That revolving door the Boston Red Sox have at the shortstop position took yet another revolution and then some last week with the departure of defensive wizard Alex Gonzalez, who signed a free-agent contract with Toronto.
Now the Sox once again find themselves in the position of looking for an answer at the most important infield position.
Ever since the 2004 trade of Nomar Garciaparra, Boston has had at least eight starting shortstops including Orlando Cabrera, Pokey Reese, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, and — just this year alone — Lowrie, Green, Lugo and Gonzalez once again.
The latest name to be shuffled from burner to burner in the hot stove season is former Blue Jays shortstop Marco Scutaro, who can also play second and third base.
The 34-year-old Venezuelan has eight major league seasons under his belt with a lifetime batting average of .265. Over that span, he has averaged 6.3 home runs and 36.8 RBIs in 105 games per season. As a starter the last two years, he has played in 144 and 145 games. Not exactly eye-popping statistics, but if you want those, check out his defensive stats. In his big league career, Scutaro has committed 62 errors (7.8 per season) while compiling a fielding percentage of .981.
As a guy lobbying the Sox to sign Gonzalez and-or Omar Vizquel for their superlative defense, it’s hard to find fault with them trying to gather up Scutaro and throw him an offer. So rather than criticize the potential move, I prefer to disapprove of the odyssey it took Boston to get to this point.
The Sox could have saved themselves lots of exasperation, second-guessing and money if they had just recognized what they already had in the fold five years ago and simply re-signed Cabrera instead of trying to find a super shortstop (offensive and defensive star) in Renteria. They hoped Renteria would be an older version of Hanley Ramirez, the young super shortstop they traded to get Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.
Cabrera was deemed too costly to re-sign for the kind of return the Sox would get, so they opted to spend even more and get Renteria, who couldn’t handle Fenway’s turf or intense atmosphere. Then again, the Sox may basically compound their error this year by letting Gonzalez go and replacing him with Scutaro, who is a year older than Gonzalez with three fewer seasons to his credit.
Scutaro has established himself as a blue-collar, hustling, fan favorite and someone who could well be the ideal complement to second baseman Dustin Pedroia. So what’s the problem? Well, the Sox already had that guy. His name was Alex Gonzalez.
— ANDREW NEFF
Celtics’ Garnett regaining old form
It’s been a pretty solid start for the Boston Celtics, but one not all that satisfying to many fans.
But there’s plenty of reason for optimism, particularly given the team’s recent play.
First, the Celtics finally won on a Friday night, defeating the Toronto Raptors 116-103 on the day after Thanksgiving to lift an 0-3 curse.
More important, Kevin Garnett is getting his groove back.
Garnett has scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Boston’s last two games, the home-court victory over Toronto followed by Sunday’s solid 92-85 victory at Miami, during which KG shot 11 of 12 from the field while scoring 24 points and grabbing eight boards.
That followed a 6-for-6 shooting effort against Toronto.
Perhaps Garnett is following the example of Tom Brady, the New England Patriots’ quarterback who has rounded into form after starting the season sluggishly in the aftermath of knee surgery.
Like Brady, Garnett’s 2008-09 season fell victim to knee woes and the comeback would not be complete until he tested the knee in game situations.
Seventeen games into the new season, Garnett’s knee looks sound and the Celtics are a quiet 13-4, one-half game behind 14-4 Orlando for the best record in the NBA’s Eastern Conference entering Monday’s games.
Garnett’s returning mid-range jumper — he beat the New York Knicks with a buzzer-beating 18-footer in overtime to start Boston’s current four-game winning streak — and his inside play have helped the Celtics start to veer away from the 3-point-happy ways that marked the start of their season.
The Celtics scored a season-high 68 points in the paint against Toronto, then had 48 points in the paint against Miami, with Kendrick Perkins providing key complementary play with a combined 32 points and 18 rebounds in the two games.
And while Garnett’s re-emergence has been long awaited, Perkins’ work has been impressive. The sixth-year pro is averaging 11.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting 62.2 percent from the field.
When both Perkins and Garnett are shooting well, that means the Celtics are getting good shots, and in the end such good shots will give the Green a great shot at adding an 18th championship banner to the TD Garden rafters.
— ERNIE CLARK
Chara is pivotal to Bruins’ success
There are a lot of reasons behind the Boston Bruins’ steady climb up the standings the past couple of years.
One of the major reasons is the tallest player to have ever played in the NHL, team captain Zdeno Chara.
The 6-foot-9 defenseman has not only been an exceptional defender, he has also been one of their offensive catalysts with 144 points over the previous three seasons. Seventy-nine of those points have come on the power play, including 29 of his 47 goals.
And he’s a workhorse.
Last season, when the Bruins reached the Eastern Conference semis, Chara averaged 26:04 in playing time per game. That’s nearly half the game. The year before, when the Bruins nearly upset the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, Chara averaged 26:50 of ice time.
His time has been reduced to a mere 24:26 per game so far this season but it’s still early.
The winner of the 2008-2009 Norris Trophy, given to the league’s best defenseman, is tied for second on the team in points with 14 on a goal and 13 assists.
He has won the hardest shot competition at the NHL All-Star game three times and owns the record at 105.4 miles per hour.
Chara can play the game any way he has to. He can deliver a bone-rattling hit or use his great reach to poke-check the puck or deflect shots.
His reach is also useful at the point on the power play to keep pucks in the offensive zone.
Chara is an exceptional athlete whose father, Zdenek, was a Greco-Roman wrestler who represented Czechoslovakia in the 1976 Summer Olympics.
He is also a well-rounded individual. He speaks five languages and works out religiously.
The five-year, $37.5 million contract he signed as a free agent in 2006 was one of the best signings the Bruins have ever made. The fact he was made the team captain right afterwards tells you something about his character.
— LARRY MAHONEY