Friday, November 6, 2009

Finding a Shortstop: Free Agents

Ever since allowing Cristian Guzman leave via Free Agency years ago, the Twins have been trying to fill the void at shortstop. Needless to say, they've been unsuccessful in replacing Guzman, and he was hardly a superstar player over his time here. Outside of his outstanding all-star season, he was slightly above average, but that's such a major upgrade over what the Twins have thrown out there over the last 5 years it makes Guzman look like Derek Jeter.

After Nick Punto turned in a solid performance following the 2008 season, the Twins decided to sign him as their shortstop rather than give a contract to older, declining veterans such as Orlando Cabrera and Omar Vizquel. Punto unfortunately regressed to his 2007 form, struggling for most of the season, before the Twins decided to acquire Orlando Cabrera from the Athletics.

Cabrera was an interesting player. He hit just .237/.268/.361 over the first 43 games, but thanks to his ridiculous late season hot streak he finished at .289/.313/.430, which was slightly above average offensively this season. Of course, his defense took a major nosedive, as he was terrible using any defensive metric, which is expected of a soon to be 35-year-old shortstop.

Personally, I'd rather not see the Twins re-sign Cabrera, because I don't think he's going to be average next season when factoring both offense and defense. The shortstop market is undoubtedly bare, but here are some of the realistic options, with today's piece focusing on the Free Agents and Monday's focusing on the potential trades.

Free Agents:

Orlando Cabrera
Omar Vizquel
Marco Scutaro
Khalil Greene
Adam Everett
Jack Wilson

We've already discussed Cabrera above, but there are some intriguing names on that list.

Vizquel is going to be 43 years old when the season starts, but as a part time player last year in Texas he was still elite defensively. His offense was rather poor, as he hit just .266/.316/.345, but UZR put his defense at 32.6 runs above average per 150 games, a fantastic number. FanGraphs said he was worth $5.2 million last season, despite his terrible offensive line, and his outstanding defense makes him an average shortstop. Vizquel certainly is simply a 1-year option, but if the Twins decide to go the veteran route yet again, they could do much worse than Vizquel.

Everett and Wilson are elite defensive shorstops who don't offer much with the bat, although Wilson has shown more potential to hit over the years. Everett already failed in one stint with the Twins, so he seems like a long shot at best, but Wilson may be a solid option if the Mariners decide to buy him out rather than pay him $8.4 million next season. Wilson had a worse offensive year than Vizquel, hitting .255/.292/.362 between Pittsburgh and Seattle last year, but is only 2 years removed from a .296/.350/.440 line. Of course, Wilson has struggled each of the past 2 seasons, so it'd be foolish to expect him to return to his 2007 form, although it's worth noting he has produced at a high level before. His defense has remained very good, as he was nearly 21 runs above average last year per 150 games. Wilson likely will require more than 1 year commitment though, and I'd expect something like 3 years $14 million to be the number he agrees to. That's simply too much money for his production.

Khalil Greene is a potential buy low candidate. Greene struggled for the most part this year after leaving San Diego, and dealt with an anxiety disorder of some sort, and I'm not sure if he's close to coming back from that. Greene was a solid offensive shortstop during his time in San Diego, and many people expected him to have a breakout season for the Cardinals this year after leaving the pitcher friendly confines of Petco Park. Unfortunately, his offense has been terrible the past two seasons, and despite being a consistent highlight reel type player at shortstop, his range is not a plus. He's been a below average defender each of the last 4 seasons, and has only been slightly above average in 2 of his 7 seasons. Calling Greene a "buy-low" candidate may be an extreme understatement, as his production since 2007 has been Delmon Young like.

Scutaro had a very productive season in a contract year, but he seems likely to land a very favorable contract. He's the best shortstop in a very weak market, his .282/.379/.409 line shows that, but his defense at shortstop was below average and he's been a utility player for most of his career before enjoying this breakout season. Add in the fact that he's a Type A free agent, meaning he'd cost the Twins their first round draft pick if they signed him, and it seems like an obvious decision not to target Scutaro.

Based strictly on the free agent options, I would prefer the Twins sign Omar Vizquel for one season. His offense leaves a lot to be desired, but he's at least a solid role player who has shown he's fine splitting time and is an excellent defender. He would provide the veteran, clubhouse presence the Twins seem to value so highly, and if Punto continued to hit like he did last season the Twins would at least have an elite defensive shortstop rather than a slightly above average one.

Based on the potential free agents, including ones I left out, who would you prefer they sign? Or would you rather just stay the course and give Punto the job again? Discuss in the comments!