Who’s our shortstop?

Who is our shortstop for the 2005 season? With the prevailing sentiment that Hanley Ramirez could be ready to play in the majors in 2006, most people want to see a one-year deal for any shortstop we can bring in so we can open the spot for Hanley in 2006.

Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. No good shortstop will accept a one year contract to play for the Red Sox and then leave (except one, and I’m sorry, but Nomar isn’t coming back to Boston) because good shortstops are going to get multi-year deals from other people.

Hanley Ramirez will be 21 years old next year, meaning that in 2006, he’ll be 22. What’s the rush to the majors? People want Hanley to start 2005 in Pawtucket, and then take over the SS position in Boston in 2006.

We expect him to do very well in Pawtucket, then seamlessly take over the job in 2006 and provide good playing right away.

Anyone see a problem with this? We’re asking a lot of this 20-year old Dominican to tear the cover off the ball in 2005 and then get thrown in the fire in 2006 as the starter. We can’t possibly expect him to do this. My best guess at this moment is that our future starting shortstop (future not meaning 2006) starts in Portland (because he has only had about one months worth of playing time there!) and then moves up to Pawtucket at the tail-end of the season. Then in 2006, when he’s 22, start the year in Pawtucket and cut his teeth in the majors as a September callup – or maybe not at all.

You see, once you are placed on the major league roster, your time starts ticking down. After three years of service time in the majors, you are eligible for arbitration. Three years after that, you’re a free agent. Calling him up in September would start that clock early, and also the three option years. You are allowed to shuttle a player back and forth to the minors for three years. After that, to be sent to the minors, he has to be put on waivers. A fun fact is this: Manny Ramirez has one option year left.

So following my timeline, it’s 2007, and Hanley is 23. Maybe then he starts at shortstop. Or maybe for a year, he gets used to Boston, gets used to the major leagues, as a backup infielder. Then maybe in 24, we welcome him into the starting fold. So in my scenario, Hanley doesn’t start until at least 2007, meaning we have two years until Hanley starts.

Now that is a lot more attractive to a good shortstop free agent than one year. And if we bump that contract to three years, then we could get a good shortstop and not run the risk of rushing Hanley. And if Hanley needs to be rushed because he’s so good, well, there could be a position change, or even a trade.

So who could join us as a starting shortstop? Here is the list of shortstops that are currently free agents, thanks to MLB.

  • Aurilia, Rich – No. Not good enough.
  • Berg, Dave – No. Not good enough.
  • Cabrera, Orlando – I would love to see Cabrera back in 2005 as our starting shortstop. Yesterday, I was pained to hear Cabrera’s agent say that he has tried to contact the Sox twice, to no avail. Those pains were put to rest today, when it was said in the Globe that

The Sox were surprised that Lozano was quoted as saying team officials had not returned his two phone calls and that he was uncertain what Boston’s agenda was in filling its need for a shortstop. Sox officials said Epstein spoke with Lozano during the general managers’ meetings in Key Biscayne, Fla., earlier this month and made clear the team’s interest in trying to re-sign Cabrera.

The conversation led the Sox to believe Cabrera wanted to wait to gauge the market before he began negotiating with them, and the Sox agreed to defer the issue but remain amenable to opening talks at any time. Cabrera seems particularly interested in learning what Edgar Renteria will command as a free agent.

I really like Cabrera. He provides smooth defense, solid offense, and his attitude is infectious. I have become a big fan of his and will follow him wherever he goes. I hope that’s Boston. I wish I could say Cabrera feels loyalty to Boston, but I’d be lying. While he did say that the Red Sox were a dynasty now (and used the term “we” to say ‘Red Sox’) two things are clear. One, no matter what team you are on at the moment, that team is currently “we,” therefore Cabrera was not referring to returning, although he did say he wants to. (And who can blame him?) Three, he was traded, and spent exactly three months playing for the Red Sox. Three months. Not three decades. (Psst – Ted Williams.)

I would like to see Cabrera recieve a 2-year, 13-million contract with an option for a third year at $7 million or a $.75 million buyout. Maybe that’d do it for him. As is said in the above article however, Cabrera is interested in seeing what Edgar Renteria gets in free agency. Out of all the shortstops on this list, Cabrera is my top choice.

  • Castro, Ramon – No. Not good enough.
  • Clayton, Royce – No. Not good enough. Rumored to become a Diamondback.
  • Counsell, Craig – No. Not good enough.
  • Garciaparra, Nomar – Ah, yes. Nomar. While Nomar probably will accept a one-year offer to play shortstop to build his price back up, why would he choose Boston over another city, say, Chicago? Chicago wanted him, and got him. The media has been less crushing. For Nomar, Boston ripped his heart out over last off-season and attempted to patch it in for the season. They gave up, and pulled it for good and sent Nomar away. I just can’t see Nomar coming back.
  • Gomez, Chris – No. Not good enough.
  • Gonzalez, Alex – No. Not good enough.
  • Larkin, Barry – An intriguing choice, but at this moment, is strictly seen as a 100-game utilityman, and it is known the Red Sox have some interest in Larkin in that role. However, staying in the NL will offer him more familiarity, and more playing time. It is rumored that the Washington Nationals will sign him to fill that role, and reunite him with former Reds GM Jim Bowden.
  • Lopez, Luis – No. Not good enough.
  • Relaford, Desi – No. Not good enough.
  • Renteria, Edgar – The other person the Red Sox are apparently interested in. Call me crazy, but I’m not that interested in him. A lot of people think he’s really good – and he is, but they also think he’s young and on the cusp of super-absolute stardom. The man will be 30 next year. This is what he is, and while he is a good hitter, he is not exemplary. I have seen him play a lot more than I saw Orlando Cabrera before the trade (which was zero, granted, but I’ve seen plenty of Edgar since he was a Marlin) and I have to say, I’m not that impressed with his defense, nor his attitude. I like Cabrera’s defense and attitude over Edgar. Edgar to me, looks like he has an ego a little too inflated. I could be completely wrong, but at this venture, I would choose Cabrera. Plus, I think the odds are rather high that Cabrera would sign a 2-year deal more than Edgar would.
  • Sanchez, Rey – No. Not good enough.
  • Valentin, Jose – Now this is the guy that I think is not getting enough attention. The MVN White Sox writer really wants Jose Valentin to return. Here are four posts on Jose Valentin (1, 2, 3, and 4) and a couple of snippets of interest from both posts.

