The Rockies have had a confusing offseason, but there should be no confusion on their latest move, which was to acquire infielder Marco Scutaro from the Red Sox. The move, a salary dump for the Red Sox, is a clear win for Colorado.
Any devoted Rockies follower will tell you that the Rox have had their fair share of turnover at the keystone. The elder Eric Young was a mainstay for a few years, and Clint Barmes held things down for a few years after Troy Tulowitzki bumped him off of shortstop, but otherwise it has been a revolving door. A revolving door is no problem if the players coming through are good ones, but that has not been the case in Colorado. Collectively, Rockies’ second basemen have been worth three wins in a season once in 19 tries. And while a part-time player can quickly drag an overall position WAR down in a short amount of time, their individual leaderboard tells a very similar story:
The instability at second reached a fevered pitch last season. Seven players accumulated at least 15 innings in the field, and three of them — Mark Ellis, Jonathan Herrera and Chris Nelson — manned the spot for at least 200.
All of this is to say that Scutaro should be like a soothing balm for the Rockies. He has been worth at least 2.4 wins in each of the past four seasons. He has held his own defensively at shortstop throughout his career, and while he has only played significant innings at second in one season, he has played there enough that he has put together 2,000 innings at the position overall, and those overall defensive numbers at second are sound. He should be a boon for the Rockies, and has an outside shot at being the best they ever had at second.
The arrival of Scutaro also fills one of the Rockies two remaining holes, and pushes the candidates that were likely to compete for the second base job into a competition for utility roles. If we operate under the assumption that there are roster spots already slotted for 12 pitchers, two catchers, five outfielders and infielders Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Troy Tulowitzki and Scutaro, that leaves two spots for the following seven players:
Now, that assumption could be faulty. The team could choose to run with 11 pitchers, or four true outfielders with one of the players listed in a hybrid infielder/outfielder role. But the point is that the battles on the position-player side of the map have dwindled considerably with this deal. With only third base — where Blake and Arenado figure to be the chief candidates — and one or two utility spots left up for grabs, the roster instantly has more shape and certainty than it did on Friday.
Scutaro doesn’t just stabilize the Rockies defensively and help shape the roster though, he can also stabilize the batting order. Last season, the ever-tinkering Jim Tracy started five different players in the two-hole in at least seven games, and the team’s second basemen were among the more popular choices for that spot in the lineup. Here, Scutaro will be a major upgrade. Not only is he one of the peskiest hitters in the game, but he is also quite patient. In two of the last three seasons, he has walked more frequently than he has struck out and last season he was one of just 10 players to walk more than they struck out (min. 400 PA). Assuming Tracy can resist the urge to tinker with the lineup too much, Scutaro should slot in nicely in the two-hole.
The icing on the cake of this deal is that Colorado gave up nothing that they valued. As I discussed last week, the Rockies have plenty of candidates for their pitching staff, and there were going to have to be a lot of injuries for Clayton Mortensen to work his way into the picture. While Mortensen put up a decent enough 3.86 ERA in the bigs last season, his peripheral stats were much worse, and the Rockies weren’t counting on him. It doesn’t appear that the Red Sox will be counting on him either, as from their side the deal was mainly about freeing up money to pursue another starting pitcher, with the after-effect of creating an unusual platoon at shortstop.
In an offseason where the Rockies have confounded observers, they pulled a rare carrot out of their hat — taking on money in a deal from a team in a (much) larger market that needed/wanted to dump it. It’s a move that few would have expected, which in a sense puts it right alongside some of their other deals this winter. But whether the Rockies are intending to compete, reload or rebuild, this deal is a no-brainer. The team had no prospect beating down the door at second, and no proven option already in the stable (though I still would like to see Chris Nelson get 500 plate appearances on some big-league team), which was a scary thought for a team with a history of poor play at second. Scutaro fits the Rockies’ needs perfectly, and while this trade isn’t the master stroke that puts Colorado on par with the Diamondbacks or Giants, it certainly narrows the gap.
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