Marco Scutaro Topps Heritage 2010

I don't want to drag out the box to check, but this has to be the only baseball card in the collection with a picture taken at the player's signing press conference.

Following the hot stove season is easily the most frustrating experience for me as a baseball fan. I have friends who “love” it and really get into all the possibilities, who could sign where, who might be traded, what it means to the long-term plans of the club.

I am not one of those people.

Honestly, I dread it. I hate rumors. I don’t want to hear a thing until a guy has signed on the bottom line, has a jersey number, and will definitely be coming to spring training. This past winter, when it became obvious that the Red Sox were going to let Alex Gonzalez leave (again), all the attention turned to Toronto’s Marco Scutaro, a life-long utility player who had broken out in 2009 until a bum ankle put him down for the season in September.

This terrified me. The Red Sox had just ended the Julio Lugo experiment early, with one year left on a contract everyone but the Boston brass thought was insane, and now talk was turning to signing a 34-year-old coming off what was by far a career year (one that ended early due to injury, no less).

This was the second time they would undervalue Gonzalez’s abilities, and I was still a little peeved that they hadn’t re-signed Orlando Cabrera after winning the 2004 World Series. In fact, if you look at all their shortstops since the mid-season trade that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs — Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Gonzalez, Lugo, Nick Green via injuries, Gonzalez again — it doesn’t take much to realize that Cabrera has been by far the best. Theo Epstein has been a fantastic general manager, but shortstop has been a black hole for him.

Rumors had him signing for four years, and the thought of another veteran shortstop coming for four years — see, there’s a reason, I hate rumors. They’re not real until they stop being rumors, they just cause headaches to a neurotic like me. Scutaro signed for two years and a reasonable amount of money, which helped a bit. He’d also be wearing Renteria’s 16, which I thought was funny.

Thankfully, the worry has turned out to be nothing. During a season where seemingly everyone on the roster has had one ridiculous ailment or another, Scutaro has played in 108 of 111 possible games. He’s put up very respectable numbers: I’ll take a .278 average, a .339 on-base percentage, seven home runs, 27 doubles and 40 walks any day, not even taking into account what Boston shortstops usually do.

But in a season of turmoil, what has made Scutaro so valuable is how steady he is. He’s solid, though not flashy, in the field. When Jacoby Ellsbury went down for most of the season, he slid from hitting ninth to leadoff and never looked out of place. He works his at-bats — he’s seeing 4.03 pitches per plate appearance. He’s just been very good.

I went into the season expecting nothing, that Tug Hulett or someone would wind up playing there by default. The Red Sox have found holes at first base, second base, catcher, center field, left field, in the rotation and in the bullpen, but shortstop has been solid.

Hot-stove worries be damned, Scutaro has plugged a five-year hole at the position.

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