As always, Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein lined up his possibilities, from a Dustin Pedroia and Orlando Hudson double-play combination to a couple of trade options. But Marco Scutaro came to where Epstein wanted at what amounted to two guaranteed years and $11 million and a deal got done between the sides, pending Friday's physical, of course.
Scutaro's workout for Red Sox executive Allard Baird and the medical information passed along convinced the Red Sox in a span of 36 hours that the 34-year-old shortstop was past the plantar fasciitis issue that plagued him the last two months of the season.
Baird put Scutaro through a series of hard workouts in Miami and told Epstein that he thought Scutaro is ready to play. In fact, Scutaro thought so as well, and was planning to go play in Venezuela.
"In order for that injury to heal properly, it has to tear," one Red Sox official said. "It finally tore the last week of the season, and he's ready to play. Allard was very impressed."
In mid-July, Scutaro's defensive metrics -- according to three teams' valuations -- were the best in the American League. Then the foot began bothering him, and the numbers were affected in August and September. "He'll be fine," former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said. "When he's healthy, he's one of the three best defensive shortstops in the league.
"He's one of the best shortstops, period," Ricciardi said. "He's a guy that's going to be able to play at this level until he's 37 or 38. He works at it. Look, this is a great signing. He's a really smart player. He's a great baserunner. He keeps improving [his on-base percentage has risen from .332 to .341 to .379 the past three seasons]. He grinds at-bats [he led all shortstops in pitches per at-bat]. He could bat leadoff and they could let Dustin Pedroia bat third. He can do a lot of things."
Epstein is always looking for hitters who grind at-bats, and next year's team will have five of the top 18 American League hitters in pitches per at-bat in Kevin Youkilis (No. 1), David Ortiz (7), J.D. Drew (9), Scutaro (13) and Victor Martinez (18).
Scutaro buys them time to see if Jed Lowrie recovers from his hand injury. Lowrie was all right batting right-handed even after surgery (he has a career .886 OPS right-handed), and if he proves he can play every day he becomes a super utilityman.
Scutaro also buys them time on 19-year-old Cuban Jose Iglesias. There are some in the organization who feel Iglesias could be ready by the middle of 2011, but now there should be no rush to put him in place before 2012. If he sticks, Scutaro can end the Nomar Garciaparra/Orlando Cabrera/Edgar Renteria/Alex Gonzalez/Julio Lugo/Lowrie/Nick Green/Gonzalez revolving door, a door Epstein is reminded of every day. Since the Red Sox got Billy Wagner for Chris Carter -- Mets ownership didn't want to have to pay Wagner or two draft picks -- they got the 20th and sandwich picks for Carter and thus could give Toronto the 29th pick for Scutaro, so it was a good move for the Blue Jays.
The Red Sox still have a lot to do, starting with trying to sign either Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. They are looking to see what happens in the third-base market, if Chone Figgins, Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa or Joe Crede falls. DeRosa's versatility makes him a particularly intriguing possibility.
Then they have to assess how much payroll remains and whether they can get involved with a Ben Sheets and one or two other relievers.
"We still have a lot to do," Epstein said. But after talking at length to Baird and Ricciardi this week, he feels a lot better about the middle of his infield than he did in the middle of the summer.
Hall of Fame baseball reporter Peter Gammons has been a baseball analyst for ESPN since 1988 and is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com