By Matthew Kory
On July 31, 2004, the Red Sox dealt Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs. Since that day eight and a half years ago, 24 different shortstops have played for Boston. Three of the past four seasons have seen six different Red Sox play short. Nine out of 10 dentists agree that's too many.
During that same period Boston has drafted 30 different shortstops, so you can't accuse them of not trying. But, since not one of those draftees has played an inning at shortstop for the major league club, you might fairly accuse them of other things.
To put it gently, the Red Sox have a shortstop problem. To put it less gently, saying the team has struggled to fill the position is like saying cannibals struggle at vegan restaurants. They say those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, and since nobody wants to repeat a history class, I'd like to offer a short primer on the post-Garciaparra era of Red Sox shortstops. Think of this as a family tree, although, since it's chronological, it will be an upside down family tree. Considering the topic, that seems appropriate.
2004 (Post-Trade Deadline)
The Starter: Orlando Cabrera
Other Notables: Pokey Reese
Notes: No foreshadowing here: The post-Garciaparra Red Sox got off to a good start. The Nomar trade netted Orlando Cabrera, who started 58 of the final 60 games and every playoff game after coming over from the… Montreal Expos? Wow. We are old, and yes, I'm lumping us together. We are old collectively. Can you hand me those aspirin? My hip, I mean, our hip hurts.
Pokey Reese filled the role of adorable back-up by playing two games and being named "Pokey."
The Starter: Edgar Renteria
Other Notables: Hanley Ramirez, Alex Cora, Mark Bellhorn
You've Never Heard Of: Alejandro Machado, Ramon Vazquez
Notes: After the 2004 World Series win, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein elected to sign Renteria over Cabrera, a decision that looked good at the time, much like the Hindenberg or the Titanic once did. The Great Renteria Disaster wasn't on par with those famous catastrophes, but that's only because no one was killed. In retrospect it qualifies as an act of baseball hubris. But Renteria was supposed to be an upgrade, and prior to setting foot in Boston he was the better player.
With all the appropriate caveats about defensive metrics*, the difference between the two through the '04 season was sizeable, but afterwards they were essentially equals. Should Theo Epstein have been able to see this coming? It's hard to say yes to that question, but when you note that it was his job to do so, saying yes gets easier. Renteria made it a quarter of the way through his four-year contract with Boston before the Red Sox paid the Braves $8 million to take him.
* Such as: They might not properly calculate defense.
Hanley Ramirez made his major league debut with six innings at shortstop. He was dealt to the Marlins the following off-season for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. More than anything, the trade of Ramirez coupled with the signing and almost immediate dumping of Renteria fertilized the ground for the positional chaos to come.
The Starter: Alex Gonzalez
Other Notables: Dustin Pedroia, Alex Cora
Notes: After the Renteria debacle, Boston signed Alex Gonzalez to a one-year please-stop-the-bleeding contract. Gonzalez played superb defense if you rate him on the metric TAS (Things Announcers Say), but his .299 on-base percentage left Boston convinced they could do better. The Red Sox let him sign with Cincinnati during the next off-season. We will return to this storyline in a few seasons.
Alex Cora capably handled the back-up duties, but it was rookie Dustin Pedroia who is the star of this sentence and indeed this paragraph. Pedroia played 31 games at the end of 2006, most at his now native second base, though five games were at shortstop. Sadly for Boston, Pedroia didn't and doesn't have the arm for the position, because that would have solved many problems, as we shall see.
The Starter: Julio Lugo
Other Notables: Alex Cora, Royce Clayton
Notes: The astute reader will note that Lugo is the fourth different starter in four seasons. We could go back an additional year to include 2003, thus adding Garciaparra to the list and making it five different starters in five consecutive seasons, but we won't because that's just piling on.
Royce Clayton played one game at short. He struck out twice in four plate appearances.
The Starter: Julio Lugo
Other Notables: Cora, Jed Lowrie
You've Never Heard Of: Gil Valazquez
Notes: [throws confetti in the air] Well, will you look at that? The Red Sox started the same player two years running. Despite his lousy 2007, the job was Lugo's to lose (his four year contract may have had something to do with that). A severely strained left quadriceps muscle caused Lugo to miss the last 60 games of the season and put an end to any approaching stability. The two-headed duo of Jed Lowrie and super-sub Alex Cora, who would have looked resplendent in a cape had the Red Sox thought to outfit him with one, handled the duties. Miraculously Lowrie was uninjured despite playing in well over 300 innings*.
