Free Agency Preview: Shortstops

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Thumbnail image for marco scutaro.jpgFree Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
Free Agency Preview – Second base
Free Agency Preview – Third base
This is part five in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. Here’s the breakdown of the shortstop position.
Marco Scutaro (Blue Jays) – Scutaro, who played mostly second base in the minors, has been cast off by several teams during a career that began in 1996, but at the age of 33, he suddenly emerged as an excellent leadoff hitter and fine defensive shortstop for the Blue Jays. In fact, he was simply too good for Toronto, as he’ll likely jump out of the team’s price range as the best shortstop available this winter. It does hurt that he’s a Type A free agent who is certain to be offered arbitration. Unlike the rest of the free agents here, he’d cost a team like the Red Sox, Tigers or Cubs a first-round pick. Those clubs could target him anyway, and it’s possible that the Dodgers and Mets will look at him as a second baseman. Prediction: Red Sox – three years, $18 million
Miguel Tejada (Astros) – Tejada is also a Type A free agent, but the Astros can’t risk offering him arbitration when he’d almost certainly take it and command a salary close to the $13 million he earned in 2009. While the 35-year-old hit a respectable .313/.340/.455 last season, he had brutal defensive numbers and likely would be of more use as a third baseman than as a shortstop going forward. It’d be no surprise to see him tumble like Orlando Cabrera did last winter and eventually have to accept a one-year deal in the $4 million range. He’d make sense for the Astros, Twins or Mariners at third base. The White Sox could also consider him if they opt to put Mark Teahen in the outfield. Prediction: Mariners – one year, $4 million
Orlando Cabrera (Twins) – After a dreadful first half, Cabrera rebounded to hit .305/.333/.436 after the break for the A’s and Twins. It seemed likely that Minnesota would want him back after his nice finish, but the team has already gone in a different direction by picking up J.J. Hardy. That leaves Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Washington, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as possible homes for Cabrera. He’s slipped defensively, but he’s still an adequate shortstop and a solid enough option at the bottom third of a lineup. Prediction: Reds – one year, $4 million
Alex Gonzalez (Red Sox) – The wheels aren’t what they used to be, but Gonzalez showed in Boston that he’s still as steady as they come defensively. He also performed much better than expected offensively after being picked up in August, coming in at .284/.316/.453 with five homers in 148 at-bats. Gonzalez can’t be counted on to put up that kind of line over a full season, but he may well be a better option as a starting shortstop than Tejada or Cabrera at this point. He could stay with Boston or jump to the Blue Jays or Tigers. Prediction: Blue Jays – one year, $2.5 million
Khalil Greene (Cardinals) – If it were just the two awful offensive seasons in a row, Greene would be well worth gambling on. Unfortunately, he was just as bad with the glove as he was with the bat last season and every potential suitor is going to be wondering whether he’s still a realistic option at shortstop. Also, there are the psychological issues that put him on the disabled list twice last season. A team with nothing to lose, such as the Pirates, Astros or Nationals, could sign him and hope for the best. He’s just 29, and he still has 25-homer power. Prediction: Pirates – one year, $2 million
Other free agents: Adam Everett (Tigers), Craig Counsell (Brewers), Omar Vizquel (Rangers), John McDonald (Blue Jays), Bobby Crosby (Athletics), Omar Quintanilla (Rockies), Juan Castro (Dodgers), Luis Rodriguez (Padres), Cody Ransom (Yankees), Angel Berroa (Mets), Jason Smith (Astros), Ramon Martinez (Mets)
Everett still has a lot to offer defensively, but the annual 600 OPS may see him relegated to backup status this winter. He’d be nice insurance for a team planning to go with an unproven shortstop (Houston and Oakland come to mind). … Counsell is happy in Milwaukee, and the Brewers have very good reason to bring him back. Expect them to come to an agreement. … Vizquel is content as a backup, just not in Texas. He could fit with the Red Sox, Mets or Cubs.
Trade candidates: Yunel Escobar (Braves), Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks), Cristian Guzman (Nationals), Reid Brignac (Rays), Chin-Lung Hu (Dodgers), Ramon Santiago (Tigers), Robert Andino (Orioles), Tyler Greene (Cardinals), Alberto Gonzalez (Nationals), Brent Lillibridge (White Sox), Gregorio Petit (Athletics), Trevor Plouffe (Twins)
Escobar and Drew are big long shots to be moved. They’ll likely be requested in talks, but neither Atlanta nor Arizona has an internal replacement ready. … The Nationals are ready to shove Guzman to second base, but if anyone wants to pick him up, they’ll certainly listen. They already regret not letting him go when the Red Sox claimed him off waivers in August.
The Rays envisioned Brignac taking over as their shortstop at some point during 2009 or 2010, but he was a modest disappointment and Jason Bartlett has stepped up in a big way. They don’t have to move him, but he’s clearly expendable. … The Tigers like Santiago as a part-timer at shortstop and will probably keep him if they go cheap this winter. If they sign a legitimate starter to replace Adam Everett, then Santiago could be dealt.

Non-tender candidates: Ronny Cedeno (Pirates), Augie Ojeda (Diamondbacks), Anderson Hernandez (Mets), Josh Wilson (Mariners), Luis Cruz (Pirates), Luis Hernandez (Royals), Brian Bocock (Giants)
If the Pirates had come up with J.J. Hardy to go along with Akinori Iwamura, than they probably would have moved on from Cedeno. However, the former Cub was adequate after being acquired from the Mariners last season and he’s only due $1.2 million or so in arbitration. Odds are that he’ll stick around. … The Diamondbacks won’t go to arbitration with Ojeda, but they likely will offer him a one-year deal worth a bit more than the $712,500 he made last season. If he declines, then he’ll be let go.
2010-11 free agents: Jose Reyes (Mets)*, Jimmy Rollins (Phillies)*, Derek Jeter (Yankees), Cristian Guzman (Nationals), Julio Lugo (Cardinals)*, Cesar Izturis (Orioles), Nick Punto (Twins)*, Edgar Renteria (Giants)*, Ramon Santiago (Tigers)
2011 options: Reyes – $11 million ($500,000 buyout), Rollins – $8.5 million ($2 million buyout), Lugo – $9 million (vests w/600 PA in 2010), Punto – $5 million ($500,000 buyout), Renteria – $10.5 million ($500,000 buyout),
2011-12 free agents: Jose Reyes (Mets), Jimmy Rollins (Phillies), J.J. Hardy (Twins), Jason Bartlett (Rays), Rafael Furcal (Dodgers)*, Jack Wilson (Mariners), Yuniesky Betancourt (Royals)*, Ronny Cedeno (Pirates), Augie Ojeda (Diamondbacks)
2012 options: Furcal – $12 million (vests w/600 PA in 2011), Betancourt – $6 million ($2 million buyout)

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.