Mike Aviles and Nick Punto at shortstop for the Red Sox?
Suffice to say, major league evaluators are skeptical, and most look past the possible platoon of two utility players to prospect Jose Iglesias. And the Red Sox, deep down, though they won’t admit it publicly, may feel the same way, because there is no way you trade your starting shortstop without knowing you have a legitimate player to take the position.
Every team is looking for that young Energizer Bunny, that kid who can step into a major league lineup and invigorate a team.
We talked about this with Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who is an advocate for young players winning a job out of spring training and adding that wide-eyed spark that seems to get the rest of the team going.
The late Haywood Sullivan believed that you should be able to replace your entire major league team with fully developed prospects every five years. Most teams fall far short of that, but there is new talent out there.
The Red Sox have candidates in Iglesias, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, and lefthander Felix Doubront.
Lavarnway is a power hitter, and if he proves himself in the defensive aspect of the game, he could join the Red Sox and never look back.
Iglesias is such a magician with the glove that if he could ever show hitting prowess or even consistency, he could add an instant spark.
Seems like we’ve been waiting forever for him. He is out of options and will likely make the team, as a starter or reliever. Inside the organization, Doubront is the sleeper choice of many. If he could nail down the No. 5 starter’s spot, the Sox may be in a nice position.
Fact is, young players provide spark. Dustin Pedroia did it his rookie season. Jacoby Ellsbury did it when he came up. The Sox are also paying Iglesias, a Cuban defector, $2.04 million a year.
While Iglesias has never been a consistent enough hitter in the minors, many baseball people believe he could be better in the majors. He seems to lack confidence in his hitting approach. He’s a man of many stances and grips, and often tries to copy someone else’s style. At some point, he simply needs to be himself.
Shortstop has been Boston’s merry-go-round position since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004. Some 25 men have played there in that time, with Julio Lugo seeing the most action.
Once upon a time, playing shortstop meant something. Perhaps newfangled statistical analysis has de-emphasized the position to the point where teams think they can get by with utility players there. But the Red Sox don’t feel that way.
In Iglesias, they have a legitimate defensive star. He will be flashy - sometimes too flashy - and show extraordinary range. An Iglesias-Pedroia middle infield would seem to be airtight. Pitchers would certainly appreciate it, as balls that once tended to leak through the middle would become outs.
Asked if shortstop is a position where you can get by with good defense and a weak hitter, Valentine said no - that he wants “a complete player’’ at every position. But historically, he has valued defense. He also said he hadn’t seen Iglesias play, and will wait to make his own evaluation.
While it was Dallas Green who introduced Rey Ordonez as the Mets shortstop in 1996, Valentine, who took over as manager later that season, kept him at shortstop during his entire reign there, which ended in 2002. Ordonez had a .245 career batting average in New York under Valentine.
Like Iglesias, Ordonez was Cuban and flashy. He won three Gold Gloves.
This seems like déjà vu for Valentine.
“Honestly, the Red Sox have to be thinking Iglesias,’’ said a National League scout. “A good shortstop for me just adds tremendous confidence to a pitching staff.
“The pitcher has to know that balls hit up the middle could be stopped from getting through. It allows you not to pitch defensively. Bad shortstops beat up pitchers by adding to their pitch counts.’’
If Iglesias could hit .260-.270, that would be great. Some talent people have compared him to Ordonez or even Omar Vizquel, which is indeed lofty. Could the Sox hide Iglesias in the No. 9 spot, take some pressure off him, and see if he can blossom as a hitter?
Valentine knows the excitement Ordonez created for the Mets - and that he created it defensively. Teams need that kind of youth infusion.
There is some of that excitement in Anaheim, where center fielder Mike Trout looks like a special player, with an enviable combination of speed, power, and defense.
The Nationals are giddy over outfielder Bryce Harper, who could make the Opening Day lineup at age 19.
The Mariners have added catcher/DH Jesus Montero, whose power looks scary. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman feels he may have traded the next Miguel Cabrera in Montero to get young righthander Michael Pineda. The Mariners already had a special young player in Dustin Ackley, and they may have added another.
The already-talented Diamondbacks will unleash first baseman Paul Goldschmidt for a full season; he came up last Aug. 1 and showed some power with eight homers.
