Mets vs. Astros

One of the more pressing issues facing the Red Sox this offseason, the shortstop position can be considered the number two need for the team – just behind the gaping hole that is left field.

But while the left field hole is larger, shortstop may actually be the more challenging find of the two, as the position features few viable options to fill gap.

As Evan outlined earlier, there are a bevy of quality left field options available on the market. Headlined by Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, and Bobby Abreu the market also includes upside buys in Jermaine Dye and Rick Ankiel, as well as plenty of depth. Come December, no team will be left wanting for a left fielder.

Teams seeking shortstops will not have this luxury, however. Cot’s Contracts lists just 12 free agent shortstops among the 2009 class – 2 of whom have club options. And, no, David Eckstein won’t be considered for the position either. He’s a second baseman now, can’t hit, and has a declining glove. Here are the candidates:

Orlando Cabrera (A)

Juan Castro

Alex Cora

Bobby Crosby

Adam Everett

Alex Gonzalez (Option)

Khalil Greene

Ramon Martinez

John McDonald

Marco Scutaro (A)

Miguel Tejada (A)

Jack Wilson (Option)

That’s a very underwhelming list. Maybe you can squint at Khalil Greene or Bobby Crosby and see some potential – and Alex Gonzalez is a nice safety net – but the list really boils down to two options: Tejada, and Scutaro.

That’s correct – just two. That means Orlando Cabrera is not a viable option for this team. At this point in his career, Cabrera has little more than his reputation going for him. (Though, in Boston, he has a bit of nostalgia left over from the 2004 season.) However, nostalgia is not what makes a good free agent acquisition. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never liked Cabrera, even when he was a key member of the 2004 championship team- mainly due to the Nomar trade.

But we have to be realistic. Cabrera has never been a good hitter. He’s topped a .760 OPS just once in his career, back in 2003, and he’s straddled the .700 barrier every year since. His glove has played up, but even that took a considerable hit last year, as he posted a -9.9 UZR/150. To top it off, he was only marginally better than Alex Gonzalez last year, posting a 0.7 WAR, his lowest marker since 2002. All warm and fuzzy memories aside, the guy has no place on the 2010 Red Sox.

As for Scutaro, we can skip over his analysis for now, as he was covered extensively in a recent article. If you’d like the skinny on Marco, hit the link.

So, that leaves us with Miguel Tejada. While at this point, he is just a shell of his former self, Tejada still brings a good package to the table headlined by his bat, as he posted a .795 OPS last season. Though Tejada has seen a sharp decline in his walk totals (2.9 % in 2009) as of late, this is not particularly worrisome, as he is merely swinging more and because it really can’t get any worse than where it already is. In addition, these plate appearances are turning into batted balls, as seen in his low strikeout totals (7.6% in 2009).

Tejada comes with two major risk factors, however. One is his poor glove. Since Tejada is an aging former slugger, he will have to maintain his value at the plate, which isn’t always the best risk to take with aging players. Since Tejada will have to rely on his bat, the Sox can’t hedge his value behind a good glove. The second risk factor is his declining home run rates. His power is going and its no secret, as his HR/FB rate has declined in four consecutive seasons to 7.7 percent in 2009. Still, he is the second best option on this list behind Scutaro, as Tejada was worth 2.6 wins last season. Not very good, but in 2009, that’s all we have.

Rounding out the shortstop class is Alex Gonzalez, the perpetual safety net. Though he does cost $6 million, he makes a case for being worth the investment. Sure, he probably won’t be worth the 1.5 wins that it will take to justify the option. Still, he comes with no strings  attached and has a good glove to fall back on. Though he was worth just 0.6 wins last season, he has been worth at least one win every year since 2003. In addition, his late-season surge at the plate hints that he could reach the 1 win plateau, as his early season woes at the plate with Cincy seem to be an outlier. What it comes down to with Gonzalez is whether or not the Sox have the confidence to invest the starting gig to him. He will never have a good bat, so I’m not a big fan of it, but it could work.

Aside from these free agents, there is one final option that the Red Sox may want to take a look at – Felipe Lopez. Though he has not played at shortstop since 2007, where he was an abhorrable -12.3 UZR/150 with Washington, he has been a good defensive second baseman. If he has in fact improved his reads on ground balls, he may be able to move back to short. If he were able to make the switch, he would be quite the asset, as his bat plays very well at short.

With an improving approach at the plate, good contact skills, and enough pop for the position, he could be good for a long time. He’ll never repeat the 2005 season where he hit 23 home runs, but he will provide good offensive production for the foreseeable future. He’ll have to do something to prevent the BABIP from dropping too much (.360 in 2009). However, if his glove is up to it – and that may be a big if – he would certainly be among the Scutaro’s and Tejada’s of this free agent class.

When the Red Sox finally get their first home grown shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra – whoever that may be – it will feel great to finally put these annual issues to rest. The position has been a revolving door since the 2004 offseason, as the team transitioned from Orlando Cabrera to Edgar Renteria. Hopefully, Jose Iglesias and Yamaico Navarro will come to the rescue and appear with the big club soon. Until then, Sox fans will have to deal with the uncertainty and underwhelming nature that is the shortstop free agent market.