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Hot Stove Preview: Top Free Agent Shortstops Available

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Our free agent breakdown continues with the top shortstops hitting the market this winter. If you haven’t done so already, check out Bill’s lists of top catchers and starting pitchers.

1. Stephen Drew

Drew signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Nationals entering the 2016 season, where he primarily served as a backup infielder and power bat off the bench. He saw just 70 games due to recurring bouts of dizziness and “vertigo-like symptoms,” which the Nationals elected to treat with cortisone shots as they tried to puzzle out a diagnosis for the 33-year-old.

When healthy, Drew batted at a .266/.339/.524 clip with eight home runs and 21 RBI. He returned from the disabled list in September with an .813 OPS in 19 games and provided some key RBI in the Nationals’ hunt for a fourth division title, though he later went hitless in four games during the NLDS. While he’s spent the bulk of his 11-year career at shortstop, he’s been primarily used as a second baseman by both the Yankees and Nationals over the last two seasons.

2. Erick Aybar

Aybar was dealt to the Tigers mid-season for utility player Mike Aviles and minor league catcher Kade Scivicque, but failed to flourish on Detroit’s roster. He produced a career-low batting line of .243/.303/.320 over 126 games, and contributed just one home run and eight RBI for the Tigers down the stretch. Working in his favor is the fact that he’s the only free agent shortstop not currently playing a utility/backup role, but his veteran status and declining offense likely won’t command a high salary when 2017 rolls around.

3. Alexei Ramirez

After losing Matt Duffy to a season-ending Achilles injury, the Rays picked Ramirez up from the Padres to finish out their 2016 season. Ramirez was on the books for a one-year, $4 million deal with San Diego when he was sent to Tampa Bay, and split 145 games between the two clubs while batting .241/.277/.333 with six home runs and 48 RBI. It was a down year both offensively and defensively for the 34-year-old, who was coming off of an eight-year career with the White Sox, during which he held a cumulative .273 average and earned two Silver Sluggers and an All-Star distinction. He showed some range at second base and in the outfield, but profiles almost exclusively as a shortstop in this season’s free agent market. A return to his previous offensive output and stolen base numbers could net him a decent contract in 2017, though it likely won’t differ too much in length and price from his arrangement with the Rays.

4. Ruben Tejada

Tejada was expected to cover for an injured Jhonny Peralta when the Cardinals signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract in 2016, but the 26-year-old landed on the disabled list in April after injuring his quad in spring training. With rookie All-Star Aledmys Diaz‘s breakout at shortstop, Tejada was relegated to a backup spot once he came off the disabled list, and batted .176/.225/.235 through the end of May before getting designated for assignment. He picked up a short-term stint with the Giants in June, taking a minor league contract and seeing 13 games in the majors before getting DFA’d to clear roster space for starter Matt Cain. Despite finishing the season with a career-worst .176 average and five RBI, he profiles as a career .252/.327/.320 hitter and a decent utility infielder, and could give teams a cheap backup option around the horn in 2017.

 

Mike Leake loses perfect game bid on leadoff single in the ninth

Mike Leake
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Just one week after Taylor Cole and Felix Peña tossed a combined no-hitter against Seattle, Mariners right-hander Mike Leake worked on his own perfect game through eight innings against the Angels.

It was an ambitious form of revenge, and one that Leake served up perfectly as he held the Angels scoreless in frame after frame. He sprinkled a handful of strikeouts throughout the first eight innings, catching Matt Thaiss on a called strike three in the third and getting two whiffs — called strikeouts against both Brian Goodwin and Shohei Ohtani — in the fourth.

The Mariners, meanwhile, put up a good fight against the Angels, backing Leake’s attempt with 10 runs — their first double-digit total since a 13-3 rout of the Orioles on June 23. Daniel Vogelbach led things off in the fourth with a three-run homer off of reliever Jaime Barria, then repeated the feat with another three-run shot off Barria in the fifth. Tom Murphy and J.P. Crawford helped pad the lead as well with a two-RBI single and two-RBI double, respectively.

In the ninth, with just three outs remaining, the Angels finally managed to break through. Luis Rengifo worked a 1-1 count against Leake, then returned an 85.3-m.p.h. changeup to right field for a base hit, dismantling the perfecto and the no-hitter in one fell swoop. Leake lost control of the ball following the hit, issuing four straight balls to Kevan Smith in the next at-bat and giving the Angels their first runner in scoring position. Still at a pitch count of just 90, however, he induced the next two outs in quick fashion and polished off the win with a triumphant eight-pitch strikeout against Mike Trout for the first one-hitter (and Maddux) of his career.

Had Leake successfully closed out the perfecto, it would’ve been the first of his decade-long career in the majors and the first the Mariners had seen since Félix Hernández’s perfect game against the Rays in August 2012. For their part, the Angels have yet to be on the losing end of a perfecto. The last time they were shut out in a no-hitter was 1999, at the hands of then-Twins pitcher Eric Milton.