Free Agent Options: Shortstops

As Walt Jocketty spends his time in Chicago, cozying up to the other GMs for a long Winter's nap season of dealing, he appears to have two priorities on his mind: shortstop and catcher.  The Reds had reportedly been trying to deal with the Brewers for J.J. Hardy, but those talks didn't get anywhere and now Hardy is in Minnesota, likely to be the starting shortstop for the opening of the new Target Field.

The Reds could stick with Paul Janish and hope for the best, but his combined batting line of .231/.317/.332 over the last 3 years in the Majors and Minors doesn't exactly instill a bunch of confidence in his ability to be the everyday shortstop for a contending team.  Not that he is without his positives.  He could potentially be on one of the top 5 defensive shortstops in the league.  Based upon his very small sample in the big leagues, he's been doing quite well.  He's posted a UZR of 9.9 in 118 big league games at shortstop - hardly enough of a sample to know what his true talent level is, but if it is anywhere around 10, he's one of the best.  On a team that could be struggling to generate offense though, his defense may not be enough to make up for that putrid offense.

So, what are some of the options out there for the Reds to fill the need at shortstop?  While they could still make a trade, it's hard to know at this point who (Hanley Ramirez) might be available.  We do know who should be free agents though, so let's look at them.

According to Cots, there are 12 possible free agent shortstops available this off-season.  I doubt that anybody seriously considers Juan Castro, Alex Cora, Bobby Crosby, Ramon Martinez, or John McDonald as much of an option as an everyday starter at shortstop.  I don't really feel like discussing Alex Gonzalez for fear that the Reds might read this and misconstrue it as a desire to have him back on the team.  Adam Everett can still do a pretty good job of picking it in the field, but honestly, he's just an older, more injury-prone version of Janish.  And Kahlil Greene is a decent bet to hit better than Janish, but his 3 year average for UZR puts him at about 8 runs below the average shortstop defensively.  Given that even at his best, he's basically a league average hitter, I wouldn't say he's worth it.

That leaves us with four possibilities on the free agent market: Orlando Cabrera, Marco Scutaro, Miguel Tejada, and Jack Wilson.  We'll take a look at each after the jump.

Orland Cabrera

I would have loved for the Reds to sign Cabrera a couple of years ago, but I'm a little leery of signing a 35-year old shortstop coming off of a bad season.  Cabrera was only slightly above replacement-level last year (0.6 WAR) and that's mainly because he played a difficult position.  His 3-year average UZR puts him at about 2.5 runs above average, which isn't bad for a shortstop, but his age leaves me concerned that his defensive skills may have deteriorated more than a 3-year average might indicate (his UZR in 2009 was -15.3).  Offensively, he's much better than Janish, even in a bad season, but his wOBA has dropped each of the last 3 seasons from a career high of .331 (about league average) in 2007 to .316 in 2008 to .310 in 2009. He's definitely not trending the right way.

When I would take him: I haven't been too positive on Cabrera, but I would take him on a one-year deal for at most $3 million (he made $4 million on a one-year deal last year).  The biggest problem that I see with him as an option is that if his defense has gone, his reputation as a great defender will precede him, which means that he'll never be taken out for a defensive replacement.  He's not good enough on offense or defense to justify that.

 

Marco Scutaro

The first thing that jumps out at me for Scutaro is the red flag of an outlier year.  Actually it would be an outlier 2 years.  As a 33-year old, Scutaro put up his best season in 2009 (4.5 WAR), topping his previous best season of 2008 (2.7 WAR), which topped his previous best season of, well, he was never really that good before then.  He is exactly the type of player the Reds should shy away from, if you ask me.  It's not normal for players to suddenly get better and turn in All Star performances in their early or mid-30s.  He is a high risk for a fall-off from his 2009 season, but baseball doesn't tend to pay players that way.  I'm guessing that Scutaro will get paid as if he has found a new level, and I'm also guessing that won't turn out to be a good contract.