In that same vein, second baseman Jason Kipnis gave the Indians an eye-opening half-season after his recall July 22, and he could be a spark in that lineup.
Last year, the A’s had Jemile Weeks, who batted .303 with 22 stolen bases from June 7 on. Now they will introduce Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes and his five tools, and it is a team that needs something exciting to happen.
Valentine made a good point when he said there are 160 minor leaguers watching how teams handle prospects and what kind of a chance they can expect to make it to the big leagues.
All eyes will be on how the Red Sox handle shortstop, and whether their prized defensive player will get his chance to spark the major league team this year.
GOING UP, UP, UP
Sox giving out a lot of raises
Do you wonder why the Red Sox didn’t add much payroll this offseason? While they shed Jonathan Papelbon’s $12 million, J.D. Drew’s $14 million, Marco Scutaro’s $6 million, and Mike Cameron’s $7.25 million, plus smaller amounts for Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, they have a lot of players getting major raises this year.
At some point, you pay for the success of your players, and the Red Sox appear to be paying this season.
Here’s a look by position:
1B, Adrian Gonzalez: $5.5 million to $21 million. Difference: $15.5 million.
2B, Dustin Pedroia: $5.5 million to $8 million. Difference: $2.5 million.
3B, Kevin Youkilis: $12 million to $12 million. Difference: none.
SS, Mike Aviles: $640,000 to $1.2 million. Difference: $560,000.
(Scutaro was scheduled to earn $6 million this season, and the Sox are also paying Jose Iglesias $2.04 million.)
C, Jarrod Saltalamacchia: $750,000 to $2.5 million. Difference: $1.75 million.
LF, Carl Crawford: $14 million to $19.5 million. Difference: $5.5 million.
CF, Jacoby Ellsbury: $2.4 million to $8.05 million. Difference: $5.65 million.
RF, Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney: $3 million and $1.75 million. Difference: minus $9.25 million from Drew’s $14 million.
DH, David Ortiz: $12.65 million to $14.575 million. Difference: $1.925 million.
P, Josh Beckett: $15.75 million to $15.75 million. Difference: none.
P, Jon Lester: $5.75 million to $7.62 million. Difference: $1.87 million.
P, Clay Buchholz: $550,000 to $3.5 million. Difference: $2.95 million.
P, Daniel Bard: $550,000 to $1.61 million. Difference: $1.060 million.
P, Alfredo Aceves: $650,000 to $1.2 million. Difference: $550,000.
P, Matt Albers: $875,000 to $1.07 million. Difference: $195,000.
P, Franklin Morales: $424,000 to $850,000. Difference: $426,000.
P, Bobby Jenks: $6 million to $6 million. Difference: none.
P, Mark Melancon: Not determined yet, but could be $475,000.
P, Andrew Bailey: $3.9 million. Difference: minus $8.1 million from Papelbon’s $12 million.
P, John Lackey: $15.25 million to $15.25 million. Difference: none, but he will not pitch in 2012.
P, Daisuke Matsuzaka: $10 million to $10 million. Difference: none, but he will likely miss the first half of the season.
P, Andrew Miller: $1.3 million to $1.04 million. Difference: minus $260,000.
Apropos of nothing
1. Wonder if Cardinals backup Tyler Greene is worth a shot for the Red Sox shortstop mix. The 27-year-old righthanded hitter, who had a few double-figure home run years in the minors, was once a promising prospect. He’s not the greatest shortstop, but he is not awful, either. He is also out of options.
2. Mark Melancon’s dog is really fast.
3. Theo Epstein does not have interest in Jason Varitek.
4. Aaron Cook is one tough competitor, and if he can stay healthy, Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure thinks he could make a nice rebound and help the team.
5. OK, so when does Vicente Padilla arrive?
6. Is A.J. Burnett the first player to turn down a deal to play at Disneyland?
7. You often wonder how teams come up with these numbers. Andrew Miller earned $62,500 in bonuses for reaching 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days in the majors last season. But why $62,500, and not $65,000 or $60,000?
8. I’m officially sick of writing about Roy Oswalt.
9. Sox sleeper: Juan Carlos Linares, the Cuban-born outfielder.
10. Kids, watch how Chris Carpenter pitches. He’s a gem.
11. Mike Piazza will be up for the Hall of Fame next season. With a career .308 average, .922 OPS, 427 homers, and 1,335 RBIs, it would be astonishing if he didn’t make it on the first ballot. Then again, it was astonishing that it took Robbie Alomar two tries.
