Last night, Stephen Drew broke his ankle and will be out for at least the rest of this season. It’s horrible timing for the D-backs, with both J.J. Hardy and now Jose Reyes off the market. So what are the D-backs to do? Figuring out who they are is a good start.
First, there are the internal options. While the D-backs scramble, that’s likely to be Willie Bloomquist. The erstwhile infielder, now on his third organization in the last three years, has not generated a positive WAR since 2008. Nevertheless, Bloomquist has been on the team all season, and other than the since departed Josh Wilson, he is the only player besides Drew who has started at shortstop this season.
The situation does not get any better at Triple-A. The Aces’ roster doesn’t even list a shortstop, though it appears that Tony Abreu and Cody Ransom have been splitting time there. Ransom has never really had a true shot in the Show, though at 35 years old, the reason why seems obvious. Ransom is mashing in Triple-A though, and he can’t really be any worse than Bloomquist, so that could be an option. Abreu hasn’t embarrassed himself at Reno, but his time in the Majors has been more focused at second and third. He’s probably not up to the task of handling shortstop on a full-time basis.
Going deeper, Taylor Harbin, the shortstop for the D-backs’ Double-A club, is not exactly knocking the door down, and Chris Owings, who was the only shortstop on the D-backs’ Top 10 Prospects list before the season, has taken a major step backwards offensively at High-A. In other words, all paths probably lead to Bloomquist.
While there are no slam dunks on the market, the good news is that any incoming player doesn’t have a high bar to clear in order to match the production the D-backs received this year from Drew (or Bloomquist). Drew was actually having a down year at the dish. His plate discipline had taken a turn for the worse, and the power he exhibited the last three years was not on display this season. While his .143 ISO was still above average for a shorstop, it ranks just 88th out of 154 qualified players this season overall.
Looking at the available options — most notably Jamey Carroll and Clint Barmes — it’s easy to make the case that on paper, they could be just as valuable as Drew was down the stretch. Both pass the valuable postseason experience test as well. Of the two, Barmes looks like the best fit. A free agent at the end of the season, Barmes has had a minor resurgence this season. Known more for his glove than his bat, Barmes has picked it up offensively this season, and that might get better once he leaves Houston, as he has compiled a 72 wRC+ at home versus 126 on the road. Barmes has accrued the same amount of WAR as has Drew, but in 19 less games.
Carroll would fit as well. Though he doesn’t have the defensive chops at shortstop that Barmes does, Carroll has improved his approach offensively the past couple of years. He’s not going to hit many, or any, home runs, but he can be an asset offensively. But he derives the most value for a club at second base. He’d be an upgrade over Bloomquist, but he is likely to give a lot of his offensive value back in the field if given the shortstop gig full-time. Other options include trying to extract the last bit of magic from Carroll’s teammate, Rafael Furcal, or calling the Mariners about Brendan Ryan. Though with Ryan’s name conspicuously missing from trade rumors, the price for him would likely be higher.
And that brings us to the heart of the situation. Should the D-backs be trying to aggressively replace Drew with an external candidate? Losing Drew adds to the D-backs problems, but there are other issues. The team is still a starter and a reliever short of being a bonafide playoff team, and may need two starters just to reach the playoffs, as the Joe Saunders and Zach Duke duo isn’t likely to help matters much. The D-backs could look at Drew’s injury as a blessing in disguise, an excuse to wait until next year. On the other hand, they are right in the middle of the fray, and the National League West is a winnable division. The D-backs can potentially bury the Rockies this weekend, turning them into sellers and leaving the Giants as their only remaining competition.
While he wasn’t having the dominating year he had last year, Stephen Drew was a positive contributor to the D-backs’ success, but he can be replaced on paper. But Drew’s injury puts the onus on the D-backs to decide who they are. Are they a happy-go-lucky team who is a year away from true contention that is happy to dance with the guys on their team, or are they poised to reach the playoffs now if they act aggressively to shore up the team. The landscape of the West almost forces them to the latter, and if they are able to beat the Brewers and other clubs to Barmes, the D-backs could still be set up for a playoff run in 2011.