It’s been quite some time since the the first wave of Cal Ripken deciples made up a trio of the league’s elite shortstops. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter now play together, with Rodriguez moving to third base (though a swap would probably improve the Yankees left side). Nomar Garciaparra has battled wrist injuries and become a designated-hitter option as a free agent this year. But Miguel Tejada also won an MVP at the position, and is a free agent this year, though he’ll likely have to move to third base this season.
Since the beginning of steroid testing, however, the middle infield positions have devolved back to where they were pre-Ripken. Now, much of a player’s value in the middle infield is predicated on his defense, and power-hitting middle-infielders are much harder to come by.
*Note: Players with options will be kept off the list unless their options are projected as unexercised. No arbitration-eligible players will be included unless they are projected as non-tender free agents. Ages represent age on June 30, 2010
Alex Gonzalez, 32 years old
After missing all of 2008 with a knee injury, Gonzalez bounced back respectably in 2009. Lateral movement is always a concern when evaluating knee-injury-recovery, and Gonzalez the 10.5 UZR/150 in 2009, which he spent in Cincinnati and Boston, certainly should quiet some doubters. He also displayed some power in the American League, hitting five of his eight homeruns in Boston, where he played only 44 games, but posting a .284/.316/.453 line.
Gonzalez has shown power through his career. In 2007, his last full season prior to 2009, saw him hit 16 home runs and post a .196 ISO. He played in Cincinnati, whose home park is a launching pad for mediocre power hitters, but also hit 23 home runs in 2004 when he played for the Florida Marlins, who play in a more pitcher-friendly park.
Orlando Cabrera, 35 years old
A lot has been—and probably will continue to be—made of Marco Scutaro’s impressive 2009 season. But his .282/.389/.409 line is only a tick better than Cabrera’s .284/.316/.389 line in 2009. But while Scutaro, once a jack-of-no-trades in the infield seems to have found a spot at shortstop, he’s only an average defender at the position, while Cabrera has boasted several very good seasons at shortstop (his -13.7 UZR/150 in 2009 appears flukey).
And while Cabrera has been around the league a long time, and is known by most casual fans, at least better known that Scutaro, he’s less than a year older than Scutaro.
Marco Scutaro, 34 years old
Scutaro has always been a stalky guy who swung hard. Watching him play for a week would lead most to believe that he was a power hitter in a slump, but instead he’s a guy who is simply only an average hitter. He’s something akin to a pre-alledged-steroid-use Brett Boone.
That said, as an average defender and a guy who walks a lot (90 times in 2009), and also in a baseball landscape presently starving for offensive talent at shortstop, Scutaro has a significant market. He’ll improve somebody, somewhere, as long as he can stick at short.
Craig Counsell, 39 years old
At 38 years old, Counsell posted one of his the most complete offensive seasons he’s ever had. His .285/.357/.408 line in 130 games, paired with solid defense and nearly-unparalleled versatility make Counsell a valuable free agent heading into 2010.
He walks enough, but will never be mistaken for a power hitter. However, his ability to play at a high level at shortstop, second base, and third base, while hitting from the left hand side, will make him an attractive target for some teams.
Khalil Greene, 30 years old
Green is really only on this list because of his age, he’s the youngest legitimate starting candidate among free agent shortstops, and his unrealized potential. Greene posted a .214 ISO in 2007, and looked to be headed towards the echelon of elite shortstops.
He’s hit only 16 homeruns since, including six in a one-year stint with the St. Louis Cardinals, but has resided barely north of the Mendoza line for the past two seasons. He’s also seen his defense recede considerably according to UZR, and it was only average before.
Casey is a super-sophomore at Green River Community College, where he retired from his post as Editor-in-Chief at the school’s newspaper. He’s a featured columnist for the Seattle Mariners and Seattle Seahawks at Bleacher Report. He does a sports radio show on www.kgrg.com, his college’s radio station on Saturdays from 7-10 PM PST. He can be contacted at email@example.com.