With J.J. Hardy off the market, teams looking for a pure shortstop suddenly lack an obvious potential solution. Sure, Hanley Ramirez still hits like an All-Star corner outfielder, but he also accumulated the second-most negative defensive value of any shortstop in 2014 (per Fangraphs) and has put his 20’s in his rearview. Any club signing him will have to expect a move to third at some point over the life of his deal, if not from the get-go.
Teams that simply want a new field marshal up the middle will have three primary options to choose from, each of whom brings somewhat different strengths, downsides, and expected contract terms.
As we sit here today, the Indian-turned-National Asdrubal Cabrera has yet to turn 29 years old. He has never quite met his promise, but has put up several well-above-average years both at the plate and in overall value. Defensive metrics have never been fans of the glove, but Cabrera is pretty solid at the plate and is a good bet to deliver 15 homers and 10 steals. And while he’s had his share of bumps and bruises, Cabrera has not missed any significant stretches since a forearm fracture back in 2010. But Cabrera was shifted to second after his mid-season trade to the Nationals, and some think that’s where he should stay.
Stephen Drew, most recently of the Yankees, is the oldest of the bunch, and he is coming off of a disastrous, qualifying offer-shortened 2014 season. Drew was worth over one win below replacement, thanks to an abysmal .162/.237/.299 slash over 300 plate appearances. But he has otherwise been pretty good when healthy, and had a good enough 2013 that he spurned the one-year, $14MM QO in hopes of finding a longer deal on the open market. And there’s an argument to be made that Drew is the best defender of this group. Given his depressed value, he could be a popular buy-low candidate.
The Athletics’ Jed Lowrie, meanwhile, is just one year removed from posting a .290/.344/.446 slash with 15 home runs. But that was his first season of full-time action, and his age-30 follow-up year was not nearly so sterling (.249/.321/.355, 6 home runs). He did see improved defensive marks, but UZR is much more favorably inclined to his work up the middle than is Defensive Runs Saved, which saw him as a -10 defender. But if you believe he can stay at short, in some ways, Lowrie could end up being the safest bet of this bunch while also delivering a bit of power upside.
Let’s go ahead and take a poll. It will not ask you to pick the best player, or the one who’ll get the largest contract. Rather, it asks for which player — given their likely expected contract situation — is likely to provide the best value. For instance, given his age and durability, Cabrera is the best bet of this bunch for a lengthy deal — but that could make him the most expensive to acquire. And a rebound from Drew could make him an incredible bargain.