Stop us if you've heard this one before: The Blue Jays are on the look out for a shortstop this off season.
And how sad is this: The last Blue Jays shortstop to have two consecutive seasons of playing more than 1000 innings (roughly 115 games) at the position was Alex Gonzalez in 2000 and 2001. Since then, a veritable rogues gallery of marginal players have suited up at the position. You've got your Chris Woodwards, and you've got Chris Gomezes, along with a little Mike Bordick here and your occasional Russ Adams there.
There are a handful of names that are being tossed around as possible replacements for the departed and not-so-lamented Scrappy Doo, and we'd be derelict in our duties if we didn't share our thoughts on them. (Right?)
Below are our views on six possible options for the Jays up the middle next year.
1) J.J. Hardy - Our personal pick of the litter, Hardy seems like he's been around forever, even though he's still just 26. He's hit 26 and 24 homers in the past two seasons, with an OPS .821 last season. In spite of numbers like those (which look positively Ruthian when compared against the output of Jays shortstops) , Hardy never seems to get much respect in Milwaukee. Now that the Brewers are set to go with top prospect Alcides Escobar as early as next April, rumours (or is that wishful thinking?) are popping up around the interwebs that he is headed to any number of teams. (Seattle, Twins, Cardinals, Red Sox...everybody's got their eye on Hardy it seems.)
Brewers GM Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal that the best offer he's received so far for Hardy is "a No. 5 starter." Might the Jays be able to shake him loose with a set up man or a closer?
2) Rafael Furcal - He was great offensively when he played this year (1.012 OPS in 36 games) after a subpar 2007 season (.687 OPS). He was also brutal in the field in this year's playoffs, and while he gets to a lot of balls, and has a cannon of an arm, his 27 errors in 2006 are a little scary. But Furcal is (and we hate ourselves for saying this) the prototypical lead off man that the Jays could use at the top of their lineup.
He'll command more than $10 million per year on a short contract, and might be worth it if he's willing to take a one or two year deal to burnish his credentials.
3) Orlando Cabrera - Allegedly loves Canada, and is loved by Richard Griffin. Still a good fielder, but his offense last year was awful, and he actually wouldn't really represent any sort of upgrade over Marco Scutaro. (Cabrera: 8 HRs, 57 RsBI and a .705 OPS; Scoots: 7 HRs, 60 RsBI, .697 OPS.)
Cabrera is getting by on reputation at this point, and hasn't had an OPS over .800 since 2003 with the Expos.
4) Khalil Greene - A favorite target of Blair, Greene actually posted a sub-.600 OPS in 105 games last season. Granted, he played in San Diego in the most cavernous of all ballparks, but his home-road splits were actually worse on the road. In 50 games away from PetCo, Greene put up an awful .542 OPS, including a putrid .225 OBP.
Greene is an excellent fielder, but he'd have to revert back to his 2007 production (27 HRs, 97 RsBI) before we'd consider him any sort of an upgrade over what we've got. Which brings us to...
5) What We've Got - The question is: how much do you start to give up from your roster or from your payroll flexibility in order to grab one of these marginal improvements? If Scutaro were to perform up to last year's levels, would the Jays suffer that much? Could Scutaro get the job, with McDonald subbing in as a defensive replacement? Can't we just call these guys our number nine hitters and move on? Isn't there a way that we could make the most of the players on the roster? All questions which bring us to...
6) Aaron Hill - The little birdies with Eckstein faces have apparently stopped circling his head long enough for the Jays to pull him off the 60 day DL this week. And while the conventional wisdom is that the Jays won't want to rush him into a new role while he slowly makes his way back, it's hard to overlook the emergence of Joe Inglett last year.
There weren't many good stories to find with the Jays' offense last year, but Inglett acquited himself well in 344 ABS (.762 OPS, nine steals, 45 runs scored and 39 RsBI). Inglett is a decent second baseman, but lacks the arm to short and has only done so for only 11 innings in the Majors.
Hill played 63 games at short in 2006, making an unseemly 12 errors in that limited time. But his defense has improved significantly at second over the past two seasons, which at least hints at the fact that he could master the other side of the diamond.
And the moral of the story is...
None of this is particularly a ringing endorsement for any of these guys. Then again, maybe we have to adjust our offensive expectations for shortstops. After a decade or so of hard hitting middle infielders, there was only one shortstop in the majors to hit more than 30 homers (Hanley Ramirez, 33), and none who drove in more than 90 RsBI (Jhonny Peralta drove in 89).
(UPDATE: A belated glove tap to the Ghostrunners for inspiring this post.)