FanPost

Bolstering the Astros Infield - Pt. 3: Shortstop of the Future

When I mentioned in my last FanPost that I wanted to talk about some unlikely ideas that Wade probably won't take to, I was thinking more about converted first basemen like Russell Branyan.  A bit of news on MLB Trade Rumors caught my eye, though, and changed my mind.  Let's talk about shortstops.

Chances are, Tommy Manzella will be the Astros shortstop next season.  But what if Ed Wade decides to focus on the offense and let the pitching staff stand as it is?  The best two positions to fill are still shortstop and third base, and neither Manzella nor Johnson are anywhere close to being can't miss prospects.  In fact, as clack pointed out, Manzella has shown a pattern of performing poorly in his first season at a new level throughout his minor league career.  Wade and co. certainly realize this.  Are they willing to accept it like they did with Michael Bourn, or will they approach the matter with a "win now" attitude, acquiring both a shortstop and a third baseman?

If they do go after a shortstop, what players might they pursue?

1.  Marco Scutaro.  Scutaro is an interesting case.  Prior to 2009, he never posted an OPS above .747.  His career average is .721.  However, his walk rate has always been good, and when his batting average is decent, he gets on base at a good clip.  In 2009, his slash line was .282/.379/.409.  Since OBP is more valuable than slugging, he was actually more productive offensively than the gaudier numbers Miguel Tejada posted.  Other than the fact that it was his age 33 season and a career year, nothing in his numbers suggest that he simply got lucky.  His BABIP was right where it should be, and much of the increase in performance was due to an even better walk rate than his career average.  He's a better defensive shortstop than Tejada, especially the last three seasons--more or less average, according to UZR.  Scutaro will be a free agent this off-season.

2. J.J. Hardy.  The Brewers will almost certainly trade Hardy this off-season.  We've already had some discussion about acquiring him.  He's among the best defensive shortstops in the game, and if you assume that his poor offensive production in 2009 was a fluke (.229/.302/.357 as compared to his 2008 line of .283/.343/.478), the 27-year old Hardy could be a valuable multi-year acquisition.  It would take prospects to get him, however--probably pitching.  Much would depend on the demand for Hardy after his down year, but if he could be had for a reasonable price, he might be a worthwhile trade target.

3. Stephen Drew.  Another potential trade target, the Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping Drew this off-season.  The 26-year old batted .261/.320/.428 in 2009, below his 2008 performance, when he hit .291/.332/.502.  As a young shortstop with breakout potential, he's a tempting target, especially since the Diamondbacks likely won't ask for the moon.  On the downside, his defense in 2006-2008 was poor, comparable to Tejada's.  He did, however, show great signs of improvement in 2009, displaying above average capabilities according to UZR.

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The advantage of the two latter players is obviously that they are both young and show a lot of upside.  But then again, Manzella is also young, and he's shown some potential at AAA--but he doesn't have MLB experience, and the above three do.  The offense will be a problem in 2009, and acquiring a shortstop in addition to a third baseman would help, but would likely cost the Astros any chance of picking up a starting pitcher.

Any other good shortstop targets I'm missing?  Let me know!

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