*The rumors that Lowrie was injured that season and his innings were played by his twin brother Dej are unsubstantiated.
The Starter: Jed Lowruh-oh he got hurt never mind so Nick Green. Yes. Nick Green.
Other Notables: Julio Lugo, Alex Gonzalez (again), Jed Lowrie
You've Never Heard Of: Chris Woodward
Other Than the "You've Never Heard Of" Sub-Heading in the 2008 Paragraph, You've Also Never Heard Of: Gil Valezquez
Notes: Lowrie lasted four games and change into the season before suffering a severe wrist injury. He missed 78 games, and when he came back he clearly wasn't the same guy. This assertion is substantiated by his .180/.232/.340 post-injury slash line, though in fairness all of Lowrie's major league career could be characterized by the term "post-injury."
At the same time, Julio Lugo was himself recovering from knee surgery, so the Red Sox were without their top two shortstops. They looked down their bench and there they spotted Nick Green, sitting quietly by himself eating pumpkin seeds. By necessity Green started 50 of the next 71 games at shortstop. This sounds awful, but somehow it wasn't. Green's .748 OPS through the end of June was a reasonable approximation of what the Red Sox had hoped to get out of Lugo and Lowrie. Eventually the inevitable fall came -- he was Nick Green, after all -- and by then Jed Lowrie had sort of healed. Accidentally sprinkled into this deliciously mediocre supermarket cake are turkey bits Gil Valezquez and Chris Woodward. It wasn't a very good cake.
Finally the Red Sox got fed up, called Cincinnati on the phone and asked for Alex Gonzalez back.
The Starter: Marco Scutaro
Other Notables: Jed Lowrie, Felipe Lopez, Bill Hall
You've Never Heard Of: Angel Sanchez, Yamaico Navarro
Notes: Scutaro signed a two-year deal to be the starter and miraculously he was, starting over 1,100 of the team's 1,456 innings at the position. Lowrie got mono in camp and missed 94 games. A badger may have also attacked him. Lopez, Sanchez, Hall, and Navarro played infrequently enough that simply getting the security guard to let them into the park should have been considered victory enough to head home for the day. Red Sox fans would have been better off had they set their standards so low.
The Starter: Marco Scutaro
Other Notables: Mike Aviles, Jose Iglesias, Jed Lowrie
You've Never Heard Of: Yamaico Navarro, Drew Sutton
Notes: This is getting predictable now. Free agent comes in, plays most of the innings in an unspectacular fashion. Jed Lowrie gets hurt. The Red Sox sell the right to play a few innings at short to some fans. Or maybe they were minor leaguers. We're not sure. Rinse, repeat.
The Starter: Mike Aviles
Other Notables: Nick Punto, Jose Iglesias
You've Never Heard Of: Pedro Ciriaco, Ivan De Jesus
Notes: Scutaro was supposed to start for the third season in a row, but those riches were too much for Boston and they traded him to Colorado in January. Mike Aviles, obtained from the Royals, stepped into the role and performed as well as could be expected. How good was he? Consider the following three facts:
1. After the season Boston dealt him to Toronto for a manager.
2. Two weeks later the Blue Jays traded him to Cleveland for a 28-year-old relief pitcher with a 5.95 career ERA.
3. According to MLB Depth Charts, Aviles will play "infield/outfield" for Cleveland, a position we're unfamiliar with but which sounds exceedingly difficult.
In all, the Red Sox gave out 11 years in long-term free agent contracts, half of which were served in other organizations. Different players started at shortstop every season except '07 and '08 (Lugo) and '10 and '11 (Scutaro). That's seven different starting shortstops in nine seasons, a trend that will continue in 2013 as the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract. If precedent holds, Drew will sign elsewhere in 2014 and the Red Sox will have their 11th different starting shortstop in 12 years.
And Jed Lowrie will get hurt.
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Matthew Kory is an author at Baseball Prospectus, a writer at SB Nation's Over The Monster Red Sox blog, a stay-at-home dad, and the author of the books "How Dare I: An Unauthorized Autobiography" and "The Best Things In Life Are Stolen Which Is Why You Just Paid For This Book," neither of which will ever be published. He lives in Portland, Ore.