The Hot Stove season is no season at all. It’s the worst of all worlds, a thick stew of rumors, trades, worries and superstitions without the one piece of the game that makes all that nonsense manageable — actual baseball games.
I actively avoid rumors at this time. I’m not interested in who might sign where as much as I am when I actually do. Then, weighing lineups and juggling batting orders can bring a lift in the dead of winter between Bruins games.
But one bit of business for the Red Sox, coming off back-to-back third place finishes, struck a somber chord with this fan — Marco Scutaro, pencilled in as 2012’s starting shortstop, was off to the Colorado Rockies for a relief pitcher and salary help. With him goes one of the few old-world ball players the Red Sox have had in recent years, outside of Dustin Pedroia.
I was initially critical of the signing of Scutaro, seemingly another expensive fix in lieu of developing a real shortstop, the heir to Nomar Garciaparra’s throne. But Scutaro’s play quickly won me over. He handled himself well in the leadoff spot when Jacoby Ellsbury went down for nearly all of 2010. He overcame early fielding jitters to eventually become a rock in the infield. He played hurt. He played hard. He insisted on being in the lineup, so appreciative of the opportunity to be an everyday player in the Major Leagues that it would’ve taken a Mack Truck to get between him and the field.
In an era of interchangable players, callously referred to as “pieces” weighted in offensive value and measured by defensive metrics by many writers within the realm of baseball, Scutaro threw me back to watching baseball on my bed as a fourth grader, watching a bad Red Sox team try and try to grind out hits, runs and wins. Scutaro would’ve been the best player on the 1992 Red Sox, arguably. Another team rife with injuries and older veterans, he would’ve been a spark at the top of that lineup, playing wherever the manager scribbled his name.
Luckily, he didn’t play that early. He was saved for a time 18 years later when Boston would need him, filling the never-ending void at shortstop, sliding over to second base when Dustin Pedroia broke his foot, batting up and down the order, playing despite a shoulder injury where a grenade might as well have gone off in his body.
2011 was the prototypical Scutaro season. Injury limited him to 113 games, and Jed Lowrie pushed for his job at shortstop early in the season. But by the end, with many players reeling and disappointing, Scutaro put up a 1.019 OPS in midst of Boston’s September swoon. The Red Sox went down, but Scutaro went down fighting.
Marco Scutaro is gone, left to man second base in the National League in the thin mountain air, a casualty of increasing detail to finances and, specifically, the luxury tax.
Next season, Mike Aviles and Nick Punto will man his position until rookie Jose Iglesias is deemed ready for the spotlight. And fans in Denver will be discovering the modest thrill of watching Scutaro ply his trade, game in, game out.