Saturday's trade of Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for pitcher Clay Mortenson wasn't a trade at all. It was, pure and simple, a salary dump.
By shedding Scutaro's 6 million salary for 2012 -- which is actually valued at over 7 million for the purposes of the luxury tax -- the Red Sox did two things: 1) created some financial wiggle room for themselves to make other roster improvements and 2) opened a hole at the shortstop position.
A look at both issues:
1.) The Red Sox didn't wait long to re-allocate some of the money saved from dumping Scutaro's contract.
Source say the Sox reached agreement with outfielder Cody Ross Monday night on a one-year deal worth 3 million. Announcement of the deal will be made after Ross takes a physical.
The Colorado Rockies, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves were the other teams involved with Ross, but the Mets and Braves don't want to meet his asking price while the Rockies, ironically, may have been priced out of the race for him when they took on Scutaro's contract.
Ross gives the Red Sox a right-handed bat to pair with Ryan Sweeney in right field until Ryan Kalish is cleared to play and claim the position.
Over his career, Ross has compiled a .563 slugging percentage against lefties, making him the perfect platoon partner.
Ross could also see some playing time in left in the early part of the season as the team waits for Carl Crawford's surgically-repaired left wrist to fully heal.
That would leave the Sox with approximately 5 million of Scutaro's money to focus on upgrading the rotation.
Veteran Roy Oswalt is the best of the remaining free agents, and with February drawing closer, his asking price has come down considerably. It's thought that Oswalt is requesting something in the neighborhood of 8 million on a one-year deal.
However, multiple sources Monday indicated that an agreement with Oswalt -- even with the freed-up money -- is far from a done deal. The Sox continue to evaluate the market as the asking price for several pitchers drop. Other notable free agent pitchers include Edwin Jackson
Moreover, there are trades to consider. The Sox have been linked to both Matt Garza (Cubs) and Gavin Floyd (White Sox), each of whom will make significant money in 2012. Garza stands to get somewhere around 10 million either through arbitration or a settlement while Floyd is set to make 7 million with a 9.5 million club option for 2013.
One executive familiar with the Red Sox' thinking said Monday it was his impression that the Sox wouldn't be limited to spend only only what they saved on Scutaro, suggesting they could spend in excess of thatfigure.
"I think," said the executive, "Scutaro's money is more of a ballpark figure."
2.) When the offseason began, the Red Sox seemingly had a surplus of shortstops. Now, months later, they don't have enough.
Having included Jed Lowrie in the trade which brought them Mark Melancon, then shipping Scutaro to the Rockies, the Sox are left with three shortstops on the 40-man roster -- and that might be stretchingit.
Mike Aviles, who was obtained at last summer's trade deadline, has played shortstop in the big leagues, but hasn't done so in a while -- at least not on everyday basis.
If Scutaro was a fringe average shortstop defensively, Aviles is something less than that.
Aviles had, in fact, played the outfield in Puerto Rico this winter, hoping to get more comfortable in that spot. Now that Ross is on board, Aviles is freed from outfield duty and can concentrate on the infield.
Nick Punto, signed in the immediate aftermath of Lowrie's trade, was brought in to be the utility infielder. He's played short in the past, but not for extended periods of time and certainly not in an everyday capacity.
Over the last three seasons, Punto has played a total of 97 games at short and only once in his 10-year career has he played more than 60 games at short.
It's been suggested that the Sox could employ an Aviles-Punto platoon at short to at least start the season, but that would mean that Punto, with a career OPS of .652, would play about 70 percent of the games. Even for a lineup as powerful as that of the Red Sox, that would be an offensive sinkhole.
By now, of course, the Red Sox expected that they could turn the position over to Jose Iglesias, the Cuban defector who is a wizard with the glove. But while Iglesias could play the position in the big leagues right now, he's nowhere near ready offensively -- as his hitting struggles indicate at Triple A.
What's more, there's precious little left on the market unless you consider Ryan Theriot the answer.
For now, it appears the Red Sox are willing to patch the position together and hope that Iglesias can progress enough in the first few months of the season, but that seems like a huge gamble at such a critical position.