Shortstop a position of intrigue late in Spring Training
With teams in need and names on the market, a lot could change as season nears
For a pivotal middle-of-the-diamond defensive position, shortstop sure is a source of an unusual amount of uncertainty here in the home stretch of Spring Training.
It could also be a source of an unusual amount of late-spring movement.
When a defending division champ such as the Tigers loses its starting shortstop (Jose Iglesias) for possibly the entirety of the upcoming year, that's bound to impact what was already an intriguing shortstop trade market bubbling beneath the surface.
Iglesias, the Tigers confirmed Thursday, will be restricted from weight-bearing activities for a minimum of four months due to stress fractures in both shins, so those fears about him missing all of 2014 had merit.
The Mets, meanwhile, have long been considered suitors of a more satisfying shortstop situation than the one presented by Ruben Tejada, who has had a rough camp and done little to dissuade the doubters.
And because shortstop is such a pivotal position, it's possible other teams will take advantage of the options being dangled in order to attain necessary depth. The Reds, who are basically barren beyond Zack Cozart, are one such club. The Rays, always on the hunt for versatility and value, are another.
What makes this market particularly intriguing is the sheer availability of items on the shelves at this late date.
It's not just Stephen Drew still dangling in the free-agent wilderness, attached to a Draft compensation pick that crushed the market of the World Series winner. It's the D-backs' depth, which allows them to move either Didi Gregorius or Chris Owings (Gregorius appears more likely to be moved at the moment). It's the Mariners entertaining offers for Nick Franklin while profiling him at a shortstop position he's played frequently in the Minors, but only sparingly in his limited big league time. It's the Cardinals reportedly dangling Pete Kozma. It's the Jimmy Rollins saga in Clearwater. It's the rumor mill also wrapping backups like the Braves' Tyler Pastornicky and the Pirates' Clint Barmes into its nebulous clutches.
How realistic is it for Drew to sign? Or for any of the above to be dealt by Opening Day? The answer varies anywhere from pure fantasy in the case of Rollins, who has made it clear he has no plans to waive his 10-and-5 trade veto rights at this time, to pretty darned possible in the cases of Gregorius and Franklin, in particular.
Drew, by virtue of his search for an expensive multiyear contract, does not seem to be a fit for the Tigers, who firmly expect Iglesias to be back in action by 2015. And a marriage with the Mets, though long anticipated, has not been consummated because of Drew's unwillingness to take a discounted deal.
The growing speculation that Drew might be better off waiting for the Draft to pass and for needs to arise on the Major League landscape seems to have a lot of validity to it.
Right now, Detroit is driving the shortstop conversation, because as a bona fide World Series contender, the Tigers have the greatest sense of urgency to shore up that spot. Sure, they could roll with internal solutions like the raw Eugenio Suarez, who is talented but has not yet played an inning above Double-A, or Hernan Perez, a 22-year-old who would have to switch over from second, or veteran farmhand Danny Worth.
The industry expectation, however, is that Dave Dombrowski will do something to support the shortstop spot before long. To a Detroit team already dealing with the loss of Andy Dirks for half a season in left (where Rajai Davis will now be propelled into everyday duties despite concern about his ability against right-handed pitching), the shoulder soreness of Anibal Sanchez and, most relevant to this discussion, the concerns about Nick Castellanos' defensive ability at third, uncertainty at short is a particularly uncomfortable issue.
Certainly, the Tigers didn't have great offensive expectations for Iglesias out of the No. 9 hole, which is why they're expected to prioritize defense in their hunt for a replacement, particularly given the questions about Castellanos' glove at third. But with the production from their anticipated left-field platoon compromised, you do have to wonder a little about the length of that Detroit lineup.
For the Tigers, a veteran stopgap solution (other than coach Omar Vizquel, of course) makes the most sense because of their long-term ties to both of their middle infielders -- Iglesias and Ian Kinsler. Still, the Gregorius possibility has to be particularly tempting, given the gains he'd provide with his glove. He did show flashes with his bat early last season.
The Mets' concern ought to be geared more toward 2015 than the present day, given the composition of their roster. But that doesn't mean they can't address 2015 in the immediate, as a means of avoiding a costly free-agent market next year that will be highlighted by Asdrubal Cabrera, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie and little else.
Drew and the Mets have long profiled as perfect partners, but the shortstop market is more complicated than previously imagined. And the Tigers' late entry into that market has made it the most interesting plot point of the late-spring season.