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.

 

Report: Brandon Nimmo staying with Mets on 8-year, $162M deal

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NEW YORK – Center fielder Brandon Nimmo is staying with the free-spending New York Mets, agreeing to an eight-year, $162 million contract, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement is subject to a successful physical and no announcement had been made.

A quality leadoff hitter with an excellent eye and a .385 career on-base percentage, Nimmo became a free agent last month for the first time. He was a key performer as the Mets returned to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2016.

The left-handed hitter batted .274 with 16 homers and a team-high 102 runs, a career high. He also set career bests with 64 RBIs and 151 games played. His seven triples tied for most in the National League.

Bringing back Nimmo means New York is poised to return its entire everyday lineup intact from a team that tied for fifth in the majors in runs and won 101 regular-season games – second-most in franchise history.

But the Mets remain busy replenishing a pitching staff gutted by free agency, including Jacob deGrom‘s departure for Texas and Taijuan Walker‘s deal with Philadelphia that was pending a physical.

On the final day of baseball’s winter meetings Wednesday, the Mets completed an $86.7 million, two-year contract with former Houston ace Justin Verlander that includes a conditional $35 million player option for 2025. New York also retained All-Star closer Edwin Diaz last month with a $102 million, five-year contract, and the team has a $26 million, two-year agreement in place with veteran starter Jose Quintana, pending a physical.

Those moves add to a payroll that was the largest in the majors last season. Under owner Steve Cohen, who bought the Mets in November 2020, New York became baseball’s biggest spender this year for the first time since 1989. The Mets’ payroll was $273.9 million as of Aug. 31, with final figures that include bonuses yet to be compiled.

Nimmo was selected by New York with the No. 13 pick in the 2011 amateur draft. He declined a $19.65 million qualifying offer from the Mets last month.

The 29-year-old Wyoming native made his big league debut in 2016. He is a .269 career hitter with 63 homers, 213 RBIs and 23 triples in 608 games. He has an .827 career OPS and has improved his play in center, becoming a solid defender.

Nimmo’s new deal with the Mets was first reported by the New York Post.