In 2003, Valentin had more defensive Win Shares [Win Shares attempt to put a number on how many wins a player is worth to a team] than any other shortstop in the American League. This year, he‘s ranked eighth in the AL, but he’s also had less playing time than any of the seven shortstops ahead of him.

Let‘’s look at defense. Valentin has had two admittedly tough-to-watch stretches of bad defense. In between, he went about 50 games with just two errors, but you never see the Barry Rozners of the world talk about that. He‘s ranked fourth among AL shorstops in range factor and ranked first under zone ranking, which measures the percentage of balls fielded by a typical player at his position ‘both are measures of how many balls he gets to. Sure, David Eckstein has a much nicer fielding percentage, .988 to Valentin‘s .962, but [Valentin] has a range factor of 4.80 to Eckstein‘s 3.91. It‘s nice that Eckstein is so sure-handed, but his relatively weak arm and lack of range means that a lot of ground balls that Valentin turns into outs are hits against the Angels.

All Jose Valentin needs is for Juan Uribe to play short a little more against left handers, both because of Valentin‘s platoon splits ‘ he‘s a .936 OPS against right-handed pitchers and .559 OPS against left-handers ‘ and because he‘s nearly 35 years old and even [he] needs his rest.

Look at post #50 on this thread at Baseball Think Factory’s Primer discussion board. The metric that poster 6 – 4 – 3 is using is Wins Above Replacement Player 3, developed by Baseball Prospectus. All the versions of WARP include a player’s performance at the plate and in the field. 6 – 4 – 3 took away the effects of playing time by expressing the WARP3 totals per 100 plate appearances (third column). Valentin’s WARP3/100 PA is seventh in the majors this year, and that’s despite a brutal second-half slump. Valentin’s rate is roughly equivalent to those of Cristian Guzman, Nomar Garciaparra, Rafael Furcal, Julio Lugo and Omar Vizquel. I keep looking at different comparisons for shortstops, and I keep finding that the [he] is, even in a very uneven season, performing better than a lot of shortstops, especially relative to salary. Edgar Renteria of the Cardinals is 18th on the list. Philly Jimmy Rollins is 20th, Angel David Eckstein is 21st, Marlin Alex Gonzalez is 22nd, Orlando Cabrera of the Red Sox is 24th and Rockie Royce Clayton — playing half of his games in Coors Field — is 25th.

So let me get this straight. Valentin is a very good defensive shortstop, and murders righties (and does average against lefties) and he’s getting no interest? Plus, factor in Valentin’s age (35) and you’d think all those people that want Hanley at shortstop in 2006 would want Jose Valentin.

Ah, but those pesky lefties, who to bat against the lefties? Why not someone that I earlier said would not be good enough? Chris Gomez. His splits show that in 2004 against lefties in 100 at-bats, he hit .300/.397/.380 and career is .265/.346/.363. That could be a pretty darned good platoon for one year.

It’s something to think of. And now to finish our shortstop list:

  • Vizcaino, Jose – No. Not good enough. Utilityman at best.
  • Womack, Tony – No. Not good enough. Yes, I know he hit over .300, but that came out of nowhere, and he’s a second baseman, not shortstop.
  • Woodward, Chris – No. Not good enough. Utilityman at best.

Someone else is also attracting interestPlacido Polanco.

The Sox have been in discussions with the 29-year-old infielder’s representatives and envision a scenario where Polanco would see regular duty as the backup to second baseman Mark Bellhorn and third baseman Bill Mueller. They are also continuing to look for a veteran shortstop in case they lose Orlando Cabrera to free agency, with former National League MVP Barry Larkin remaining a top option. If the 40-year-old is signed, the Sox would likely add a left-handed veteran (Craig Counsell and Andy Fox are possibilities) to play approximately one-third of the games.

Polanco can easily land a fulltime starting job, I really can’t see why he would sign as an utilityman here. If he does, however, great! He can hit well and field well, and could perhaps wrangle some time at shortstop. I wouldn’t have a problem with Barry Larkin and Craig Counsell, but I think Jose Valentin and Chris Gomez (or any other shortstop who can hit lefties fairly well) would make a better platoon when you factor in age and injury (two strikes against Larkin and Counsell …) and the likelihood of jobs, translating to money. (That’s strike three.) You see, more people are interested in Larkin, meaning the price tag will rise. Who’s interested in Valentin? Right, we’ve heard nothing. So that price tag is low. And Craig Counsell is a household name while Chris Gomez is not. (If you’re too lazy to click that link, Counsell was hit by a pitch in the 9th inning of the 2001 World Series by Mariano Rivera, bringing up Luiz Gonzalez. Remember now? No? Why, Luis hit a broken bat blooper past Derek Jeter to win the World Series. Ah yes, you remember now.)

So there you have it. Try to sign Cabrera to a 2-year, $13 million deal with an option for a third, or get Jose Valentin and Chris Gomez.

Thanks for letting me be an armchair GM. Now begins a shameless plug for leaving comments. Let’s have you play armchair GM! Leave a comment, what do you think we need to do for the shortstop position?