Heading in to the off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have an interesting decision to make at the shortstop position. They have an option for $3 M on Ronny Cedeno, who had a good year in 2011, highlighted by a 6.8 UZR/150 on the defensive side of the game. Cedeno definitely earned a shot to be the starter in 2012, and it wouldn’t be a bad move to pick up his option. That’s not to say that he’s the best option the Pirates could find this off-season.
The free agent market provides a few upgrades, highlighted by two superstars in Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes. The Pirates likely won’t be players for either of those options, but they would have potential upgrades if they decided to move on from Cedeno. They could also find similar players to Cedeno at half the price.
Going the free agent route comes with a risk. The Pirates would have to make a decision on Cedeno before landing a free agent. Because of this, there’s a chance they could miss out on all of the available options, all while letting Cedeno go elsewhere. This happened to a certain extent last year when all of the shortstop targets they were trying to acquire ended up signing or being traded to other teams, leaving them with Cedeno once again.
Here is a look at the top options on the free agent market this off-season.
The top options in the market are Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, although I don’t see the Pirates as candidates for either player. Rollins is looking for a five year deal (paying him through the age of 37), and is favored to return to Philadelphia. Reyes, on the other hand, has been mentioned as a candidate for Carl Crawford money. That amounts to $142 M over seven years. Those figures could drop because of his hamstring injury in 2011, although I don’t see the price dropping drastically.
In either case, the Pirates would have to seriously over-spend in order to pry Reyes or Rollins away from a contender. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors floated an idea about a month ago that if Reyes could be had for 5 years and $90 M, the Pirates should look in to it. However, I think Reyes will have a lot of interest at that price, which means the Pirates would have to go over $90 M to have a shot.
There’s also the issue of risk with each player. Rollins has been hurt frequently over the last few years, and that won’t change as he gets older. Reyes has a value that is based entirely on speed. He’s not the best option defensively, and is more of a strong offensive shortstop that also serves as a threat on the bases. However, if he suffers more hamstring issues, that could limit his productivity. If the Pirates signed him, it would cost at least a third of the payroll. That’s a big risk to take, especially when a hamstring injury could saddle the team with $18-20 M in dead contract weight in any given year.
The Pirates aren’t likely to land either player, although the presence of these two options could help deflect the attention of the big market teams, thus giving the Pirates a better chance at some of the other options.
All Around Sleepers
The cream of the crop is definitely Rollins and Reyes, and there’s not really a standout starter in the group outside of those two. There are a few sleepers in the group who could provide decent production on both sides of the ball, although they won’t be confused with stars.
Clint Barmes is one player that fits this description. I’ve never been a big fan of Barmes in the past. While with the Rockies, his numbers away from Coor’s were bad. He moved to Houston this year and put up a .698 OPS, and despite Houston being friendly to right handed hitters, he was better on the road, with a .732 OPS. The most important thing was that he was strong defensively, with a 10.8 UZR/150, which is in line with his numbers over the previous two seasons. Those seasons totaled 464.1 innings, so his 1058.1 innings in 2011 give us a much better sample size to go on.
Barmes cost $3.925 M in 2011, and probably wouldn’t cost much more than that on the open market. He’d be about as expensive, or a little more expensive than Cedeno, although his 2011 results would have been an upgrade offensively and defensively. His WAR was 3.1, which was 1.7 wins higher than Cedeno in 2011. The price for one win in free agency last year was around $5 M, so if the Pirates could upgrade from Cedeno to Barmes for $1 M, and add 1.7 wins in the process, they’d be getting some real value.
Marco Scutaro has definitely fallen in status from when he signed a two year, $12.5 M deal with Boston in 2010. The Red Sox hold an option on him, but could let him walk due to internal options, and due to better options on the free agent market. Scutaro struggled early in the 2011 season, but rebounded well in the second half to finish with a .299 average and a .781 OPS. He had a 2.9 WAR, which is in line with his numbers over the last four years. It might not be a guarantee that Boston declines his option, but if they do, Scutaro wouldn’t be a bad option on a multi-year deal. He could probably be had this time around for something in the two year, $8-10 M range, with a mutual option for a third year, similar to his deal with Boston. Like Barmes, Scutaro would be an upgrade over Cedeno, although the upgrade would come on offense, as Cedeno has better defense.
