Nov 13

Free Agent Fun with Comps: the Shortstops

asdrubalCabrera

This is part 4 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I discuss the shortstops.

SHORTSTOPS

This year there are at least three legitimate quality shortstops on the free agent market with one potential difference maker. After losing a sizable portion of 2011 to shoulder surgery, being dealt to Los Angeles in 2012, and suffering through thumb and hamstring issues in 2013, Hanley Ramirez played a large chunk of 2014 (until an oblique strain forced him to the DL in August) to prove to teams he could continue to produce at a high level. Ramirez is the real prize of this group, though executives will have to take a leap of faith that he’ll stay healthy and interested to produce at the price range he’ll be asking.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Stephen Drew. He was fairly miserable after sitting out until June, and after recording his worst offensive season in his career, he’ll probably be forced to sign a one-year deal to reestablish his value. For how much, though? If last season was any indication, he and agent Scott Boras might have to pay some GM to bring Drew in on a minor league deal.

Other than that, Asdrubal Cabrera is the only member of this group to the left of thirty but has the range of someone pushing 40. He can still hit, though, with the ability to hit gap-to-gap and will reach double digit home runs.

All players listed below are sorted by career bWAR

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Hanley Ramirez 31 Nomar Garciaparra Ryne Sandberg Ramirez
Asdrubal Cabrera 29 Jhonny Peralta Craig Biggio Peralta
Stephen Drew 32 Alex Gonzalez Shawon Dunston Gonzalez
Clint Barmes 36 Eddie Bressoud Kevin Elster Barmes
Jed Lowrie 31 Tim Teufel Tim Teufel Teufel
John McDonald 40 Juan Castro Juan Castro Castro
Jonathan Herrera 30 Juan Bonilla Alex Arias Bonilla
Ed Lucas 33 Jack Saltzgaver Pete Orr Saltzgaver

Shortstops by Comps

1.  Hanley Ramirez – Up until a few years ago, Hanley Ramirez had entered that rather unenviable category of baseball prodigies who had, for one reason or another, failed to repeat their early career successes as they matured. Maturity, in fact, was one of the reasons why Ramirez fell on hard times—he was benched for failing to hustle while in Miami—injuries played a much larger role in his decline. Injuries to his elbow, back, shoulder, and thumb have cost him time, and even last year, one relatively pain free by Ramirez’s standards, saw him strain his oblique near season’s end.

When he does play, though, look out. Though appearing in only 86 games in 2013, he hit .345/.402/.638 with 20 home runs and still came in eighth in the NL MVP race. Just think what he would have produced if he had been in the lineup prior to June. 2014 wasn’t nearly as amazing as ’13, but he did manage 40 more games and as far as offensive weapons at shortstop in today’s game, there’s Troy Tulowitzki, Ramirez, and everyone else. His 3.5 bWAR from last year was one of his worst seasons and still bested by just five other shortstops. If he’s healthy, he will put up big numbers.

Oh, he does things like this a lot too:

I could watch the helmet spin around his head like pinwheel all day.

At 31, Nomar Garciaparra wasn’t the player he was in his youth with the Red Sox. A wrist injury sapped him of his power (though he did hit 20 home runs in 2006 at the age of 32) and his ability to hit for a high average.

This one seems like a gimme. Ramirez will trounce Garciaparra’s twilight years, right? I’m taking the over on this one, but all those injuries would make me lose sleep signing him to anything over 3 years, which he’s certain to receive.

On a side note, in his top 10 comps, Ramirez had four Hall of Famers: Ryne Sandberg, Joe Torre, Tony Lazzeri, and Travis Jackson. Also listed were Robinson Cano, Miguel Tejada, Derek Jeter, and Dustin Pedroia.

Wow.

2.  Asdrubal Cabrera – It’s always fun to read in other’s reviews of Cabrera how he’s only a few years removed from being an offensive force with the Cleveland Indians and how, given just the right bit of luck, he might be that again. Don’t get your hopes up. I saw enough of Cabrera when he was with the Nationals to know that he has legitimate power, hits to the gaps really well, and keeps infielders extremely busy by rolling over on pitches. Does that make me an expert? No.

Just an observation.

He’s two years removed from being an All Star and while he makes some nifty plays in the field, his range is pretty limited at this point. He will make plays like this and this and this. I don’t know if the Nationals can afford to resign Cabrera, but if not, I’ll miss him. Keep in mind that he’ll be 29 in 2015, not 35. If he signs for over three years, he might need a unicycle to reach pop-ups near the foul line by the end of the contract.

Jhonny Peralta has made the All Star game twice since reaching 29 and last season accumulated the most bWAR of any shortstop in the majors. I’m going with Peralta on this one. Cabrera might not reach Peralta’s average season of 3.5 through the life of his next contract, much less in each of those individual seasons.

