Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shortstops à gogo

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.)


Torgen said...

What's the average OPS for shortstops, anyways? It always seems unfair to me to complain about shortstops with OPS+ less than 100--we should compare them with first basemen, left fielders, and designated hitters?

Colin said...

Not only that, but Hanley Ramirez is a brutal fielder who should probably not be playing shortstop.

If you can get Hardy for something we have a lot of (like LOOGYs), then for sure. Otherwise I'd stick with Scutaro and look for a high-end DH.

Lloyd the Barber said...

According to BR, league average OPS for shortstops is .718, or approx 92 OPS+ (if I'm understanding tOPS+ correctly).

Hardy is young and under team control. As I've argued time and again at GROF the Jays should make a significant offer to ensure Hardy is a big part of the future. If it takes a highly prized pitching prospect, so be it.

I mean, can we expect Justin Jackson to ever be much better than JJ Hardy is now?

Tao of Stieb said...

Credit where credit is due: We probably should have mentioned that it was a post from the Ghostrunners, from last Thursday (complete with awesome Fleetwood Mac accompaniment) that got us thinking about this.

(Well, sort of. We've been having crystal visions of J.J. Hardy in a Jays uni for about a year now, but their post jostled the thoughts loose.)

abigail breslin said...

JP should use every pick in next years draft to choose a SS, then we are bound to end up with one at least.

Anonymous said...

They have a few guys who can catch the ball at shortstop they really need a DH/Outfield type like Manram or Bradley right now and a pitcher or two. THis is typical Blue Jay nonesense, they need something and get something they didn't need( Eckstein when they had Johnny Mac and Scoot!). Their adjustments should be at least one number two pitchers AND one master hitter/basher type....anything else is stupid.

Bruno Van Rottweiller

JJ Hardy is not that great , neither is Khalil Greene. If they upgrade at short, Furcal is the player to get ....period. Furcal can hit and the Jays need hitting.

Jim Briggs said...

are you guys going to do a similar run-down of the pitching out there?

I'd love to see them go after some high-quality, purposeful stop-gap risks like Pedro and Penny. The former could find some inspiration back in the AL East, and the latter has some experience with Arnsberg. Both could help the Jays out, while they wait for Dusty and Marcum to heal up and for the new kids to warm up. And both would be relative bargains on the market....

Jim Briggs said...

Also, AJ getting a 5 year/$80MM offer from the Yanks? They are certifiable.

Torgen said...

Even if Penny reverts to 2006-2007 form, in the AL that's probably good enough to be Jesse Litsch. 200 would be asking a bit much. Speaking of 2005, that's the last time Pedro pitched a full season. I think it's a little too risky pinning our hopes on him.

Torgen said...

That should be, "2005 would be asking a bit much."

Jim Briggs said...

I fully acknowledge Pedro and Penny would be risks, but they're no more risky than it was to pin hopes on John Thomson, Tomo Ohka and Victor Zambrano. At least the upside would be a little higher on these two.

Given that what Toronto really needs is someone to tide the staff over until McGowan is back, I think they could get the summed results of one good starter (and, if lucky, much more) by signing these two.

Roll the dice, and fuckit -- weight them a bit.