Mike Aviles was the Red Sox' starting shortstop throughout most of the 2012 campaign. When it became clear that Boston wouldn't be contending, he mostly rode the bench, losing playing time to slick-fielding rookie Jose Iglesias and pleasant surprise Pedro Ciriaco.
Aviles, however, is now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, being shipped out as compensation for new Sox manager John Farrell, and thus leaving the shorstop situation in considerable limbo.
In truth, no matter who was playing at short, the position was a weak point for the Red Sox last year. Aviles' 13 home runs and 60 RBIs -- good totals for a shortstop -- masked the fact that, otherwise, he just wasn't very good with a bat in his hands, owning a weak OPS+ of 76 on the year.
Likewise, for many fans, Ciriaco was a revelation, providing some much-needed offense and energy to a lineup that was lacking in both. However, as we here at NESN noted while Ciriaco was still hot, his level of play just wasn't sustainable. And, sure enough, once the scouting report on Ciriaco got around the American League and pitchers figured out he would swing at most anything, the utility man fell off a cliff in September and October, owning an OPS of .560 in 111 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, all along Iglesias has been viewed as the shortstop of the future, and now having been in Boston for an uninterrupted month, his glove is just as spectacular as advertised, showing some of the softest hands ever to grace the position. That being said, the rookie did nothing to allay fears that his bat wouldn't justify keeping his glove on the field, putting together a plainly ugly body of work of just eight hits (three extra-base hits) in 68 at-bats -- a slugging percentage of .191. In short, at 22 years old Iglesias does have some room to grow and improve, but it's very difficult to see him improving to the point of being a viable, everyday lineup option.
Both Ciriaco and Iglesias do have value. Ciriaco, especially, if he can continue to develop and learn to play the outfield, has a skill set that could make him one of the better super-utility guys in the big leagues. His aggressiveness, speed and versatility are the kinds of tools that are valuable in a limited role.
However, putting someone who walked just eight times in 76 games into a starting role is just not a recipe for success. Pitchers will undoubtedly exploit that lack of pitch recognition, and thoroughly did as they learned more about the tendancies of the young Ciriaco at the end of 2012. Basically, if he's thrust into an everyday role, you can likely expect results much closer to his September-October statistics than his .801 OPS in July and August.
Of course, Xander Bogaerts made it to Double-A by the end of the 2012 campaign, and has continued to rise to the ever-increasing challenge as he's risen through the minor leagues. There are questions about whether or not his glove will continue to play at shortstop, but improving defensive form, footwork and throwing mechanics are the kinds of skills that can be taught. Conversely, pitch recognition is a skill that players either have or they don't -- Bogaerts looks to have it, Ciriaco does not.
Of course, Bogaerts is at least a season or two away from contributing at the big-league level, which brings up the inevitable question: What do the Red Sox do at shortstop in 2013?
Right now, Ciriaco and Iglesias are the incumbents. However, whether they're capable of making wholesale positive contributions to a ballclub which clearly needs to improve in multiple areas in order to compete next season is questionable at best.
The Red Sox now have the financial flexibility to make at least some of the necessary changes to get back on track in 2013.That was the entire point of the August trade which shipped out Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. Don't except the Red Sox to go and spend all money at once, but it stands to reason that the organization will be looking to reinvest at least some of those savings this winter.
Even if it's just a temporary solution for a couple seasons while awaiting the arrival of Bogaerts, shortstop should be on top of the list in areas where Boston should dip into that flexibility to upgrade.