BOSTON -- Shortstop is a position of depth for the Red Sox, with veterans Mike Aviles and Jed Lowrie under the club's control and prospect Jose Iglesias waiting at Triple A.
Still, the Red Sox liked Marco Scutato enough to exercise the team's option for 6 million last weekend.
"He finished the year as the starter," said GM Ben Cherington, "so I would see him going into spring training as the starter."
Scutaro's contract included a 4 million player option which he could have exercised had they passed on the team option. But the Sox decided not to chance losing him.
"We see him as an above-average major league shortstop," said Cherington. "He certainly performed that way this year. We felt like a one-year deal at 6 million was very fair value for him.
"He was a guy who we knew was going to be coveted this off-season if he became a free agent. We knew allowing him to get into free agency, there was a risk that he could get a better deal than that. We wanted to keep him."
Scutaro hit .299 with seven homers and 54 RBI in 113 games with a .354 on-base percentage. In contrast to many of his teammates, he also finished the season strong with a .387 batting average in September and an OPS of 1.019.
The Sox can presumably now deal either Aviles or Lowrie and still have adequate depth at the position.
On Monday, the team declined the options on two veteran relievers-- Scott Atchison and Dan Wheeler -- though it's possible that both could return to the team in 2012.
The team had an option for Atchison for next season that would have paid him 200,000 over the the minimum major league salary, but elected not to pick it up. The team controls him, however, and could tender him a contract at a lesser number before the deadline date in December.
"It was just a matter of whether we locked in that rate or not," explained Cherington.
The option for Wheeler was more expensive at 3 milion and, according to Cherington, "we just didn't feel like we could commit to that money at this point in the off-season. We have a lot of respect for Dan and he's a pro. He pitched really well after coming off the DL (in May). We'll keep the door open and continue dialogue with him. We just weren't ready to commit to that salary this early on."
Wheeler finished the year at 2-2 with a 4.38 ERA in 47 games. He got off to a miserable start, but after returning from a calf injury, was far more effective, with a 2.54 ERA May 21 on.
Cherington and former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein continue to negotiate compensation for Epstein leaving the Red Sox to become president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, with seemingly little progress made.
The two clubs have until Tuesday to arrive at an agreement before commissioner Bud Selig steps in as a third-party arbiter.
"We're still talking," said Cherington. "It's a difficult deal to work out. It's hard to quantify the value of Theo Epstein. I have an idea of it and Theo doesn't think he's worth as much as I do. We haven't been to bridge that gap yet."
Cherington said having Selig intervene "was always a possibility . . . I think both sides are comfortable with that outcome if it happens that way."
There have been no discussions about how the process would work if Selig must rule on compensation, but Cherington's belief is that each team would present its side to the commissioner and a ruling would follow.