Saturday, October 17, 2009

Improving the 2010 Red Sox: Shortstop

Shortstop has been an issue for the Red Sox for several years. It seems that everyone who writes about the topic is required by law to mention the fact that since trading Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 the Sox have had a different starting shortstop every single opening day since then. Although Theo has stated that he thinks that Jed Lowrie still could be the shortstop of the future, I think the Sox need to explore other options.

One option would be to hang on to Alex Gonzalez, although a think a $6 million option is a bit steep. UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating - generally considered to be the best defensive metric available. UZR/150 translates a players fielding value to a rate stat, so it can be compared between players with different amount of playing time) supports the idea that Gonzalez is an above average shortstop, but saving 8.3 runs with the glove doesn't make up for the damage he would do to the lineup if he repeated his 63 OPS+. In a lineup with question marks at 3B and DH I don't think the Red Sox can afford to put such a weak bat in the lineup. The free agent market is a bit thin at shortstop, with Marco Scutaro, Miguel Tejada, and Orlando Cabrera. All three players are Type A free agents, however Orlando Cabrera cannot be offered arbitration, so no draft pick would need to be forfeited to sign him. If either Tejada or Scutaro receive arbitration offers I don't think they're worth giving up a potentially valuable draft pick (thanks for the links Andrew). I won't get into any of them too in depth - Tejada bounced back nicely from a poor offensive year in 2008, although his glove is suspect at shortstop. Scutaro is a potentially useful utility infielder, but betting on a 33 year old coming off a career year is not a good way to run a team - just ask the Angels about Gary Matthews Jr. sometime. The time to sign Orlando Cabrera was probably 2004; after signing the 4 year, $32 million contract with the Angels he went on to provide $53.2 million worth of value, out earning his salary every single year. However, in 2009 he was only 0.7 wins above replacement and was below average offensively and defensively. Like Tejada, Cabrera is also 35.

The much more interesting candidates are trade possibilities. The Red Sox are looking to get younger and more athletic, and you just don't see players hit free agency before 30 very often. JJ Hardy, Stephen Drew, and Yunel Escobar have all been mentioned as potential trade targets. Below are their statistics from 2009, as well as mean statistics for 2007-2009.

2009 Statistics for Trade Candidates

Stephen Drew 0.261 0.32 0.428 0.748 90 2.8
Yunel Escobar 0.299 0.377 0.436 0.812 115 -2.3
JJ Hardy 0.229 0.302 0.357 0.659 74 6.1

2007-2009 Means for Trade Candidates

Stephen Drew 0.263 0.322 0.433 0.756 91 -6.3
Yunel Escobar 0.304 0.376 0.429 0.805 112 -0.5
JJ Hardy 0.263 0.323 0.433 0.755 96 9.9

JJ Hardy is expendable in Milwaukee now that Alcides Escobar is the starting shortstop. After a very good 2007 and 2008, Hardy fell apart, posting a .659 OPS. Hardy is also an excellent fielder. Thanks to a demotion for 2 weeks this summer, Hardy is now slated to be a free agent after the 2011 season, instead of 2010.

Stephen Drew is also a trade candidate for the cost cutting Arizona Diamondbacks, as he is about to enter arbitration for the first time and is under contract for the next three years. Drew recovered from a poor 2007 (.683 OPS) with a spectacular 2008 (.835), leading many to believe he was ready to approach superstar levels. Given the expectations, his 2009 was labeled a disappointment as his offensive production dropped across the board. Still, according to valuations done by Fangraphs, Drew was worth nearly as much in 2009 as 2008, mostly due to much improved defense. If Drew were to combine his offense from 2008 and his defense from 2009 he could be a real force in 2010. Of course, Red Sox fans made these same arguments regarding the left/right splits for Coco Crisp in 2006.

I've seen Yunel Escobar's name pop up a few different places, although I'm not sure how much faith I put in his inclusion here. Escobar is a player who doesn't have many faults - he's a solid contact hitter with a career .301 average. He has a very good eye, especially for a player who strikes out as infrequently as he does. Escobar also plays solid, if unspectacular defense. To top it all off, he is under club control for another 4 years, including the 2010 season at the bargain price of about $400,000. In short, I have no idea why the Braves would want to trade him away. While he lacks the ceiling of a JJ Hardy or a Stephen Drew, Escobar is as good a bet as any to outproduce both of them over the next two years.

Assuming an equal cost, I'd probably rank the three players Escobar, Drew, then Hardy; this is primarily due to service time. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, this list is the opposite of what I would expect each player to cost in a trade. However, it is still worth floating a few trade ideas to the Braves in particular to see if they undervalue the unspectacular, yet well rounded Escobar. Any thoughts on players I've overlooked? Who do you think would be the best value for 2010 and beyond?


  1. From what I have heard, the Braves have soured on Escobar mostly due to attitude issues. Some quotes from two articles from the Atlanta Journal Constitution- "The most recent in a string of incidents that has team officials upset with Escobar occurred Thursday, when he pointed to the press box and mouthed an expletive after the official scorer charged him with one of his two errors during a game against the Yankees."

    "His mental lapse cost the Braves the eventual winning run in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Pirates, after he failed to check a runner rounding third and scoring on a fielder’s choice."

    There is no denying his talent, though, and perhaps the often touted change of scenery would do him some good.

  2. As far as Hardy goes, he might make the most sense given that the Sox have a ton of young players that could be impact players at short, but won't be ready for another two years or so. The biggest name might be Jose Iglesias, a great fielding, light hitting Cuban shortstop. Peter Gammons (NB- well loved, but honestly a frequent Red Sox front office mouthpiece) relayed this tidbit about Iglesias- "'We wish we'd have gotten the money to sign him, because we'd have given him $12 million,' one NL GM says. 'Our scouts say he's the best defensive shortstop they've ever seen.'"

    On top of that, Yamaico Navarro has more of a track record, but had a mediocre season this year. That said, he did climb three levels (Low A, High A, AA). He's likely to be back in Portland for next season, as AA pitchers ate him up (.185/.270/.304).

  3. I didn't realize that about Escobar, that probably is why the Braves are looking to trade him. He seems like a great fit for the Sox, although I have absolutely no idea what it would take to acquire him. I know the Brewers are looking for pitching in return for Hardy.

  4. As far as Escobar goes, I think a lot depends on how fed up the Braves are. As an organization, they tend to do a very good job evaluating young players, so I'd be a little leery of trading for Escobar, but then again, like you said, he does most things well (or at least average).

  5. One thing to keep in mind that a player who has a league average OPS at shortstop is exceptional. OPS+ doesn't use any kind of positional adjustments. As a whole, baseball has shifted away from the offensive shortstop again, with the exception of the NL East.

  6. Peter Gammons just posted an interesting read on internal Red Sox shortstop options. Basically, the team still has high hopes for Jed Lowrie and the accolades 19 year old Jose Iglesias is receiving are pretty incredible.

  7. Yeah, I don't think you can discount Lowrie. Way way back before the wrist injuries he had the look of an average defensive shortstop with good on base skills. Hard to remember now, but if they decline the Gonzales option and re-sign him for something more reasonable, maybe that works.

    Also, why did Tito keep pinch-hitting Lowrie for Gonzo in the Angels series. It was so clear that Lowrie was just learning his way back and Gonzo was putting up better ABs.