By my count, five starting shortstop candidates may be on the market currently: Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera, Cesar Izturis, Craig Counsell, and Julio Lugo. The Red Sox, Cubs, Twins, and Mariners are all at least semi-contending teams with shortstops that have to be considered less than a sure thing. Add in a surprise injury or two, and there’s sure to be some shortstop movement in the coming months. Let’s break down the five most likely to be dealt.
Miguel Tejada was worth 7.6 wins in 2005 and projects to be worth 6.8 in 2006. He’ll be 30 years old and will earn $48MM over the next four seasons. He’s an impact player who’s been named in countless trade rumors, even involving teams that already have decent shortstops in place. The Orioles will try to extract a young starter with top-rotation potential if Tejada is traded. I have a feeling that Tejada will either be dealt before the season begins or not until after the season. Just a hunch, but I think he’ll have a lousy first half and damage his trade value.
Julio Lugo was surprisingly almost as valuable as Tejada in 2005, tallying a 7.0 WARP score. Baseball Prospectus expects him to come down to Earth this year but still be worth 5.2 wins. He’s also 30 years old and will become a free agent after earning $4.95MM in ’06. Tampa Bay’s new management is looking for young pitching and nothing but. A Jonathan Papelbon type would probably do the trick, but teams obviously aren’t quick to part with that type of pitching talent for a rental shortstop. Lugo is pretty much a lock to be traded before the July deadline, and it could take a three-team deal for them to find the pitching prospect(s) they desire.
Craig Counsell is the elder statesman of the group at age 35. He’s been on a couple of World Series winners, which adds a nice intangible. He earned 6.1 wins as a 2B in 2005, and will move to shortstop for the Diamondbacks with their acquisition of Orlando Hudson. He projects to be worth 3.2 wins in ’06 and will earn just $1.75MM. Counsell falls under the bargain rental category for a team anxious to improve defense up the middle. The D-Backs will probably flip him at the deadline whether or not Stephen Drew is ready. Unless they’re in the thick of the playoff race, Alex Cintron could probably hold down the position for a half season.
Orlando Cabrera signed a big contract last offseason, and he’s still owed $23MM over the next three seasons. Once an incredible defender, Cabrera has slipped a bit but was worth 4.1 wins in 2005. He projects as a 3.5 win player in 2006, so teams won’t be anxious to take on the 31 year-old’s contract. The Angels have some great shortstop candidates pushing their way up through the system, but the team hasn’t always been quick to unload overpaid vets in the past. The Red Sox probably wouldn’t mind having him back, but only if the Angels picked up most of the tab.
Cesar Izturis is recovering from Tommy John surgery and the 26 year-old was shocked to see the Dodgers sign Rafael Furcal to a three-year contract. The club might choose to keep him around as a second baseman after Jeff Kent leaves, creating the best defensive middle infield in the game. A summer trade would make sense too. He earned just 2.4 wins in a partial 2005, but was a 4.4 win player the year before. He plays good D but hasn’t been much with the stick outside of 2004. Izturis will earn $7.25MM over the next two seasons and has a $5.45MM club option for 2008. There’s a $300K buyout attached to the option. Izturis would make a decent pickup in that he’s young enough to improve in coming years.