12. The Twins have a whopping 66 players in camp, 33 of whom are pitchers.
Updates on nine
1. Jorge Soler, OF, free agent - The Red Sox are one of about eight teams that would love to land the Cuban outfielder. Some of those who elected to stay away on Yoenis Cespedes because of the hefty price and uncertainty about how his game translates to the majors have decided that Soler is a better value, because he has more upside and can be put in the development system for a while for seasoning. Soler is not yet available because of citizenship issues, but once he is, those teams might be in for sticker shock. Two general managers have told me that he will go for more than the five years and $15 million-$20 million most thought he’d settle for.
2. Scott Kazmir, LHP, free agent - The Red Sox decided not to delve into the rehab market for pitchers, which is why they didn’t attend Kazmir’s workout Friday (he threw about 88-90 m.p.h.) and have no plans to watch Brandon Webb throw when he is ready. The Sox have had their share of rehab guys, and in most cases, they haven’t worked out. One thing they hit right: backing out of the Rich Harden deal with the A’s last August. They thought Harden’s physical issues were too severe, and as it turns out, Harden will have major shoulder surgery that could end his career.
3. Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins - I am told to follow this kid closely. The 18-year-old Dominican, who received a $3.15 million signing bonus in 2009, bears a strong physical resemblance to a young Alex Rodriguez. His first-year stats with the Rookie League Elizabethton Twins - .292, 20 homers, and 59 RBIs in 267 at-bats - tell you all you need to know about his power. He also has a strong arm and is very good defensively. Projection time is about two years, but as one National League scout put it, “Once you watch him and how he moves and swings the bat, you fall in love. The Twins have quite a talent there.’’
4. Wil Myers, OF, Royals - I asked a scout if he could pick a kid to be a prototype right fielder (other than Bryce Harper), who would it be? He quickly mentioned Myers, who is 6 feet 3 inches, 205 pounds, and a very athletic, fluid player. Myers, a righthanded hitter, seems to have emerging power and is only 21. He hit .360 with a 1.156 OPS in 86 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. He is likely to make it to Triple A this season. The Royals seem to have a gem.
5. Raul Ibanez, OF/DH, free agent - He is a Yankee target over Johnny Damon because he is coming in at a more reasonable salary. The last Damon demand was about $5 million, which the Yankees won’t pay. Ibanez will likely be in the $1.5 million-$2 million range. The Yankees are also likely to bring back Eric Chavez to spell Rodriguez at third.
6. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers - Third base coach Gene Lamont thinks Cabrera, who is down to 265 pounds, can be the everyday third baseman. “I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t do it,’’ Lamont said. “He’s played the position before. He’s got soft hands. If we had made it to the World Series, he would have played some games there. He wants to do it and he’s taken his conditioning very seriously.’’
7. Mike Gonzalez, LHP, free agent - He is likely headed to the Rangers if they can trade Koji Uehara. Gonzalez is one of the last quality arms available. Though somewhat erratic, he will fill a much-needed role in that bullpen.
8. Manny Ramirez, DH, free agent - It looks more and more as if the A’s will get Ramirez and bite the bullet on his 50-game suspension to start the season. Why? Because he is precisely the type of player who fits what they do - a high on-base percentage slugger who can still hit, despite being away from the game for a year. The A’s also need a draw. Cespedes will bring people out, and when Ramirez shows up, he’ll also be a curiosity.
9. Bobby Abreu, OF/DH, Angels - He would have gone back to the Yankees in an A.J. Burnett deal. The Angels have a logjam with Kendry Morales returning and Albert Pujols at first base. Abreu has been offered around. He is coming off his poorest season, with only eight home runs, and while he has been one of the most productive and patient hitters in the game, it appears his days as an everyday anything are over.
From the Bill Chuck files: “The last time the Red Sox did not have a pitcher throw 200 innings was in 2001. The new ‘Bill James Handbook’ does not project any for 2012.’’ Also, “The Red Sox need a healthy Kevin Youkilis. Over the last three seasons, Youk has played in 358 games; J.D Drew played in 357.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Russ Nixon (77), Juan Diaz (38), and Josh Reddick (25).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.