Friday, February 5, 2010

Search for a Solid Shortstop

In yesterdays post I talked about the Blue Jays lead off spot for the upcoming season. That job was handed to the starting shortstop, Marco Scutaro, at the beginning of 2009 and he ran with it. Scutaro got on base at an outstanding rate all while providing the team with great defence at short.

This year, however, they Jays will be without Scutaro after he left for greener pastures in Boston. He signed a two-year pact with the Jays division rivals while the Red Sox would let their previous shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, leave in free agency. Ironically, the Blue Jays would eventually come to terms with Gonzalez on a one-year deal with a team option to play shortstop. The Red Sox did not offer arbitration to Gonzalez so the Jays were not required to lose any draft picks in the upcoming draft.

Alex Anthopoulos in his "building" efforts wisely offered arbitration to the Jays free agents; Scutaro and catcher Rod Barajas while knowing both were likely to decline. Barajas has yet to sign with another club, but he is sure to net the Jays a high draft pick when he signs. The Blue Jays will receive two picks for letting Scutaro leave the team in free agancy. Scutaro very well could have been the Jays shortstop for the next two years, but at the price required to keep him aboard, the Jays would be better off using the money elsewhere (amateur draft?). Also, Scutaro had a career year at the age of 33 and no previous track record to suggest continued success similar to what he had in 2009. Is it a smart investment to spend significant money on an aging veteran shortstop while the club is re-building?
The shortstop position, for as long as I have been watching the club, has been a trouble spot for the organization. We all heard about Russ Adams and thought he was the future, but that never panned out like we had hoped. Minor League prospects such as Gustavo Pierre, Justin Jackson, and Tyler Pastornicky all have potential, but are nowhere near the big club. We have been hearing rumblings of Anthopoulos searching for a young, high-impact shortstop while offering numerous minor leaguers in return.
Prospects, particularly in Major League baseball, cannot be relied upon very often. That is why players such as Alex Gonzalez are signed to be placeholders until someone else can take over.

Last Year, Gonzalez provided excellent defence at short (UZR/150 of 10.5) while batting .238/.279/.355/.635 in 112 games for the Reds and Red Sox last year and isn't projected to be any better in 2010. This stop-gap type of player fits in well behind a young pitching staff which produces ground balls at a high rate.

Fan Favourite John McDonald is sure to see a bit of time as well, although he is not any better with the bat. McDonald could see himself taking over the full time gig if there is interest in a player like Gonzalez at the trade deadline, just as he did when David Eckstein was around.

Who really knows what is to come at the Jays shortstop position in the years to come, but for this upcoming year we pretty much know what to expect in Gonzalez; a slick fielding defender without much of a bat. Not much different from years past.

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