A Look at the Shortstop Market – Cardinals

If David Eckstein departs, how will the Cardinals fill their open shortstop position? Dustin Mattison looks at alternatives.

With the St. Louis Cardinals in dire need of pitching help, it seems more and more likely that David Eckstein will be allowed to go elsewhere via free agency.  In Eckstein's three years in St. Louis, he has become a fan favorite and enjoyed the best three year success of his career. 

 

Eckstein came to the Cardinals in 2005 after being non-tendered by the Anaheim Angels.  Eck took over for Edgar Renteria and was named the starter for the National League at the 2005 All-Star Game.  For the year, Eckstein appeared in 158 games while hitting .294/.363/.395 as the Cardinals' leadoff hitter.

 

The 2006 Cardinals kept Eckstein in the leadoff role but as injuries diminished his playing time, he appeared in only 123 games.  Eckstein once again found himself at the All-Star Game, named as a replacement for the injured Jose Reyes.  In the postseason, Eckstein earned his second World Series ring and the Series' Most Valuable Player Award. 

 

2007 saw more injuries for the feisty shortstop, who appeared in a career-low 117 games.  On the positive side, Eckstein hit over .300 for the first time in his career. But he turns 33 years old in January and with injuries mounting and his games played diminishing, the Cardinals could be looking to make a change.

 

So what are the alternatives for the Cardinals?  Let's take a look, starting with the in-house candidates.

 

Brendan Ryan

 

Ryan was called up from Triple-A Memphis to add depth and provided more offense than expected, forcing Tony La Russa to keep him in the lineup because of his production.  In 180 at bats, Ryan hit .289/.347/.406 while splitting time between second base, third base, and shortstop.  Ryan was credited with 99 chances at shortstop, committing three errors, and posting a .970 fielding percentage.  The jury is still out if he can be an everyday Major League shortstop but his production earned him a shot at the job. 

 

Aaron Miles

 

Miles performed respectably in Eck's absence, starting 33 games at shortstop.  For the year, Miles hit .290/.328/.348.  In 176 chances at shortstop, Miles committed nine errors.  Miles doesn't get on base enough for a guy with such little power to be an everyday player. 

 

Jose Martinez

 

A long shot, but Martinez is the best candidate at the current time in the Cardinals' Minor League system.  After a breakout 2005, Martinez struggled in 2006 and the beginning of 2007.  Martinez was promoted to Double-A Springfield to replace an injured Tyler Greene and all he did was hit, finishing with a line of .300/.337/.472.  Martinez has above average range and a strong throwing arm.  He definitely had to catch the organization's attention with his strong performance in the Texas League but still needs time to develop.

 

Free Agents

 

Alex Rodriguez

 

One of the premier players in baseball, Rodriguez is sure to opt out of his current contract.  He is rumored to be asking for $30 million a year for over a decade.  I believe the Cardinals will pass.

 

Juan Uribe

 

The soon-to-be former White Sox shortstop provides good power but little else.  Uribe averaged 20 home runs and 70 RBIs during his four years on the Southside.  On the downside, the Sox have seen his average steadily drop from .283 to .234 this past year.  Uribe had a career-high 112 strikeouts in 2007.

 

Cesar Izturis

 

Izturis is a very good glove man but offers little at the plate.  In 314 at bats in 2007, Izturis hit .258/.302/.315.  Yes, that is correct, he slugged .315.   Izturis would provide a solid defensive backup if the Cardinals decided to go with the youngster, Ryan.

 

Royce Clayton

 

On his first tour of St. Louis, Clayton replaced crowd favorite Ozzie Smith.  Could he now come back and replace crowd favorite Eckstein?  Probably not at age 38 next season, but like Izturis, Clayton could provide veteran depth for Ryan.  Clayton still plays solid defense but Royce will not provide much at the plate. 

 

 

Trade Candidates

 

Edgar Renteria (Braves)

 

The popular former Cardinal left via free agency after the 2004 season and has been rumored to still be of interest to the Cardinals.  Renteria will be in the last year of the 4-year/$40 million contract he signed with Boston.  Edgar struggled mightily with the Red Sox in 2005, but has regained his form after he was traded back to the National League. 

