable closer in advancing to the World Series two years ago, but the bullpen shortcoming caught up with the Rays a year ago, prompting them to acquire Rafael Soriano from Atlanta this season, and signing him to a $7.5 million deal that makes him the fourth highest paid player on the team — for now. The Rays continue to look for a way to unload the burden of the $10 million they owe Pat Burrell, their free agent bust from a year ago.
CHICAGO is looking for treasures in the garbage of others in an effort to rebound from a sub-.500 season and third-place finish. They added Juan Pierre from the Dodgers to fill a center field need. L.A. was anxious enough to move Pierre that they agreed to pay $10.5 million of the $18.5 million Pierre is guaranteed in the final two years of his current contract. The White Sox also acquired 3B Mark Teahan, who went from a non-tender candidate in Kansas City to receiving a three-year guarantee in Chicago.
They also signed one-time Seattle closer J.J. Putz, who is coming off surgery, former Gold Glove outfielder Andruw Jones — a .179 hitter the last three years — and shortstop Omar Vizquel, who at the age of 42 is joining his third team in three years and has played only 154 games combined the last two seasons.
DETROIT is paying the price of foolish spending on multi-year deals, and had to trade center fielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher Edwin Jackson in a three-team deal designed to lessen payroll demands. They received some quality prospects in return, plus lefty Daniel Schlereth and right-hander Max Scherzer, both of whom have long-range middle relief expectations. Now, if they could figure out a way to unload left-handers Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, who are guaranteed a combined $22 million but have no assurances of a front-line role in the rotation.
CLEVELAND fired manager Eric Wedge but did nothing else to turn around its on-field failures, which are underscored by the way general manager Mark Shapiro and Co. have allowed the farm system to erode. They have not been able to find any takers for DH Travis Hafner and his ridiculous contract, which still has a three-year, $40 million guarantee remaining.
KANSAS CITY restructured its catching situation, declining the option on Miguel Olivo and non-tendering John Buck, while giving a two-year deal to Jason Kendall, whose prime concern was assurances of playing time.
MINNESOTA is in a more normal mode this offseason, which means it’s more a matter of housecleaning than reconstruction. They answered a rotation need when Carl Pavano accepted the arbitration offer instead of pursuing free agency, and then filled an infield need by acquiring SS J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee for CF Carlos Gomez.
SEATTLE enjoyed surprising success in 2009 and wants to capitalize on that in 2010, but have they gone too far? Acquiring lefty Cliff Lee and signing versatile free agent leadoff hitter Chone Figgins was a major step forward, but swapping one headache, Carlos Silva, to the Cubs for an even bigger headache, Milton Bradley, will create a challenge for manager Don Wakamatsu.
LOS ANGELES suffered some key free-agent departures — Lackey and DH Vladimir Guerrero — and has been unable to make an impact move to fill those voids. They did bring in Hideki Matsui, who is a basic DH, which doesn’t fit manager Mike Scioscia’s desire to have versatility in the DH role, and right-handed reliever Fernando Rodney, apparent insurance for the inconsistency of last year’s free-agent signee Brian Fuentes.
TEXAS remains hamstrung by the financial mess of owner Tom Hicks, pending his sale of the team, and has been reduced to bringing in aging reliever Darren Oliver, injury-prone Rich Harden, and Chris Ray while eliminating the salaries of Kevin Millwood, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Marlon Byrd, Ivan Rodriguez and Eddie Guardado.
OAKLAND continues to grasp for help that a once-rich farm system can no longer provide. The A’s signed CF Coco Crisp and acquired 2B Aaron Miles in a five-player deal with the Cubs. But where is the offensive impact to help a promising, young pitching staff withstand growing pains?