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Nick Punto to Sign with Boston

According to John Heyman (now at CBS Sports, apparently), Nick Punto has agreed to a 2 year, $3.0 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. The deal will also include $500k in incentives.

So remember that news earlier today about the Red Sox trading away Jed Lowrie to the Astros for reliever Mark Melancon? Now that all begins to make some sense. It’s not that trading Lowrie for Melancon was a bad deal for the Red Sox, as they were trading from a position of strength and they acquired a dominant reliever that should help the back end of their bullpen. It just…something didn’t feel right. It wasn’t like the Red Sox to trade away a young position player with upside for a reliever. It was an okay deal, but I’m used to seeing more from the Red Sox.

By signing Punto, though, everything comes into focus.

Despite all the internal snark tossed his way, Nick Punto is actually a valuable player. He won’t hit for much power at all — he’s a lock to hit one home run each season — but he has good plate discipline (10% career walk rate), he doesn’t strike out often (16% career), and he plays average to above average defense at shortstop, second base, and third base. In many ways, he’s an ideal bench player; he may not be an offensive powerhouse, but he has his uses offensively and he can play great defense anywhere in the infield. “Nick Punto: He Does The Little Things Right.” Except this cliche has a basis in truth.

Punto is essentially replacing Jed Lowrie on the roster, as Lowrie would only have been used as a bench player this season with Marco Scutaro under contract for 2012. When looked at from that perspective, the Red Sox have likely improved their team. Punto rates as a better defender than Lowrie by both DRS and UZR (although don’t trust the number too much, as both players have had limited playing time), and Lowrie has the slight nod over Punto offensively. Punto is older, but he’s also been considerably more productive than Lowrie over the past three seasons (4.9 WAR to 1.9 WAR). At worst, Punto and Lowrie are essentially a wash. At best, the Red Sox improved their bench by a small amount.

When you factor in the money, this deal looks even better. Lowrie is under team control for three more seasons, and he is projected to make $1.2 million in arbitration this year. Meanwhile, Punto is now under control by the Red Sox for two seasons at a comparable price  to Lowrie. He’s getting paid much less than Jerry Hairston Jr. got from the Dodgers earlier this offseason (2 years, $6 million), so all in all, he looks like a great value.

Oh, and the Red Sox also acquired Mark Melancon today. He only had a 2.93 SIERA and 25 shutdowns last season – no big deal. Even if Melancon doesn’t end up being a dominant back of the ‘pen arm in the AL East, he’s pure gravy at this point. The Sox have improved their bullpen and their bench all in the same day, and they didn’t have to give up much in the way of talent to do so.

Now that’s more what I expect to see from the Red Sox. Impressive, Cherington. Most impressive.