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)

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will be the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played for four hours and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason


Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.