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Why Marco Scutaro’s option is a no-brainer for the Red Sox

10.26.11 at 6:49 pm ET
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Marco Scutaro is an unassuming presence. He is often self-effacing, resides relatively quietly in the far corner of the row of Red Sox position players, and simply blends in. On and off the field, he is an ideal complementary player, but one who rarely  commands the attention of his more decorated teammates.

Nonetheless, he has quietly been just about everything the Red Sox could have hoped for when they signed him to a two-year deal for a guaranteed $12.5 million that also included both a team option (at $6 million, with a $1.5 million buyout if declined) and, should the Sox not exercise their option, a player option (at $3 million) for the 2012 season.

The Sox have until two days after the conclusion of the World Series to exercise their option. If they were to decline it, then Scutaro would have two days to decide whether to exercise his player option. But it would be shocking if it got to that point.

After all, Scutaro is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Though limited to 113 games (the result of time sidelined by an oblique injury as well as the loss of his job in the early season to Jed Lowrie, who was scorching hot in April but cooled over the subsequent months), Scutaro had a career-best .299 average with a .358 on-base percentage (the second-best mark of his career), a career-best .423 slugging mark and a .781 OPS that was also the second-highest of his career. In two seasons with the Red Sox, he has a line of .284/.343/.401/.744.

To put those number in context: Since the start of 2010, there have been 27 players in the majors who have played at least 200 games, primarily at shortstop. Of those, Scutaro ranks ninth in OPS, ahead of both Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox and Derek Jeter of the Yankees. His .343 OBP is eight-best in the majors, ahead of Stephen Drew and Starlin Castro. In other words, Scutaro has been a clearly above-average offensive shortstop in his tenure with the Sox.

His recent offensive numbers compare favorably to those of Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies shortstop who hit .268/.338/.399/.737 in 2011. And while Scutaro cannot match Rollins in the field or on the bases, the difference between the overall value of the two is much smaller than one might assume.

All of that, in turn, suggests that the decision on Scutaro’s option is really no decision at all. For the Sox, the difference between picking up Scutaro’s $6 million option and paying his $1.5 million buyout is just $4.5 million. That dollar figure qualifies as relatively short money for a player of his skill set. In the coming free-agent class, there is one legitimate start shortstop in Jose Reyes, who won the National League batting title and is an impact offensive player as well as baserunner who, at 28, has prime career years ahead of him. Then there is Rollins, who is 33, has seen his offense fall from elite to passable over the last three years, yet still seeks a long-term deal.

Behind them, there are players such as Rafael Furcal (who has averaged fewer than 100 games in the past four years), Clint Barmes, who enjoyed a career-year at 33 years old and other options such as Clint Barmes, Ronny Cedeno and Alex Gonzalez, all of whom were terrible offensively.

In that environment, $4.5 million for Scutaro borders on a bargain compared to what he would receive in free agency, where he might once again be in line for a multi-year deal (as he was after the 2009 season, when he chose a two-year deal with an option from the Sox over a three-year deal from the A’s), and he would also likely receive a higher salary than that.

“Scut had a really good year and we believe he’€™d be really coveted this season if he got onto the open market,” Sox GM Ben Cherington said on Tuesday.

With Jose Iglesias clearly needing more minor league seasoning in Triple-A, and Lowrie (whose early promise in 2011 fizzled in part due to a collision with Carl Crawford that had him nursing a shoulder injury for the duration of the year) having suffered through an inconsistent season, Scutaro offers the Sox a stabilizing presence.

Already, since injuries and then a trade spelled the end of Nomar Garciaparra‘s hold on the position in 2004, Scutaro has more plate appearances (1,055) at shortstop than any other Sox player. And he is now just 17 games behind Julio Lugo at short for the most by a Red Sox in that time.

It is, of course, popular to discuss the shortstop carousel that the Sox have featured at short. The reality is that Scutaro has helped to put the brakes on the ride, something that he is almost certain to continue doing next season.

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