November 27, 2010

The 2011 Shortstop Job

The Pirates got below average production from all but two offensive positions in 2010, but shortstop was one of the most glaring weaknesses. Pirates shortstops compiled a whopping 45 runs scored and 45 RBI as they hit .254/.294/.366 overall. Ronny Cedeno (132 starts) was the main culprit, but Bobby Crosby (22) and Argenis Diaz (8) were no better.

John Russell said in September that Ronny Cedeno would return as starting shortstop in 2011. Little did Russell know that he would not return as starting manager in 2011. It's hard to imagine that the Pirates can't do better from the shortstop spot, so let's look at the options.

No matter how many times FSN replayed his routine fielding plays in slow motion, Ronny Cedeno (.256/.293/.382) had a terrible year in 2010. Is there a reason for a guy who generates 8 home runs all season to swing at every pitch, to the tune of 23 walks versus 106 strikeouts? Both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference had Cedeno with negative defensive value. Yet 2010 was actually Cedeno's career year. He made $1.125 million and is due an arbitration raise. If the Pirates are serious about fielding a winning team, they'll non-tender Cedeno, let him leave in free agency and do something else.

Argenis Diaz (.242/.306/.273) already fields at a major league level but hits like, well, Ronny Cedeno. He'll only be 24 in 2011 and needs to play every day at Indianapolis to develop his hitting skills. If that doesn't happen, he'll end up learning to play second and third base in order to stick in the majors as a utility infielder.

If Cedeno was bad, Bobby Crosby (.224/.301/.295) was worse. He briefly "won" the shortstop job from Cedeno, then made eight errors in only 22 games at shortstop and was traded to Arizona despite his amazing ability to play poor defense at every infield position. The Diamondbacks released him after nine games. He'll probably get a minor league contract from somebody.

There's no chance of Derek Jeter joining the Pirates. Free agents available are aging guys like Miguel Tejada, Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera. Formerly outstanding shortstops, these guys have declined so much that for various reasons they really shouldn't even be starters in 2011. There's only one legitimate option left on the free agent market.

Juan Uribe (.248/.310/.440) will likely look for a multiyear deal entering his age 31 season. Uribe is an above average fielder at second base, third base, and shortstop. Offensively, he doesn't get on base enough but has four seasons of over 20 home runs. And his 45 walks in 2010, while low, were twice Cedeno's total. At something like $3-3.5 million a year, Uribe seems like a worthwhile investment considering Ronny Cedeno will likely get nearly $2 million if he's allowed to arbitration.

With the free agent market pretty barren, a trade might be a better option. Two AL East teams want to make room for prospects and are making pretty good, established starters available. Both will be free agents after 2011 and might be available for a minimal return due to their salaries.

Marco Scutaro (.275/.333/.388) has scored 100 and 92 runs over the last two seasons while playing an excellent shortstop. While 2009 looks like a career year for Scutaro, he;s been a solid hitter every year since 2006. He would certainly be one of the better #7 or #8 hitters in the National league, and isn't a joke at the leadoff spot either. He's due to make $5 million in 2011, which is money the Red Sox want off the books when Jed Lowrie can play every day for $450,000.

Slowed by injuries, Jason Bartlett (.254/.324/.350) had an off year in 2010. He still has a career .345 OBP, is an excellent baserunner and is only a year removed from his career year when he hit .320/.389/.490. Bartlett will only be 31 and is not as good as Scutaro or Uribe defensively, but would still be an upgrade over Ronny Cedeno. He's arbitration eligible and will get a raise from his 2010 salary of $4 million.

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