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The Red Sox’ trade of Marco Scutaro, re-revisited

10.16.12 at 12:04 pm ET
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Marco Scutaro assumed center stage in unlikely fashion in the NLCS on Monday night. In Game 2 of the series between the Cardinals and Giants, with runners on the corners and one out in the top of the first inning, Scutaro got crushed by Cards outfielder Matt Holliday behind second base, as he attempted to complete a double-play. The MLB.com video below, replaying the slide from the vantage point of the national TV broadcast and the San Francisco and St. Louis radio broadcasts, represents an interesting exercise in the Rashomon Effect of subjectivity and the power of recollection:

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Giants manager Bruce Bochy made his feelings clear on the play.

“I really think they got away with an illegal slide there,” Bochy told reporters. “That rule was changed a while back. And he really didn’t hit dirt until he was past the bag. Marco was behind the bag and got smoked. It’s a shame somebody got hurt because of this. And that’s more of a roadblock. That rule was changed. And again, we’re hoping he comes out of this okay. He got hit pretty good. And that’s a big guy running.”

Ethics and morality aside, Scutaro got back up after being crumpled by Holliday and remained in the game for the next five innings, delivering the game-breaking hit, a two-run, two-out single in the bottom of the fourth that plated a third tally when Holliday booted the ball in left for an error. Scutaro’s hit turned a 2-1 contest into a 5-1 game. However, Scutaro had to leave with a sore left hip. X-rays were negative, but his status for Game 3 remains to be seen.

Scutaro’s availability going forward will be of considerable significance, considering that he’s been a pivotal member of the Giants lineup since San Francisco acquired him in a trade with the Rockies for 23-year-old Charlie Culberson, a fringe prospect who is a good defender at second base but who has struggled at the plate. From Colorado’s end, the deal was motivated chiefly by a desire to remove Scutaro’s salary (the Giants assumed roughly $1.5 million of the remaining $2 million on his 2012 salary) from the team’s books.

The deal paid off in remarkable fashion for the Giants. After Scutaro hit .271 with a .324 OBP, .361 slugging mark and .684 OPS with the Rockies (particularly unimpressive numbers given his residence in Coors Field), he hit .362 with a .385 OBP, .473 slugging mark and .859 OPS in 61 games. He helped the Giants pull away in the NL West, as San Francisco was tied for the best record in the National League from the time of Scutaro’s arrival.

That performance, in turn, makes it natural to think back to the decision by the Red Sox to trade Scutaro to the Rockies in January. The Sox were motivated to make the deal in order to free payroll (Scutaro represented a $7.67 million luxury tax hit in 2012), money that they used immediately to sign Cody Ross to a one-year, $3 million deal.

Even after his performance in San Francisco, it’s hard to say that the Sox miscalculated with Scutaro when they sent him to the Rockies for Clayton Mortensen. He ended the year with a strong .306/.348/.405/.753 line thanks to his surge in San Francisco, but his diminishing defensive range and arm strength resulted in him spending about three-quarters of his time on the field at second base — a position that the Sox had covered with Dustin Pedroia. Scutaro did play some short for the Rockies, but only when Troy Tulowitzki landed on the DL to force Colorado into such an infield alignment. Scutaro also played 15 games at third base in San Francisco — a position where he would have been behind Kevin Youkilis and then Will Middlebrooks on the depth chart for most of the year.

Defensively, the Sox upgraded at shortstop by going from Scutaro to Mike Aviles and then Jose Iglesias, at least as measured by John Dewan’s runs saved system, which had Scutaro being one run better than an average shortstop in 2011. Aviles, meanwhile, graded as 14 runs above average in 2012 according to Dewan’s system (fifth best in the AL), while Iglesias, in his limited time in the majors, saved seven runs.

That said, shortstop represented a position of offensive deficiency for the Sox. The team’s shortstops combined to hit .241 (ninth in the American League) with a .278 OBP (11th), .365 slugging mark (10th) and .642 OPS (11th). In particular, the absence of Scutaro’s ability to work counts and get on base at an above-average clip played a role in the unraveling of the Sox’ time-honored formula of grinding at-bats that helped force opposing teams into their bullpens early and often.

Would the Sox have been better off sacrificing defense and power for a player with better on-base skills? Perhaps, though the performance of Ross (.267/.326/.481/.807 with 22 homers in 130 games) and Mortensen (3.21 ERA in 42 innings) suggests that the Sox got more overall impact on their roster by trading Scutaro — who, like Ross, will be a free agent this winter — than they would have had by keeping him, particularly if there were questions about his ability to stick at short.

All the same, Scutaro’s performance on Game 2 offered a reminder of what Scutaro was with the Red Sox — a player who managed to stay on the field and contribute even when fighting through injuries, a respected member of the clubhouse and someone who was a steady, reliable contributor in Boston, just as he has been in San Francisco.

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