Red Sox exercise option on shortstop Marco Scutaro

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BOSTON (AP) - New Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington made his first move since his promotion, picked up the contract option on shortstop Marco Scutaro on Sunday

The Red Sox will pay $6 million for Scutaro, who helped stabilize a position that seemed to be in perpetual flux since Nomar Garciaparra was traded away in the World Series championship season of 2004. Before Scutaro arrived, general manager Theo Epstein churned through seven regular shortstops in five seasons.

But Epstein, who left this month to take over the Chicago Cubs, stabilized the position when he signed Scutaro as a free agent after the 2009 season. Scutaro got a two-year deal for $11 million with a mutual option for 2012; he had a $3 million player’s option with a $1.5 million buyout.

The announcement came on Scutaro’s 36th birthday.

Scutaro hit a career-best .299 last season, second-best among qualifying AL shortstops. He also had a career-best .423 slugging percentage.

Scutaro spent most of his career as a utilityman for the New York Mets and Oakland Athletics before earning the starting job in Toronto in 2008. After two years with the Blue Jays, the Red Sox brought him in to stop the revolving door they’ve had at the position since Garciaparra was traded midway through the ‘04 season.

Orlando Cabrera was the shortstop on the World Series-winning team, but he was followed by Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo and Gonzalez again; Jed Lowrie, Nick Green and Alex Cora were also in the mix.

Lowrie, who has struggled to remain healthy, is eligible for arbitration. He played a career-high 88 games last year while also spending almost two months on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury. Cuban defector Jose Iglesias, 21, is being groomed as the shortstop of the future.

Scutaro’s signing eliminates one of many question marks for the ballclub that posted the largest September collapse in baseball history. Leading the wild-card race by nine games on Sept. 3, they went 7-20 in the final month and were eliminated from the playoff race on the final night of the season.

Designated hitter David Ortiz and closer Jonathan Papelbon became free agents on Sunday, as did left-hander Erik Bedard, outfielder J.D. Drew, right-hander Tim Wakefield and catcher Jason Varitek, among others.

John Lackey will miss all of next season with Tommy John surgery. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, who were part of a rotation that went 4-13 with a 7.08 ERA in September, have been dogged by reports that they were uncaring teammates, eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games.

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