According to Alex Speier, it was all about the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) ... also known as the luxury tax. The actual math is sort of complicated and Speier's a mensch for going through all of it, but here's the nut:
When the Sox exercised the shortstop’s $6 million option for 2012, it transformed his deal into a three-year, $17 million contract. That, in turn, meant that for the coming season, he would have counted for not just his $6 million salary for luxury tax purposes, but instead $7.67 million (the difference between the $17 million he’d make and the $9.33 million for which he’d counted in 2010 and 2011).
In dealing Scutaro to the Rockies, the Red Sox shed $7.67 million in CBT payroll for the coming year. For the Rockies, that’s an irrelevant consideration, since they’re not bumping up against the luxury tax threshold. But for the Sox, who are nearing the $178 million threshold, that CBT figure is a major consideration.
So it's about a) avoiding the Competitive Balance Tax, and b) signing Roy Oswalt. But what if the Red Sox don't wind up signing Roy Oswalt? Or someone like him? (By the way, there aren't many like him.)
Once we learned the Sox were desperate to keep within a certain payroll -- for whatever reason, and however surprisingly -- there remained yet another question, which still confounds me ... They couldn't get more for Scutaro than Clayton Mortensen?
Maybe he'll turn into a strike-throwing machine while remaining a groundball-producing machine, and the Red Sox will have another Derek Lowe on their hands. Maybe the Red Sox' internal metrics show Scutaro as a sub-par defensive shortstop. But while I'm grateful to Alex Speier for providing a piece of the puzzle, there's still some stuff about this deal that I can't figure.
Hey, here's a new one: the Boston Red Sox just dumped salary and created a hole in their lineup?
Well, yeah. They did. The Sox have traded Marco Scutaro, their best shortstop, and sloughed off Scutaro's $6 million contract, which seems a pittance considering a) Scutaro's been worth something like $22 million over the last couple of seasons, and 2) Scutaro's departure apparently leaves shortstop in the hands of Nick Punto, who 3) can't hit.
There's one thing to be said for Punto: Though he's not actually played a great deal of shortstop in his career, he seems to be fairly adept at the position. It's possible that the Red Sox's internal metrics suggest that Punto can play Gold Glove-quality shortstop, nearly every day. Unlikely. But possible.
The Red Sox did receive Clayton Mortensen from the Rockies in the deal, and Mortensen joins a long list of candidates for the back end of Boston's rotation.
He's not a particularly good candidate, though. Almost 27, Mortensen's spent most of the last four seasons with various Class AAA teams, and posted an uninspiring (1.88) strikeout-to-walk ratio. In limited major-league action he's been significantly worse.
So again, this looks mostly like a salary dump. And a $6 million salary dump, at that.
It almost seems that there must be something else to this story. Why Clayton Mortensen? Scutaro's a legitimate every-day shortstop, good enough to play for most of the teams in the majors. The Sox really couldn't do better than Mortensen? Do they see something in him that we can't see? Do they have a deal lined up for another shortstop? Did they really need that $6 million to afford Roy Oswalt or somebody?
Even leaving aside that the Red Sox usually have pretty good reasons for doing what they do, might this be the strangest deal of the winter? And are the Rockies really this smart?
That's a lot of questions, I know. But that's what happens when I am nonplussed.