The Boston Red Sox have a decision to make at shortstop, and the right answer is about as foggy as Stephen Drew’s slightly concussed mind.
Drew suffered a concussion on March 7th. He has not played in a spring training game since then. He still feels foggy at times, although his doctors have given him the go-ahead to begin batting practice and work in the field. Given he has missed significant spring training time, his ability to be ready for opening day seems doubtful.
Meanwhile, Pedro Ciriaco continues to hit. And Jose Iglesias continues to defend. Against the Orioles on March 21st, Iglesias fielded six ground balls. The Sox have had only one gold glove winner at shortstop: Rick Burleson won in 1979. The last time the Sox won the World Series, they had a defense-first shortstop in Alex Gonzalez. They have never had a shortstop and second basemen win the Gold Glove in the same year, and Pedroia is already a two-time winner at second base in 2008 and 2011. The two could present the most formidable second base / shortstop defensive combination in the entire league; couple that with a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury, who won the Gold Glove in center in 2011, and the Sox could have the best up-the-middle defense in the franchise’s history, not to mention the foundation to a deep postseason run.
Pedro Ciriaco is 10 for 30 at the plate so far this spring training. He plays like he belongs, which he does. His confidence grows with the size of the moment. Ciriaco hit .415 with a .436 OBP against the Yankees last season. In 49 at-bats with runners in scoring position in 2012, Ciriaco hit .306 with a .358 OBP. This Sox team will rely on its sense of the moment and clutch plays.
Stephen Drew hit just .215 last season with runners in scoring position. He is a much more patient hitter than Ciriaco, as despite a lower career average than Pedro; Drew has a higher on-base-percentage. Defensively, it remains to be seen if one can separate himself from the other.
The only bigger difference than the styles of the two are their contracts. While Ciriaco will play out his minor league contract through the 2014 season at least, when he is eligible for arbitration, Boston signed Drew to a 1 year, $9.5 million contract. Jose Iglesias, too, will continue to play on his minor league contract. Considering Drew’s contract is for just one season, I have no idea whether his big money gives him some kind of edge on the depth chart. I don’t see why it would, since the team does not have to worry about any long-term chemistry issues or wasted money down the road if Ciriaco or Iglesias wins the shortstop job. If the Sox let Drew walk after the season, they will get a compensatory draft pick. And his one-year deal could make him attractive to a team in need of a shortstop during the season, either for a second-tier prospect or perhaps some middle relief help if the Sox need to plug a hole due to injury.
So we have three styles to choose from: the plate-disciplined Drew, the defensive wizard Iglesias, or the clutch, Yankee-killing Ciriaco.
Ideally, once the concussion fog clears from Drew’s head, you’d like to think the fog would clear from the shortstop debate, too. Unfortunately, the situation may get even cloudier.