The final player on the list is Alex Gonzalez, who is set to become a free agent, assuming Atlanta doesn’t re-sign him. Gonzalez had a down year defensively in 2011, but has put up strong numbers at shortstop throughout his career. Offensively he also had a down year compared to his 2010 season, with his production being similar to what we saw out of Cedeno this year. At his worst, he’s equal or worse than Cedeno. If he can repeat his 2010 season (which we’ve seen at other times throughout his career), he would be an upgrade.
Strong Defense, No Offense
There are a few free agent options if the Pirates are looking for a defensive-only shortstop. Cesar Izturis is one option, and is likely to become a free agent now that the Baltimore Orioles have extended J.J. Hardy. Izturis made $1.5 M in 2011, which is about half ronny Cedeno’s option price. His defense is comparable to what we saw out of Cedeno in 2011, although his offense is much worse.
John McDonald is another option. He will be 37 next year, but has put up strong defensive numbers, with a career 7.5 UZR/150 at the shortstop position. He’s mostly been a utility player the last few years, rather than a regular starter, although his defense has been strong all over the infield. Nick Punto is a similar player, with good defense, but profiling more as a utility player.
Ramon Santiago has put up good defensive numbers the last three years, and has a career .658 OPS, including a .695 OPS in 2011. He made $1.35 M in 2011, and would be comparable to Cedeno’s 2011 season. The big difference is that Santiago has put up strong defense in each of the last two seasons, and has a .710 OPS over the last four years.
Santiago wouldn’t be a bad option, although he’s clearly nothing close to Reyes and Rollins, and he probably would provide similar production to Cedeno, although possibly at half the price. If the Pirates were looking for a defensive-only shortstop, their best bet might be to stay in-house, and give Pedro Ciriaco a shot.
Ronny Cedeno had a 1.4 WAR in 2011, although that seems like his upside. The Pirates could get an upgrade on the free agent market, such as Clint Barmes, Marco Scutaro, or Alex Gonzalez. They’d have to pay more than the $3 M Cedeno is owed, and in each case, the upgrade isn’t guaranteed.
Barmes, for example, had a 3.1 WAR in 2011, but has been closer to a replacement level player for the majority of his career. The exceptions came in 2005, 2008, and 2009, when he was around a 2.0 WAR player. That speaks more to him having a career year. Considering that he was either a 2.0 WAR player, or a replacement level player in his previous six seasons, it wouldn’t be safe to say that he’s an automatic upgrade over Cedeno.
Scutaro would probably be an automatic upgrade, as he’s been consistent over the last four years. However, the upgrade would come on offense, and there would be a downgrade defensively. That might be a problem for the Pirates, as they feature a lot of ground ball heavy pitchers.
Gonzalez would be similar to Cedeno if he has another down year, but if he bounces back to his 2010 numbers, he’d be an upgrade. He would probably cost the same price as Cedeno, but would come with more upside.
Of course, we can take this same approach with Cedeno. There’s no guarantee that he repeats his 6.8 UZR/150, especially when you consider his inconsistent past. UZR is best when you use a large sample size, and one year isn’t big enough. When looking at a player, I at least want to see three years of data before making a final call. For that reason, I’d trust a guy like Clint Barmes, who has a career 7.2 UZR/150, including very strong numbers over the last three seasons, over Cedeno, who has a -1.6 UZR/150 in his career.
If the Pirates look at guys solely for their defense, the best option might be to stay in-house and go with Pedro Ciriaco. He’s unproven at the major league level, but he’s the best defensive shortstop in the organization. He’s also out of options, which means he will have to be in the majors in 2012, or be designated for assignment. However, they would probably need a backup plan, such as a Cesar Izturis or a Ramon Santiago, just incase Ciriaco didn’t work out. Mainly they’d need someone with good defense on a one year deal that came cheaper than the $3 M option price that Cedeno has.
If the worst case scenario is that the Pirates decline Cedeno’s option, miss out on the free agents, and have to start Ciriaco, they’re not in that bad of a situation. The difference between Ciriaco’s worst case performance, and Cedeno’s 2011 performance amounts to about a win and a half over the course of a full season. That would be less if the Pirates added some insurance, or if Chase d’Arnaud or Jordy Mercer came up mid-season. Cedeno did a great job in 2011, and it wouldn’t be a mistake to pick his option up for the 2012 season. If the Pirates wanted to try for an upgrade, they could definitely take the risk and decline his option, as there are upgrade candidates on the market.