When I would take him: That's not to say that I wouldn't consider signing him.  I wouldn't give him anymore than 2 guaranteed years though, and I wouldn't want any of his years to be worth more than $6 million.  On the positive side, Scutaro increased his plate discipline dramatically last year, and that seems to have had a great affect on his output.  His BABIP actually appears to be in line with expectation, so I wouldn't say his season was obviously fluky at the plate.  However, the Reds don't exactly have a reputation for fostering patience at the plate.  Defensively, he appears to be good enough that if he can stay around league average offensively, he could be worth 2-2.5 wins.  I'm just not convinced that his offense is real yet.

 

Miguel Tejada

The real issue with Tejada is salary expectations.  He has averaged $12 million a year over the last 4 years, and I would imagine that he's not going to be willing to take an overly dramatic paycut next year unless the market forces it on him.  He is likely the best offensive option for shortstop available this off-season.  He definitely doesn't have the output of his, ahem, prime years, but he's been slightly better than average over 2 of the last 3 years, and I think he's a safe bet to be somewhere close to average in 2010.  The big concern offensively is that he only walked 19 times in over 635 plate appearances last year.  Dusty Baker may like that, but it scares the bejeezus out of me.  He did balance that with just 48 strikeouts, so at least he's putting the ball in play.  And he's probably still good for 30+ doubles and 15 HR, which could give the offense a little bit of a boost.  Defensively, he's below average (probably around 4 runs below average), but I think it's well enough known that he's not a defensive master that Baker would likely use Janish as a defensive replacement for him. 

When I would take him: With Tejada, the Reds best hope is that he has too high of expectations for what kind of money he can get and he is forced to take a one-year "prove yourself" deal.  If I'm Jocketty, I'm lurking around Tejada, ready to swoop in and make a deal at the first sign of this possibility.  I'm not too worried about the money on a one-year deal because I think Tejada would make Gomes somewhat expendable, though it'd definitely be nice to have both.  I'm not sure I would do multi-years for Tejada, mainly because I expect he'll be changing positions in the next year or two.

 

Jack Wilson

Wilson actually has an option that still needs to be declined, but I have a hard time believing that the Mariners want to pay him $8.4 million in 2010.  Wilson might be an odd choice for the Reds to consider because he's basically a slightly better version of Janish, but he'll likely cost a few million more.  However, Wilson is a somewhat better hitter than Janish, and has been much better at times.  That potential could make him attractive as a free agent, especially since his worst season after his rookie year is still considerably better than what Janish has done as a big leaguer.  Defensively, Wilson is close to as good as his reputation, and that's the most you can ask for a player that makes announcers go ga ga over his defense.  The downside of Wilson is that there is no way you'll get Baker to move him out of the 2-spot in the lineup.

When I would take him: Something that I haven't mentioned yet, but is actually very important in these considerations is the type of free agent each of these guys are.  Cabrera, Scutaro,and Tejada are all Type-A free agents, which means that if their respective teams offer them arbitration and they decline and sign with a new team, the new team will have to give up their first round pick.  The caveat to this is if that pick is in the first 15, then they'd have to give up their 2nd round pick.  So, if the Reds, who have the 12th pick in the draft, sign any of the previous players, they'd likely have to give up their 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft.  It's not a enormous sacrifice, but still a big consideration. (EDIT: It appears that Cabrera is not a risk to be offered arbitration as his contract states that the Twins cannot offer arbitration to him, so signing him will not mean draft picks.  Thanks to Thundering Turtle for the clarification.)

Wilson is not a Type-A free agent.  He has however managed to be a league average players (about 2 WAR) over the last 3 seasons.  This is because the Elias Rankings that determine the type of free agency don't take defensive value into account.  Wilson is a very good defender with at least some possibility to be a decent, though not great hitter.  Since the Reds wouldn't have to give up any draft picks, that should make him even more attractive.  I'd consider him over Janish mainly because I think Wilson has a better chance to be average at his position.  I suspect though that he'll be looking for a multi-year deal.  Even if the deal is a cheap one, I really wouldn't want someone like him blocking Zack Cozart, who frankly looks like a much younger, cheaper version of Wilson.

What do you think?  Do any of these guys do it for you at shortstop?

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