Did you know that Yuni Betancourt has an OPS below .600, second-worst (hello, Alcides Escobar!) among starting shortstops? And that among major-league shortstops who have started as many games this season as Yuni, only four shortstops have committed more errors?
Of course you did -- you've been suffering through our shortstop play as much as anyone. And we pretty much knew this was coming when we traded for Zack Greinke. But, given the unforeseen struggles of Casey McGehee, the left side of our infield now looks like an offensive and defensive wasteland, and only the surprising offensive prowess by the likes of Jonathan Lucroy and Tony Plush has kept our season afloat. (Consider: a full season of Gomez in center, combined with a repeat of Jonathan Lucroy circa 2010, could have given us five spots in the lineup with an OPS of .630 or worse.)
I know we're pretty much stuck internally: we traded our Shortstop of the Future for our ace, Counsell's numbers aren't noticeably better than Yuni's, and not even I can delude myself into hopping on the Josh Wilson bandwagon. Pickings are slim outside the organization too, even if we had trade bait in the minors (which, of course, we don't). The free agent shortstops available don't inspire confidence, either. (Bobby Crosby? Didn't he sing White Christmas?)
Still, not all is lost. To the fold!
Shortstop is such a hard position to fill, that no one is going to trade us a long-term answer there -- which is fine, because we don't really have the resources for that kind of trade anyway. Sure, Jose Reyes would be nice, but we have neither the cash nor the trading chips to make that happen. The kind of player we can trade for would have to be someone whose current team isn't likely to be employing him 4 months from now.
Here's a list of shortstops who will become free agents after this season:
Clint Barmes (33)
Yuniesky Betancourt (30) - $6MM club option with a $2MM buyout
Orlando Cabrera (37)
Jamey Carroll (37)
Ronny Cedeno (29) - $3MM club option with a $200K buyout
Craig Counsell (41)
Adam Everett (35)
Rafael Furcal (34) - $12MM club option with a $1.3MM buyout
Alex Gonzalez (34)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (36)
J.J. Hardy (29)
Omar Infante (30)
Cesar Izturis (32)
Julio Lugo (36)
John McDonald (37)
Augie Ojeda (37)
Nick Punto (34)
Edgar Renteria (35)
Jose Reyes (29)
Jimmy Rollins (33)
Ramon Santiago (32)
Marco Scutaro (36) - $6MM club option/$3MM player option with a $1.5MM buyout
Miguel Tejada (38)
Jack Wilson (34)
Quite the murderer's row, eh? Still, for a three-month rental, I think someone from this list could be a major upgrade over what we have now, i.e., arguably the worst shortstop in all the majors. A couple of names to consider:
Omar Infante. Omar was primarily a shortstop in Detroit, and he's played short, second and center over his brief career. Although he's struggling in Florida right now (.612 OPS), he's had an OPS of .750 or better in his last three seasons, and he has an affordable $2.5 million contract. The Marlins are already 10 1/2 games out in a tough division; frankly, they have virtually no chance of catching the Phillies, and would have to leapfrog 8 teams to make the wild card. Can he revert to his pre-2011 ways? It'd be a low-risk play to find out.
J. J. Hardy. Hey, buddy! We missed you! Hey, don't be like that, we traded away Alcides Escobar, didn't we? Baltimore (did you know he's on Baltimore now?) is dead last in the AL East, and, like the Marlins, has virtually no reasonable chance at the playoffs this year. I have no idea how attached the Os are to him, especially given that he's missed a month this season already. Still, he's starting to hit, lifting his batting average by more than 50 points since the beginning of June, and the better he does now, the worse our chances for a trade. Maybe we can offer Gomez for him. Full circle, no corners.
There are other, equally inspiring talents on the list too. I
pray to God we don't don't think we have the long-term answer at shortstop right now, and maybe that person is not on this list either. Still, we're in first place in Prince's likely last year as a Brewer. I think we can do better than Yuni without it costing that much.