Rockies Trade Clayton Mortensen for Marco Scutaro

It’s been a twilight zone-ish offseason for the Rockies’ front office, as they’ve shipped first-round draft picks off to other teams and padded their lineup with big-name players. Well, “big” for the Rockies, which can mean quite small for other teams. But in any event, I think we can all agree that the shakeup has been much greater than any of us anticipated. The opening day roster in 2012 may look more different from the preceding year than any in recent memory.

The latest change is the addition of an everyday second baseman. Tonight the Rockies completed a deal with the Red Sox for infielder Marco Scutaro. Scutaro has generally played shortstop over the past few seasons, but we already have one of those, so he’ll play 2nd. Defensively, this is a fine deal. Only the most gymnastic of defenders can play short, so Scutaro’s experience there means he’s an upgrade over most second basemen. This is not to say he was elite at short (he’s compiled a UZR of -11.7 over 10 seasons there), but rather that he brings better range and perhaps a bit more finesse than the average 2B.

More importantly, he ends the speculation over who will compete for that job. Just to give you a frame of reference, Chris Nelson has a UZR of -9.1 in just two seasons at 2nd. Eric Young Jr.’s is a slightly better + 0.3 over three seasons. Neither offer the experience or stability that Scutaro does. Either or both might eventually be ready to start every day at the big-league level; 2012 is unlikely to be that year.

Offensively, Scutaro should be a solid 2-hole hitter. Last season for Boston, he hit a career-best .299 with a .358 on-base percentage. He’s not much of a power hitter (7 home runs in 445 plate appearances), but in that spot we don’t need him to be. In the strange, unfamiliar world known as the American League, Scutaro spent most of 2011 batting 9th, but in17 games hitting 2nd his OBP was .364. His 1.4 WAR in 2011 isn’t stunningly good, but it’s better than Mark Ellis‘s 0.9.

Who do we lose in the deal? Pitcher Clay Mortensen, whom I have a bit of a soft spot for. His debut with the Rockies last season was so stunning it made my top 10 pitching performances list. But things quickly derailed from there, as his sinker took its leave and his fly ball percentage skyrocketed. Morty has a lot of potential, and I think he could be great. I also think the change of scenery will do him good, and the bottom line is that we have more pitchers than any one team could ever know what to do with. It makes perfect sense to clean them out a little to make room for a more needed player like Scutaro.

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