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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.

 

Maddon: Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again for Angels this year

Shohei Ohtani
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Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again this season for the Los Angeles Angels after straining his right forearm in his second start, manager Joe Maddon says.

Ohtani likely will return to the Angels’ lineup as their designated hitter this week, Maddon said Tuesday night before the club opened a road series against the Seattle Mariners.

The Angels’ stance on Ohtani is unsurprising after the club announced he had strained the flexor pronator mass near the elbow of his pitching arm. The two-way star’s recovery from the strain requires him to abstain from throwing for four to six weeks, which covers most of the shortened 2020 season.

“I’m not anticipating him pitching at all this year,” Maddon said. “Any kind of throwing program is going to be very conservative.”

Ohtani was injured Sunday in the second inning of his second start since returning to the mound following Tommy John surgery in late 2018. Ohtani issued five walks during the 42-pitch inning against the Houston Astros, with his velocity dropping later in the frame.

The arm injury is another obstacle in Ohtani’s path to becoming the majors’ first true two-way player in decades. He made 10 mound starts as a rookie in 2018 before injuring his elbow, but he served as the Angels’ regular designated hitter last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani has pitched in only three games since June 2018, but the Angels still believe in Ohtani’s ability to be a two-way player, Maddon said.

“I’m seeing that he can,” Maddon said. “We’ve just got to get past the arm maladies and figure that out. But I’ve seen it. He’s just such a high-end arm, and we’ve seen what he can do in the batter’s box. Now maybe it might get to the point where he may choose to do one thing over the other and express that to us. I know he likes to hit. In my mind’s eye, he’s still going to be able to do this.”

The veteran manager believes Ohtani will benefit from a full spring training and a normal season. Ohtani wasn’t throwing at full strength for a starter when the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training in March because he wasn’t expected to pitch until May as he returned from surgery.

“Going into a regular season with a normal number of starts and all the things that permit guys to be ready for a year, that’s what we need to see is some normalcy before you make that kind of determination,” Maddon said.

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