Trade Market For Shortstops

Last year’s trade market was quiet on the shortstop front, with Jose Iglesias and John McDonald the only MLB shortstops to change hands. And the latter not only was dealt in August, but never saw time at short for his new club.

That could change this year, as several clubs could stand to upgrade, including the Tigers, Indians, Mariners, Brewers, Reds, Marlins, and Mets. (Of course, some of those teams seem unlikely to make a significant addition, for various reasons.) The Dodgers and Cardinals could potentially shift their current top options off the position if the right opportunity presented itself. The Orioles and Athletics have also received less-than-optimal production, at least from the offensive side, though they appear more likely to count on improvements from their incumbents while making additions elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Nationals (and perhaps some of the above-noted clubs) are interested in adding younger shortstop options to their organization.

For teams looking at the position, there are multiple potentially useful possibilities:

Starters

Alexei Ramirez (White Sox), Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians), Jimmy Rollins (Phillies), Elvis Andrus (Rangers), Starlin Castro (Cubs), Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies), Stephen Drew (Red Sox), Chris Owings (D’backs), Yunel Escobar (Rays)

  • Ramirez has cooled significantly after a hot start, but that leaves his overall offensive line (.282.317/.402 with eight home runs and 14 steals) at roughly the same level as it was during his career peak in 2010-11. He has always been a productive defender. Ramirez is playing out the year on a $9.5MM salary and is owed $10MM next year before a $10MM club option with a $1MM buyout. That seems a reasonable price for the veteran, though he is nearing 33 years of age. With Chicago now looking poised for a breakout, though, it may take a fairly substantial haul to pry him loose.
  • The 28-year-old Cabrera profiles as a roughly league-average hitter and slightly below-average defender at the position. He has not returned to his All-Star form, but remains a useful player and is earning a manageable $10MM in his final season before reaching free agency. Of course, he is also playing on a Cleveland team that remains in the post-season hunt. If the Indians fall back, though, he could certainly become available.
  • Rollins, an established veteran with ample post-season experience, is an obvious trade piece for a floundering Phillies club. Though he is well off of his peak levels, Rollins has still played at an above-average clip. He is playing on a $11MM salary this season and is just 57 plate appearances shy of triggering a $11MM vesting option for next year. The questions, of course, are whether Philadelphia will deal away one of the team’s core players from its glory years and whether Rollins will waive his 10-and-5 rights. He’s said recently that he wants to stay in Philadelphia.
  • Andrus is still yet to turn 26 and is already in the midst of his sixth consecutive above-average season. Though he has limited value at the plate, he rates as an excellent base-runner and defender. Despite signing a massive eight-year, $120MM extension that does not even kick in until next year, and which allows him to opt out if he is able to meet or exceed expectations, he is playing on a club that has fallen out of contention this year and which has several even younger options waiting in the wings.
  • In a somewhat similar situation is Castro of the Cubs, who has $44MM in guaranteed money remaining on his deal, including a buyout of a $16MM club option for 2020. The Cubs are clearly sellers, and the 24-year-old has returned to form (.280/.326/.452) after a disappointing 2013. Of course, Castro could be an important piece in the team’s turnaround plans, but there are several top prospects filtering up behind him. Needless to say, it would take a significant package to pry him loose.
  • Speaking of large returns, Tulowitzki would obviously represent the prize of the market — and not just that of shortstops. He has been both outstanding (offensively and defensively) and healthy this year. His contract includes $118MM in guaranteed money, but with it comes seven years of control (the last via club option). That may price several teams out of the market, but many would jump at the chance to add one of the game’s true superstars at a below-market price. Owner Dick Monfort did publicly state that the Rox have no plans to deal Tulo, who is the face of their franchise.
  • Drew has yet to find his form after sitting out most of the early part of the season. He owns an unsightly .131/.170/.238 line through 88 plate appearances, but is not far removed from being a solid regular. If the Red Sox eat a good portion of the remainder of his (annualized) $14.1MM salary, he could be moved to make way for younger players.
  • For the Diamondbacks, Owings represents one of several middle infielders, all of whom could theoretically be dealt. He seems the least likely to go, in large part because he appears to be the prize of the group. Through 254 MLB plate appearances in his age-22 season, Owings rates out at 1.9 fWAR on the back of above-average production across the board.
  • Escobar, just inked to a fairly team-friendly extension, is probably unlikely to be dealt in spite of his club’s struggles, but could potentially be had for the right price. His numbers on both the offensive and defensive sides of the equation have dipped since his excellent 2013 season, reducing his appeal. Tampa seems likely to hold on to him and hope for a rebound.

Backups/Utilitymen

Sean Rodriguez (Rays), Mike Aviles (Indians), Eduardo Nunez (Twins), Adam Rosales (Rangers), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Clint Barmes (Pirates), Cliff Pennington (D’backs), Josh Rutledge (Rockies), Alexi Amarista (Padres)

Clubs aiming to plug holes in their benches have several options to pursue. Veterans like Rodriguez, Rosales, Barmes, Pennington, and (potentially) Aviles could provide ample flexibility and a useful presence down the stretch. All have seen time at short, some of them as everyday options at the position.

On the other hand, there are several younger players who could fill a bench role while also potentially representing longer-term options at short or other positions. Espinosa and Rutledge have both shown their fair share of promise at times, and may hold appeal for a variety of clubs if they are made available. The former, who will be arb-eligible next year, has seen his playing time diminish of late. Though Espinosa has played second base primarily at the big league level, he is an outstanding defender and came up as a shortstop. Rutledge, meanwhile, comes with plenty of cheap control. Amarista looks more like a true utility player, and has seen more action at other spots around the diamond, but should remain fairly inexpensive as he enters arbitration for the first time.

MLB-Ready Prospects

Nick Franklin (Mariners), Luis Sardinas (Rangers), Nick Ahmed (D’backs), Didi Gregorius (D’backs)

This group represents something of a different segment of the shortstop market. All face obstacles to regular playing time (and value maximization) with their present clubs, and each could appeal to teams looking to add a solid youngster that can take Major League innings from the get-go. Of course, all three come with some questions: for Franklin, whether he can handle short on an everyday basis; for Sardinas, Ahmed, and Gregorius, whether their bats will hold up in the majors.


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