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The Bridge To Iglesias? Red Sox Sign Marco Scutaro

Update (9:55 AM): ESPN's Buster Olney has reported the terms: two years, $11M, plus a $6M club/$3M player option with a $1.5M buyout for 2012. Seems like a pretty fair price for Scutaro, who many expected to get more on the open market after the season he posted in 2009. He's certainly due for some regression from his 2009 numbers but a wOBA in the .325-.330 mark seems reasonable, and if he can play a solid shortstop than he should easily be able to offer more than $6.25M per season in value, as the Red Sox guaranteed him $12.5M over 2010-2011. Solid signing for Boston, hopefully it works out better than the Renterias and Lugos of the past.

Tonight it was reported by Ed Price of FanHouse.com that the Red Sox agreed with shortstop Marco Scutaro to a two-year contract with a third-year mutual option. Scutaro, who turned 34 in October, was the Toronto Blue Jays' everyday shortstop in 2009 after spending five years as a utility infielder with the Jays and the Oakland Athletics.

The move was first reported by Venezuelan newspaper Lider, and the deal is still pending a physical. While the price tag on Scutaro hasn't been reported yet, presumably the deal will pay Scutaro around $7-10M per season over the next two years, as well as giving their first round pick to the Jays as compensation because Toronto offered arbitration to the Type A free agent.

Scutaro had a career year in 2009, posting a .282/.379/.409 line (.354 wOBA) with 14 steals in 19 attempts, including an impressive 90/75 BB/K ratio in 680 plate appearances. He posted the best offensive numbers of his career in essentially every category, and established himself as a solid defensive shortstop capable of playing the position everyday.

Scutaro showed some significant improvement in his approach in 2009, and while it may seem odd to see a player making such changes at the age of 33, Scutaro appears to have done just that. He managed to cut down on his swing rate on pitches both in the strike zone and out of it, causing his overall swing percentage to drop from 41.6% in 2008 down to 34.5% in 2009, but in spite of this, he managed to post a career high contact rate at 93.3%, compared to his 91.0% career rate. While some could argue that Scutaro's increased walk rate is a fluke, it appears that he's made some legitimate, sustainable improvement in terms of his approach at the plate, and there's little reason to believe that won't translate next season in Boston.

The other concerns with Scutaro were his health, his defense and his price tag. Scutaro has played in 144+ games in each of the past two seasons, but he was sidelined with a heel injury for the final two weeks of the 2009 season, and there was some talk of concern about how that would affect his footwork defensively, but according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, watching Scutaro work out helped to alleviate some of those worries. UZR was very low on Scutaro's defense at shortstop for years in Oakland, but in the past three seasons over 143, 56 and 43 games, he's posted UZR/150's of +1.0, +20.3 and +2.6, indicating that while he may not be more than very slightly above average, if he's above average at all, it appears that Scutaro has made some significant improvement since leaving Oakland.

Considering Boston's alternatives, namely Jed Lowrie, Miguel Tejada, Adam Everett and the shifting of second baseman Dustin Pedroia, it's hard to argue with Boston's decision to sign the guy that appears to be the best shortstop on the market. The Red Sox definitely paid a pretty price, giving up their first round pick to Toronto (assuming that Boston doesn't sign another higher-ranked Type A free agent), but they've essentially solved the shortstop issue until (hopefully) Cuban defensive whiz Jose Iglesias is ready to play in the majors. It's not the ideal move, but Boston's options were limited and they nabbed the best player on the market, and while giving up the draft pick hurts, Boston should still be able to draft-and-sign top amateur talent in later rounds thanks to the ever broken Rule IV draft.