Red Sox pick up Marco Scutaro option

As expected, the Boston Red Sox on Sunday picked up shortstop Marco Scutaro's $6 million team option for 2012.

Scutaro, who had a $3 million player option if the Red Sox had passed, hit a career-best .299 for the season with seven homers and 54 RBIs. He also posted a .358 on-base percentage and a .423 slugging percentage, both career highs.

He was one of the few Red Sox players to step up their game during the team's 7-20 September slide. Scutaro hit .387 in the final month of the season, third best in the American League. Over the last 10 years, only Manny Ramirez (.396 in 2002) and David Ortiz (.396 in 2007) have posted a higher September average for Boston. The strong final month gave Scutaro a .781 OPS that rivaled his final season in Toronto, which is considered to be the best of his career.

"Scutaro had a really good year and we believe he'd be very coveted this offseason if he got into the market," general manager Ben Cherington said at his introductory press conference last week.

Scutaro, who turned 36 on Sunday, figures to be the Opening Day shortstop. Exercising his option all but eliminates the Red Sox as a bidder for free agent shortstop Jose Reyes, and signals their confidence that Jose Iglesias remains their shortstop of the future. The 21-year-old Iglesias probably needs at least another year of seasoning in the minors.

Scurtaro will be entering his third season with the Red Sox and 11th in the majors.

The Red Sox also have a $3 million team option on reliever Dan Wheeler to decide on before Monday night.

Elsewhere, eight Red Sox players -- Erik Bedard, J.D. Drew, Conor Jackson, Trever Miller, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield -- officially became free agents Sunday, though the team does still have a short window of exclusivity before they hit the open market.

Until Thursday at 12:01 a.m. ET, the Red Sox are the only team that can sign any of the eight players.

Of the eight, only Papelbon and Ortiz project to be designated as Type A free agents, meaning that if the Red Sox offer arbitration to either and they decline it, they are entitled to two high draft picks if the player signs elsewhere. The Red Sox have until Nov. 23 to decide whether to offer arbitration to any of their free agents.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Information from ESPN Stats & Information's Jeremy Lundblad was used in this report.