 

In 2007, Renteria lost time due to injuries, but had a big-time year.  Appearing in 124 games, Edgar hit .332/.390/.470.  The .332 average ranked third in the National League.  Renteria is still a solid fielder who will turn 33 during the 2008 season.  Yunel Escobar stepped up and proved ready to take over at short for the Braves while Renteria was out.  The Braves are rumored to want to get Renteria's contract off the books and let the younger and cheaper Escobar to take over. 

 

Miguel Tejada (Orioles)

 

Tejada is coming off his worst season since 1999, missing 29 games due to injury.  The 31-year-old hit .296/.357/.442 with only 18 home runs and 81 runs batted in.  In 2006, Tejada hit .330/.379/.498 with 24 home runs and 100 runs batted in so if healthy, he should bounce back.  Defensively, Miggy has decent hands but not very much range. 

 

If healthy, Tejada definitely provides the right-handed power bat the Cardinals are looking for.  While the former American League MVP (with Oakland) has two years and about $26 million left on his current contract, the price to acquire him via trade could be high.

 

Clint Barmes (Rockies)

 

Barmes was replaced as the Rockies' regular shortstop by possible Rookie of the Year, Troy Tulowitzki.  He appeared to be the Rockies' shortstop of the future after hitting .289/.330/.434 in 81 games during the 2005 season.  However, he came back in 2006 to hit only .220/.264/.335 in 131 games.   Barmes saw minimal action in 2007 due to Tulowitzki's emergence.  He could be brought in to provide cheap competition for Ryan. 

 

Chin-Lung Hu (Dodgers)

 

Hu is an emerging prospect in the Dodger organization but is blocked by Rafael Furcal.  He has always been known for his skills with the glove but this summer his offensive skills emerged as well. The 22-year-old started the year at Double-A Jacksonville and hit .329/.376/.508 in 357 at bats and continued this trend at Triple-A Las Vegas, hitting .319/.337/ .508 in 199 at bats.  Hu hit .241/.241/.517 with two long balls in 29 big league at bats. 

 

The native of Taiwan represented the Dodgers in this year's Futures Game and was named the MVP.  Hu is a superb in the field with super range and a very strong arm.  He provides a lot of speed at the top of the lineup and could take over in the leadoff spot. The Dodgers may hang on to Hu and make Furcal available, as the veteran will be a free agent after the 2008 season.

 

Rafael Furcal (Braves)

 

Furcal is due $13 million in 2008; the last year of his current contract.  Furcal was bothered by a nagging ankle injury throughout the season.  2007 was his worst season since appearing in only 79 games in 2001.  Even with the ankle injury, Furcal was 25-for-31 in stolen base attempts.  The 2000 Rookie of the Year and 2003 All-Star does make a lot of errors in the field but has good range and one of the strongest arms at the shortstop position.

 

Erick Aybar (Angels)

 

Aybar is an electric switch hitter who is blocked by Orlando Cabrera in Anaheim.  He hit .237/.279/.289 in limited action for the Angels in 2007.  In six Minor League seasons, Aybar has put up a .311/.357/.453 line.  He reminds me of Furcal, just with a little less pop.  In the field, he has plus range and a plus arm.  A free swinger, Aybar needs to increase his walk rate and cut down on his strikeouts.  Aybar was rated as the Number 61 prospect on <i>Baseball America's</i> 2007 Top 100 Prospect List. 

 

Ben Zobrist (Devil Rays)

 

Like Barmes, Zobrist is blocked by an emerging shortstop and the Devil Rays are loaded with infield prospects on the way up in their system.  He hit .279/.400/.455 at Triple-A Durham.  In 340 Minor League games, he has an on base percentage of .428. Zobrist grew up less than three hours from St. Louis in Eureka, Illinois.   Zobrist, even though he has yet to hit much at the Major League level, would provide good competition in camp for Ryan. 

 

In closing

 

From this list, my preference would be Hu.  I have seen him play several times and he is electric on defense and provides good punch at the plate.  Renteria is the sentimental favorite and a rumor has been circulating involving Anthony Reyes going to Atlanta.  Zobrist is a local product who provides solid defense but just hasn't been giving a lot of opportunity at the big league level.  But in the end, I could see the Cardinals bringing in a cheap veteran to back up Ryan.

 

 

Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at dustin@whiteyball.com.

 

© 2007 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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