We're continuing our in-depth look at this winter's positional markets today, and as you can tell from the title we're moving on to shortstop. We've already covered the other infield positions (first base, second base, third base) and catchers, and after today we'll move on to outfielders, designated hitters and then we'll finish the whole shebang with pitching.
THE FREE AGENTS
It's actually a pretty stout market for shortstops this winter, led by Reyes and Rollins. Those are the two impact names, but there's a solid second tier of options as well with the likes of Barmes and Gonzalez. We've already heard a whole lot about Reyes' durability and Rollins' age, but both of them should still command long-term deals worth at least $10 million per season. And while people like to give Punto a hard time, he's a plus defender that just posted a .350 wOBA in his first stint in the NL; he'd be a nice, cheap stopgap for a bunch of teams.
You can basically split this group into two: the aging veterans and the glovemen. Cabrera, Izturis, Renteria and Wilson were all once full-time shortstops, but I highly doubt that any team would give any of them a full-time gig primarily on name value. Carroll's a nice bat but he's probably stretched playing shortstop regularly. Guys like McDonald, Izturis and Wilson are still quality defenders, but they're all pretty miserable hitters, too.
The market should get another small boost here. Furcal and Betancourt will almost surely hit the market, and there are pretty solid odds on Cedeno joining them. I expect the Red Sox to retain Scutaro, given that he's relatively cheap and has played well in his first two years in Boston. Obviously adding Furcal, Betancourt and Cedeno to the market won't exactly blow it up, but it gives teams some alternatives as they look at superior options.
THE TRADE CANDIDATES
Really, when you get your hands on a great shortstop, you don't let them go. That obviously explains why the trade market at the position is so underwhelming; teams simply don't want to give up talent at a position that's so shallow. The former two guys listed here are effectively blocked for next season (assuming that Boston retains Scutaro), while the latter two have been rumored trade candidates in the past. Andino was quietly solid in Baltimore this season, while some team may want to buy low on Lowrie. I'm not sure why the Mariners would want to deal Ryan, a plus-plus defender and a good enough hitter, but we've heard chirps in the past. As for Desmond, he's been in rumors for months; the Nationals may want to replace him, either with Danny Espinosa or an outside acquisition like Rollins.
Possible back-ups: Paul Janish, Alberto Gonzalez
Even with back-ups, it's a pretty weak market. You can get a solid, cheap defender on the trade market if you really want to look around, but you'll have to tolerate some pretty subpar hitting to do so.
There are some intriguing young players, but each of these guys is only available due to their own limitations and/or struggles as a big leaguer. Nunez hit pretty well this year but showed some serious consistency issues on defense, but the other three all struggled pretty badly in the majors this season.
THE BIG WILD CARD
Honestly, I had a really hard time finding a big name that could qualify as a potential wild card for the market. Most of the game's best shortstops are locked up long-term or they're still under team control. There aren't a ton of great shortstop prospects in the upper minors right now, so teams don't have hyped young players putting pressure on management to move the incumbent veteran.
Alas, I've gone with Angels shortstop Erick Aybar. And yeah, I know, he's not a perfect trade candidate. He's coming off of a strong year as the club's primary shortstop, and they can definitely afford his 2012 salary. After making $3 million through arbitration this season, he's due to make around $4-5 million next season; the big-money Angels have more than enough money to retain one of their better players.
But there are some reasons to wonder if he could be a strong trade candidate. The Angels have a possible replacement in house with Maicer Izturis. They have a ton of money locked up in Jered Weaver, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Dan Haren. They could trade Aybar this offseason, shift Izturis to shortstop, use the savings somewhere else and then figure out their long-term situation at the position in 2013, which they'll have to do anyways given that Aybar is a free agent after this season.
This winter, the Cardinals have a whole bunch of roster stuff to deal with. They've already re-signed Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter, but they still have Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson and Furcal hitting free agency, and they have to decide what to do with Adam Wainwright. One place where they can save a few million is shortstop, though, given that they're one of the few teams with a possible everyday replacement already in-house.
Enter Tyler Greene, a 28-year-old shortstop and St. Louis' first-round pick from 2005. After a couple of decent years with Triple-A Memphis, Greene finally had his big breakout in 2011, posting a .323/.422/.579 line with 14 homers in 66 games at that level. He struggled in a short stint with the Red Birds earlier this year, but he could give the club a solid, cheap shortstop. Given how money expensive players they have, that's something they could really use.
For a long time, Freddy Galvis has been regarded as an all-glove, no-bat prospect, the kind of guy that may get a cup of coffee and has a non-zero chance of developing into a decent bench piece. A plus-plus defender at shortstop, Galvis really struggled as a hitter throughout his pro career up until this season. Something appears to have clicked, though, because the 21-year-old posted a .278/.324/.392 line over 590 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A this season. He's still never likely to be even an average hitter, but he's so good defensively that he should be able to play regularly even with a below-average bat. If the Phillies manage to fail in their attempts to retain Rollins this winter, I'll be very curious to see if they give Galvis a shot.
We've seen a good deal of Luis Valbuena before; in 2009, he played in 103 games for the Indians, posting a .250/.298/.416 line over 398 plate appearances. Cleveland found him intriguing enough to hand him significant playing time to begin 2010, but he totally stumbled at the plate and ended up finishing the season in Triple-A. He still hasn't really left the minors since then, appearing in just 17 games with the Indians this season. But the shortstop is still just 25 years old, and he's now accumulated a .304/.387/.468 line across 221 Triple-A games. He won't get a shot in Cleveland given that they're set across the infield with Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, but he's still young and the offensive potential is quite intriguing for a middle infielder.