Our look at the free agent class of 2009 ends with a trip to Jeterville, AKA shortstop, a position once filled with some of the best offensive and defensive players in the sport. The players about to hit the market have a similar theme amongst themselves: unusually good or bad seasons in certain regards that are bound to regress moving forward. We have two of the top ten fielders at the position in 2008, as well as a player who is used to topping everyone in fielding at the position. Additionally, there are a few players that should not be playing the demanding position anymore as well as two players with seasons on offense moving in different directions.
The youngest of the group is Cesar Izturis, who, in 135 games with the Cardinals produced a -1.71 WPA/LI on the heels of a .263/.319/.309 line. His OPS has been fairly consistent over the past three seasons meaning he just is not very valuable on offense. His defense, however, earned him the #4 spot at the position this season, at +19 plays above average. At 29 years old, Izturis could realistically sign a two or three year deal somewhere, based on his defense, but his offense could be a very big problem. If there is anything he can take away regarding his offensive production this season it would be that his walk rate was higher than ever before.
The elder statesman of the group is Omar Vizquel, who, at 42 years old, still has “it” in the field. In 92 games, Omar was +9 plays above average defensively, good for eighth at the position. He has a 5.2 mm option on his contract for next season, but can be bought out for $ 300,000. If the Giants choose to move in a younger direction, which I thought was the reason for not bringing Barry Bonds back, and buy Vizquel out, I would hope he hangs up his glove rather than stick around until his only solid skill deteriorates. Offensively, he was worth over two wins less than an average player, so defense is all he has left.
Aside from these two, the remaining seven players range from 30-34 years old. Juan Uribe is 30, and spent most of this season at third base due to Joe Crede‘s injuries, but was a +3 and a -7 at shortstop in 2006 and 2007. He also ranged from 16-23 home runs from 2004-07, before hitting just 7 this season. At .247/.296/.386, Uribe had a WPA/LI of -0.66, which, coupled with his declining fielding skills, just does not make him a very attractive commodity. I would expect him to have a job next season, but as more of a platoon player or pinch-hitter/defensive replacement on an NL team.
Rafael Furcal is 31, and is going to get a big payday, even though his ridiculously productive 36 regular season games are a very small sample and largely unsustainable. He hit .357/.439/.573, and was worth almost 1.5 wins above average despite playing in April and then the final week of September. His .217 ISO was the highest it has ever been, but his numbers were built upon a .380 BABIP, which will not repeat. Defensively, the injuries have hurt him recently, but he was the definition of league average this season. In the previous two seasons, however, he registered a +4 and +6. Expect him to land a big 4-yr deal, with the offense declining and the defense impoving.
Adam Everett, 32, is everyone’s favorite saber-darling, since his average or below average offense is more than made up for by his incredible defense. In 2006, the guy was +41 plays above average. That fell to +18 in 2007, before this season’s -1 in Minnesota. He played just 48 games, but it is somewhat clear that his fielding skills are not what they once were. If he cannot get back to that +10 to +15 range, he will not be worth much.
At 33 years old we have Alex Cora and Edgar Renteria, one valued for his defense and leadership and another coming off of an extremely disappointing season. Cora was a -3 in the field and about a half-win less effective offensively than an average hitter. With a .270/.371/.349 line, it is clear that Cora has the ability to hit and get on base, but he does not combine that with any semblance of power. Renteria has seen his ISO fall from .144 to .111 over the last three seasons, a mark not much higher than Cora’s .079. A .270/.317/.382 line might be acceptable if you were Everett and significantly better in the field than anyone else, but Renteria has gone from a +6 to a -1, to a -9 this season. His reputation will land him a job somewhere else, and he couldn’t possibly be worse than this season, but it’s pretty evident that the Braves won that trade.
Lastly, we have David Eckstein, who was also profiled in the second base edition of this series. He cannot field anymore at shortstop, at 12 plays below average, and he really cannot hit much either, as his -0.70 WPA/LI explains. He does not strike out much, and his 8.7 BB% is the highest of his career, but a switch to second base should be mandatory if he wants to stick around. He should not be the starting SS for any team serious about contending. Furcal and Renteria will likely get the hefiest paychecks of this group, but guys like Cora, Izturis, and Everett will still be able to contribute.
Print This Post