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)

Yordano Ventura and Jose Fernandez were two of the most promising arms in MLB

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 3: Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Baseball lost two incredible pitchers in the last four months, both to horrible and unforeseen tragedies. Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura were among the most talented and promising pitchers in MLB, two young arms that drew both accolades and criticism for their performance on the mound.

Ventura signed with the Royals in 2008, blazing through several tiers of their farm system before he was called up to replace an injured Danny Duffy in late 2013. He secured his rotation spot the following spring and finished a solid 2014 campaign with a 14-10 record, 3.20 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 32 starts for the club. During the Royals’ World Series run later that year, Ventura dedicated his performance in Game 6 to Cardinals’ prospect Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic just two days earlier.

In four years with the Royals, Ventura pitched to a 38-31 record, 3.89 ERA and 6.5 fWAR. While his command and overall production rate waned, bottoming out in 2016 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.85 SO/BB rate, his dynamic pitch repertoire still kept him front and center in the Royals’ pitching staff. He brandished an electric fastball that, at its lowest point, hovered around 96.6 m.p.h. and, at its best, topped out around 102.6 m.p.h.

Like Ventura, Fernandez made an instant impression in the major league circuit. He earned Rookie of the Year distinctions in 2013 after delivering a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 4.1 fWAR with the Marlins. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year, he recovered to take on a full workload in 2016 and stunned the league with a 16-8 record, 2.89 ERA, career-high 253 strikeouts and 6.1 fWAR.

Ventura developed a reputation for brushing back hitters, which escalated in some cases to volatile bench-clearing brawls. In 2015, he was ejected for three altercations in three consecutive games and served a seven-game suspension. Halfway through the 2016 season, he earned another eight-game suspension after plunking the Orioles’ Manny Machado in the back with a 99 m.p.h. heater. Some speculated that his aggressive behavior on the mound was excused — or, at least, made more palatable — by his talent and track record, while others called for a more heavy-handed approach from the league.

Fernandez, too, found himself at the center of speculation after reports emerged that painted the 24-year-old as a “clubhouse difficulty,” citing attitude problems that damaged relationships between the pitcher and Marlins players and staff. On the field, he was occasionally chastised for failing to adhere to some of baseball’s unwritten rules, most notably when he showed his elation after hitting his first career home run off of the Braves’ Mike Minor in 2013.

It’s impossible to predict where Fernandez and Ventura’s careers would have taken them. We mourn them not for their actions on the mound or their potential as star pitchers, however, but for their inherent value as people who were loved and respected by their families and teams. Major League Baseball will be worse off for their loss.

Yordano Ventura killed in an auto accident

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 2:  Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals jokes with teammates as he walks off the field after the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on June 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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UPDATE, 12:07 p.m. EDT: The Royals have confirmed reports of Yordano Ventura’s death with an official statement. No further details pertaining to the accident have been divulged.

Terrible, terrible news: Christian Moreno of ESPN reports that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura has been killed in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. His death has been confirmed by police. He was only 25 years-old. There are as of yet no details about the accident.

Ventura was a four-year veteran, having debuted in 2013 but truly bursting onto the scene for the Royals in 2014. That year he went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 183 innings, ascending to the national stage along with the entire Royals team with some key performances in that year’s ALDS and World Series. The following year Ventura won 13 games for the World Champion Royals and again appeared in the playoffs and World Series.

Ventura was often in the middle of controversy — he found himself in several controversies arising out of his habit of hitting and brushing back hitters — but he was an undeniably electric young talent who was poised to anchor the Royals rotation for years to come. His loss, like that of Jose Fernandez just this past September, is incalculable to both his team, his fans and to Major League Baseball as a whole.

Our thoughts go out to his family, his friends, his teammates and his fans.