3.  Stephen Drew – Everyone knows the story of how Drew and agent Scott Boras tried to skirt around the qualifying offer / compensation rules by waiting until after the amateur draft to sign with a team. That decision cost Drew around 4 million dollars last season and probably about 20-30 million more in his upcoming contract.

Sometimes things go bust.

Last season Drew hit just .162/.237/.299 with seven home runs and played just well enough in the field to only be worth -0.3 bWAR for the season. After being traded to the Yankees, he played out of position at second, acquitted himself nicely in the field however, but was still basically worth -0.6 bWAR.

Alex Gonzalez hit for double digit home runs seven times in his career, and he had a solid glove that helped the 2003 Marlins win the World Series. After having surgery on his ACL in 2012, he’s come back but hasn’t really been the same. I’m not saying Drew is done. I think last season was just some bad mojo going on and he’ll rebound to play okay. I still don’t think he reaches the production of Gonzalez, however.

4.  Clint Barmes – Barmes once hit 23 home runs (in Colorado but still) and has hit close to .290 twice in his career. In those two years, however, his home/road splits were so extreme that it’s little wonder that he’s settled into a .240 hitter outside of Coors Field. Last year he missed 1/3 of the season due to a strained groin and plays pretty well in the field (okay, one more) to be a net positive despite the limited bat.

He’ll be 36, probably will be signed to a one-year deal, and will provide just enough value in the field to be worth half a win or so.

Eddie Bressoud was out of baseball after 35. Barmes wins!

JedLowrie5.  Jed Lowrie – By the time I publish this, I imagine the Mets will have already signed Lowrie, and I’ll have to talk myself into this deal as well. Lowrie’s power went somewhere last year after suddenly appearing in 2012. Of course he fractured his right index finger, which cost him 16 games, and you sort of need that top hand for hitting. Whatever. He shouldn’t be such a tease. If you promise 15 homers, you better deliver.

The general consensus by people that know things is that Lowrie isn’t long for short with his ultimate destination either second or third. Lowrie’s big advantage is that he’s a switch hitter (like Cabrera) with a little more power from the left side but a better overall hitter from the left. He’s probably not the .290 hitter he was in 2013 simply because of an unusually high (for him) .319 BABIP, but .250 with 12-15 home runs is reasonable.

After the age of 30, Teufel had two seasons where he hit 10 or more home runs and was probably worth a few wins total. Regardless, Teufel wins this because I love Tim Teufel. Teufel wins this because of a story from Jeff Pearlman’s The Bad Guys Won.

Teufel, not exactly a drinker, made an effort to be social with his ’86 Mets teammates. One night at a bar named Cooters in Houston, Texas, Teufel happened to be extremely drunk. After leaving the bar with a beer, Dale Bristley, an off duty police officer working club security, yelled at Teufel to bring the beer back inside. Teufel, typically a mild-mannered, accommodating man, did not willing comply:

As related by Pearlman:

Either way, Bristley snapped. He reached for the beer, which caused the out-of-his-head Teufel to cock back his right fist and lunge toward the officer. Even at his most muscular the second baseman had as much business throwing a punch as Kurt Waldheim did joining B’nai Brith. Teufel was a softie, and softies do not engage in barroom brawls with cops. The doormen on duty, Sandy Hooper and Nate Wishnow, grabbed him by the arms and waist and pulled him away from Bristley. Wishnow came from behind and right-jabbed twice at Teufel’s stomach, sending him stumbling to the ground . . . Standing atop the fallen Teufel, [Wishnow] looked down and said, ‘You know, for an athlete you’re a pretty big wimp,’ Teufel, battered and drunk, could only sigh.

28 years later I make things right. Lowrie spent one season in Houston, which makes Teufel our unequivocal winner. Plus, I was a big Tim Teufel fan growing up. Reason and sense never trump childhood memories.

I still believe Mister T is a pretty awesome cartoon.

6.  John McDonald – John McDonald (you wanted me to write Old McDonald, didn’t you?) will be 40 next season is probably through as a regular in the Majors. If needed, he could play shortstop or third, and he’s at that point where he’d likely sign cheap on a one-year deal. For his career, he’s hit lefties okay, but not so much last year, and you really can’t expect a 40 year old man to hit anything other than a remote.

Juan Castro stopped playing baseball at 39, which means he cost less in terms of wins and money than McDonald did last year.

I’m picking Castro.

7.  Jonathan Herrera – covered with second basemen.

8.  Ed Lucas – covered with second basemen.

Running count of players appearing most in similarity lists:

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS

Similar Players by Count

Next, I discuss the third basemen.

Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowrie photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

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