Teams have been spoiled by the star-studded free agent classes of recent offseasons, particularly when it comes to shortstops. The past two winters have seen the likes of Corey Seager, Carlos Correa (twice), Marcus Semien, Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner, and Xander Bogaerts hit the open market, giving teams in search of help at the position a plethora of All Stars to choose from. Teams in need of help at shortstop this winter have found themselves with slim pickings, however.
Just three players with recent experience at shortstop cracked MLBTR’s Top 50 MLB free agents list this offseason, and the highest rated among them (Gio Urshela) played just nine games at the position in 2023 before suffering a groin injury that leaves questions about his ability to handle the position defensively entering his age-32 campaign. That leaves just two players at the top of the offseason’s thin shortstop market, and both come with major question marks: longtime White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, and former Mets, Guardians, and Dodgers infielder Amed Rosario. Both players had profiled as everyday regulars at the position entering the year but are coming off significant down seasons both at the plate and in the field.
Entering the 2023 season, Anderson was generally considered to be a top-10 shortstop in the majors. Over the previous four seasons, he had slashed an impressive .318/.347/.474 in 374 games while collecting two All Star appearances, a Silver Slugger award, and a seventh-place finish in AL MVP voting. His 123 wRC+ during that time frame ranked seventh among all shortstops in the majors, ahead of stars such as Marcus Semien and Francisco Lindor. Unfortunately, the 2023 campaign saw the 30-year-old struggle badly both at the plate and in the field. Anderson posted -2 Outs Above Average last year after posting a +5 figure over the preceding four seasons while slashing a putrid .245/.286/.296 in 524 trips to the plate. That performance translates to a wRC+ of 60, 40% worse than the league average hitter and the worst figure among all qualified major leaguers last year.
As for Rosario, the 28-year-old was once a consensus top-10 prospect in the sport but struggled early in his career as a member of the Mets. He took a significant step forward during his age-23 season, however, and from 2019 to 2022 was more or less a league average regular at shortstop with a .282/.315/.412 slash line good for a 101 wRC+. While his defensive chops at shortstop were questionable, he nonetheless accumulated a respectable 7.3 fWAR during that time, good for 19th among shortstops across those four seasons. Just as Rosario’s peak was less extreme than Anderson’s, so too was his downfall in 2023. Rosario’s overall offensive production dipped only slightly last year as he slashed .263/.305/.378 (88 wRC+) in 545 trips to the plate. Much of Rosario’s regression this season came in the field, as he posted a whopping -14 Outs Above Average at shortstop in 2023, putting him in the first percentile among all major leaguers according to Statcast.
As worrisome as Anderson’s offensive woes and Rosario’s defensive struggles are, teams in need of a shortstop will be hard-pressed to find a better option available to them. While it seems there’s at least a decent chance that the Padres trade defensive stalwart Ha-Seong Kim this offseason, other top trade candidates capable of handling short such as Willy Adames of the Brewers appear unlikely to be moved at this point in the offseason. Free agency doesn’t offer much in the way of alternative options either. Looking beyond Urshela and his aforementioned defensive question marks, the list of available shortstops is made up primarily of aging veterans coming off down seasons like Brandon Crawford and Elvis Andrus and players who have struggled to stay on the field at all recently such as Nick Ahmed and Adalberto Mondesi.
Given the many question marks surrounding both players, rumors of interest have been relatively few and far between to this point in the offseason. The Angels were connected to Anderson back in November, and his presence could allow the club to give youngster Zach Neto more time in the minor leagues to develop after he was rushed to the majors last summer. As for Rosario, he’s been rumored as a potential target for the Red Sox and Blue Jays, though both clubs have added middle infielders since then in Vaughn Grissom and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, respectively.
As far as clubs who could be speculative fits for Anderson or Rosario this winter, the team that sticks out most as in need of a shortstop is the Marlins. Miami currently figures to utilize Jon Berti as their everyday shortstop despite him having started just 86 games at the position during his major league career, more than half of which came just last season. The Dodgers are also known to be on the lookout for an upgrade over their current tandem of Gavin Lux and Miguel Rojas at the position, while the Rays could use a shortstop given that Taylor Walls is still recovering from hip surgery while Wander Franco’s future in MLB is in question due to alleged inappropriate relationships with minors. The Mariners, A’s, and Pirates are among other clubs who could potentially benefit from adding another bat to their middle infield mix.
If your team needed to added a shortstop to its middle infield mix this winter, which would you rather sign? Would you value Anderson’s stronger defense and more impressive peak, or Rosario’s youth and stronger overall numbers last season?