The Shortstop Situation

Yesterday Dejan Kovacevic reviewed the team needs that have been filled this off-season, noting that the Pirates plugged a big hole at second base, and filled a need with their additions to the bullpen.  However, DK made a good point that shortstop, much like second base, was a big need heading in to this off-season, and that the Ronny Cedeno/Bobby Crosby combo might not be the answer.

Back in October, when the off-season was just beginning, I reviewed the shortstop position, pointing out that the Pirates may need a two year stopgap to bridge the time between the 2010 season and the time when guys like Chase d’Arnaud, Brian Friday, and/or Jordy Mercer arrive in the majors.  Mostly I wasn’t comfortable with a Ronny Cedeno/Delwyn Young middle infield, although I felt second was a bigger need.

It’s not that Cedeno has no chance of being productive, and it’s not that the Cedeno/Crosby combo won’t yield a positive result.  However, those options are far from a guarantee.  The question is, was there an opportunity to upgrade over the Pirates’ current Cedeno/Crosby situation this off-season?

First, let’s remember that the Pirates did make an attempt at acquiring help, offering Matt Capps for J.J. Hardy early in the off-season.  It’s unknown whether they would have acquired Akinori Iwamura along with Hardy had the trade gone through, although considering how the Capps situation played out, I wouldn’t overrule that scenario.  The only help that could have been available was on the free agent market, but does that mean the free agent market provided a clear upgrade?  We’ll look at some of the top options, but first we’ll go over the options the Pirates decided on:

Ronny Cedeno – You could argue that Cedeno hasn’t had much of a fair shot in the majors.  He was brought up at the age of 22 and showed some promise in 80 at-bats.  He was given a full season of at-bats at the age of 23 with the Cubs, but hit for a .245/.271/.339 line.  He only received 74 at-bats in 2007, then bounced back in 2008 with a .269/.328/.352 line in 216 at-bats.  Cedeno was horrible with Seattle to start the 2009 season, but fared well with the Pirates, with a .258/.307/.394 line in 155 at-bats.  Cedeno has a good chance of matching Jack Wilson’s production at the plate, which isn’t saying much.  His problem is defense.  Cedeno has a career UZR/150 of -5.6, including a -4.0 last year with the Pirates.  Anyone who saw him play knows he has the skills.  The problem is that he’s still kind of raw.  That’s largely why the Pirates brought in Crosby to push his defense.

Bobby Crosby - Crosby has poor career numbers on offense, with a .238/.305/.378 line in his career with the Athletics.  He’s solid on defense at short, with a career 4.1 UZR/150.  His UZR/150 was 3.7 in 2007 and 3.0 in 2008.  He only played 26 innings at shortstop in 2009, thanks to Orlando Cabrera and Cliff Pennington taking the bulk of the playing time at shortstop in Oakland.  Crosby also has a career .270/.339/.423 line in 355 at-bats against National League teams.  If he puts up those numbers full time in his move to the National League, he could be worth more than Jack Wilson.

Now the free agent options…

Orlando Cabrera - Cabrera has been a lot like Jack Wilson the last few years, with the bulk of his production coming on the defensive side of the ball.  Cabrera has hit for a .280-.285 average the last two seasons, but has posted a .705 OPS each year.  Last year he saw his UZR/150 rating free fall from 13.1 in 2008 to -13.7 in 2009.  It’s hard to say whether that’s due to age and Cabrera’s career being on the decline, or if it was just a fluke year.  Cabrera has had some below average UZR/150 seasons, but those were only around -1 to -2 points.  Considering his age (turned 35 in November), his dip on defense last year, and the fact that no one is going after him, it could be that Cabrera’s value lies more in his name and his previous numbers.

Khalil Greene - Greene is a lot like Crosby, in that his career numbers at the plate look poor.  He’s got a .245/.302/.422 line, and any hope that those numbers were low due to his time in San Diego with Petco Park was somewhat dashed last year as Greene hit for a .200/.272/.347 line in 170 at-bats with the Cardinals.  Greene’s defense at short is more like Cedeno, as he has a career -3.9 UZR/150 at shortstop, with his only positive seasons being in 2004 and 2006.  Greene signed with the Texas Rangers earlier this month for a one year, $750 K deal.

Miguel Tejada - Tejada is good at the plate still, with a .298/.327/.435 line in 1267 at-bats over the last two seasons with Houston.  The problem is that he’s horrible on defense, coming off a year with a -12.4 UZR/150 at shortstop.  With a rotation full of ground ball pitchers, it wouldn’t be wise to add a guy with horrible defense at short.  Tejada recently signed with Baltimore for a one year, $6 M deal.  He will likely make the move to third base, or will serve as the designated hitter.

Marco Scutaro - Does anyone really think he’s choosing the Pirates over the Red Sox?

Adam Everett - Very strong defense, but his .600 OPS doesn’t help.  We would be just as well going with Argenis Diaz.

It’s true that the Pirates had a hole at shortstop.  Ronny Cedeno could be an option to fill that hole in the short term.  He turns 27 next week, and has shown some potential on both sides of the game.  For all we know, he could be the hitting version of Zach Duke next season, surprising everyone by finally putting it all together.  That’s hardly something to bank on though.

Crosby is more of a guarantee on defense when compared to Cedeno, but hasn’t provided much at the plate in his career.  He does have the favorable numbers against National League pitching, and he wouldn’t be the first player who sees a major increase in production by moving from the American League to the National League.

The only other option was to add a guy like Miguel Tejada, and sacrifice defense to have a better hitter, or to add a guy like Orlando Cabrera and risk paying a guy just for his name, without getting the production he put up in the past.  I’ve pointed out that the Pirates have a rotation full of pitchers who have above average historical ground ball ratios.  Everyone focuses on offense, but with the makeup of the Pirates’ pitching staff, a boost in offense by a guy like Tejada or Cabrera could easily be negated by poor defense up the middle.

The Pirates can definitely upgrade at the shortstop position, but in order to do so, they need options available that provide such an upgrade.  J.J. Hardy would have been a strong upgrade, although Milwaukee’s asking price of Zach Duke or Paul Maholm was a bit much, and in the end Milwaukee went with Carlos Gomez to fill their need in center field.  Orlando Cabrera and Miguel Tejada are big names, but have declining skill sets at the end of their careers.  The only strong option, Marco Scutaro, was taken by the Red Sox very quickly in the free agent period.

So for the short term we’re either hoping that Ronny Cedeno figures it all out, at least enough to have a Jack Wilson-like season, or that Bobby Crosby continues his small sample size of success against National League pitching, which would provide an upgrade over what the Pirates had with Jack Wilson the last few years.  Ultimately, it would be nice if the Pirates had a guy who could exceed the Jack Wilson level of production, but i

t seems that will have to come from a prospect like Chase d’Arnaud, Brian Friday, or Jordy Mercer.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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