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The robust MLB shortstop market is suppressing the robust MLB shortstop market

What if MLB owners let that be the story?

Cleveland Indians v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

General optimism about the future and ‘the promise of tomorrow’ is an overarching theme in every sport, with every team. It’s especially important with clubs that haven’t had a lot of recent success, which is an independent clause that I’m sure will resonate with fans of a certain baseball club about whom this blog spends most of its time a-blogging.

Every new manager opens a window of optimism. Every signing, every trade, every draft pick opens one, an ambitious future beacon on whom we can structure our hopes for sports ascension, even if we subliminally know the odds of it ever turning out brilliant are the longest of long.

All 30 franchises create these dream scenarios on the same plane, and there’s only one World Series per year, after all.

Anyway, it’s that premise that brings me to the shortstop market, a market that the Cincinnati Reds are trying to navigate to the best of their ability during financial times that aren’t exactly the rosiest. With Freddy Galvis a free agent and Jose Garcia slated for a bit more minor league seasoning, the Reds are in the position of needing an outside addition at a position of major importance if they’re to have any legitimate shot of making waves in the National League this year.

Fortunately for them, there are numerous solid options in free agency at the moment. There’s Andrelton Simmons and his platinum glove, Marcus Semien a full year removed from an MVP-caliber campaign, and former Red Didi Gregorius back and healthy after a successful ‘show me’ campaign with Philadelphia. All very good players with several more in-prime years left on their legs, all deserving of multi-year deals and good chunks of money based on everything we’ve ever known about the business of baseball.

Here’s the conundrum, though. For the Reds, and every other team out there looking for a shortstop addition, there’s the allure of the future at play. If you’re a team in need of a 6 with intentions of competing in 2021, adding any of the three names above is clearly in your wheelhouse. In almost every scenario, they deserve multi-year guarantees, even if knocks and less-than-stellar 2020 production are on their ledger. But in doing so, and committing to anything beyond just 2021, every team almost immediately takes themselves out of the market for a shortstop during the 2021-2022 offseason.

Francisco Lindor will be a free agent in that offseason. So, too, will the likes of Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, and Corey Seager. The depth of that level of available talent at perhaps the most important position on the diamond is set to be staggering, especially with the financial issues currently at play doing their part to eliminate any chance of extensions big enough to take them off the market before they reach free agency.

So, the question for front offices and owners across the game becomes this - is it really worth pursuing any of Simmons, or Gregorius, or Semien right now if it takes you out of the running for the others? If you’re in need of a legitimate upgrade at such a vital position and the chance to land one of the second group is this close, is it really worth spending what it should take to land one of the first group?

For some clubs, it’ll still be worth the risk. The promise of a future with fans back in stands, at some point, will let the pressure on current revenue streams dissipate in next-year models. Some clubs might even have some versatility baked into their roster, with openings at 2B or 3B in the next year accommodating the chance to sign two of the overall group.

But let’s be real here for a second - ownership groups league-wide aren’t exactly enthralled with spending money at all at the moment, let alone money they don’t think is perfectly earmarked. It sucks, from a player perspective, to see so many worthy players who in other years would’ve been making life-altering money stuck waiting to see which billionaire will blink first.

For Simmons, that could mean his recent injury history becomes his tagline this winter when we don’t hear of any long-term offers sent his way. For Semien, it might be the 7 out of 8 years of his career he’s posted an OPS+ less than 100, with his brilliant 2019 scoffed at as an outlier. For Didi, it may well be his statcast peripherals, the weak contact suggesting he’s not the ideal fit as the way we evaluate the modern offensive game evolves. All pertinent points, but not the kind of news in any vacuum-winter that would keep long-term deals being sent their way.

The wealth of options, the wealth of future options, and the larger revenue issues is likely going to make this position group, more so than others, the most suppressed this winter, I fear.

From the perspective of the Reds pocketbooks, that might end up an ideal scenario. There’s a very real chance that they’ll be able to end up with one of Gregorius, Semien, or Simmons on a deal that’s only a 1-year guarantee. The Reds pocketbooks won’t be on the hook for any bank-breaking money, they’ll get an upgrade for 2021, and not price themselves out of making an even bigger splash again this time a year from now.

For those who will deftly note that there’s still a trade market this winter that could land the Reds, or anyone else, one of the prized shortstops who are a year removed from free agency, that’s undeniably true. We know Cleveland would love to land half a farm system for Lindor before he walks. But for teams like the Reds, potential acquiring teams, it’s becoming clearer by the day that they’d much rather hold that farm system, find a solid stop-gap option for a year, and then chase the big fish next year. Thanks to the league-wide lack of spending, they’re lucking into the precise ability to do just that.

(Though I do suppose it’s hard to truly call it ‘lucking into’ when they’re the market-makers themselves.)