Sometime Thursday morning, I was happily surfing through a batch of morning links from my trusty RSS feed when I saw this story from AstroB's website about Houston's glaring need. I, of course, agreed with him, as many of you likely did. Shortstop was the biggest hole the Astros had last season, both offensively and defensively. There is a chance Tommy Manzella rebounds to post good numbers again, but the odds are against him.
But, I got to thinking about how hard it might be to upgrade at shortstop. For instance, how many teams feel good about their incumbents at short? How many could use an upgrade and how many are basically running out a replacement-level player? So, I hopped onto Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and did some research. Took me an hour or two to sort through all the teams, look at WARs and fill out the little chart you'll see below. Not a big deal but I was happy with the results I got and was planning an article about the Astros chances of really improving the position.
Then, Ed Wade struck like a mongoose. As I'm beginning to eat lunch, I see the tail end of a couple tweets by Alyson Footer and Brian McTaggart talking about the recent trade and the rest is history. My next three days were filled with anguish and way too much reflection on what Clint Barmes means to the 2011 Astros.
But, I still think the discussion of shortstops is a valid one. We just have to refocus the lens a little. Instead of trying to show how hard it will be to upgrade, let's see where Barmes might put Houston next season
First of all, I divided the league into three categories. The first are teams that had a shortstop with a WAR over 2.0 last season and who retained said shortstop for 2011. The second are teams with incumbent shortstops who had less than a 2.0 WAR but more than 1.0. The last group, the replacement level teams, had shortstops on the roster with less than 1.0 WAR. I included San Francisco in this group, since they lost both Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria off last year's roster. Mike Fontenot is the only Giant still on the roster to play shortstop in 2010.
Things will change and I wasn't rigid in my standards. For instance, I put Derek Jeter with the Yankees, despite the fact that he's a free agent. There are also a couple guys on the replacement list who are young and definitely the team's starting shortstop for the future (Milwaukee's Escobar and Chicago's Castro). So, the list is a little misleading, but not terribly so.
Notice how few teams get any value out of their shortstops. We're talking defense-first guys too. Almost two-thirds of the league could stand to upgrade that position. But, as I've said before, we know this. It's hard to even find replacement level players at short, much less a contributor. Before I get too deep into the analysis, here's the full list of teams
Arizona - Stephen Drew
Atlanta - Alex Gonzalez
Colorado - Troy Tulowitski
Florida - Hanley Ramirez
Oakland - Cliff Pennington
Could Improve (Less than 2.0 WAR)
Detroit - Jhonny Peralta
Kansas City - Yuniesky Betancourt
Minnesota - JJ Hardy
New York Yankees - Derek Jeter
Philadelphia - Jimmy Rollins
Toronto - Yunel Escobar
Texas - Elvis Andrus
Replacement-Level (Less than 1.0 WAR)
Baltimore - Robert Andino
Cincinnati - Paul Janish
Milwaukee - Alcides Escobar
Pittsburgh - Ronny Cedeno
St. Louis - Brendan Ryan
San Diego - Everth Cabrera
San Francisco - Mike Fontenot
Washington - Ian Desmond
Free Agents (Age, WAR total)
Orlando Cabrera (35, 0.4)
Miguel Tejada (37, 1.8)
Juan Uribe (31, 2.0)
Edgar Renteria (35, 1.0)
Cesar Izturis (31, -0.4)
None of the free agents are very attractive. The only teams with depth are Tampa Bay, Boston and Seattle. I bet the Mariners don't trade either of those guys, though. That leaves precious few teams willing to give up on shortstops or shortstop prospects via trade. With limited free agent options, it's just a tough position to fill.
Were there better options than Barmes out there? Sure, but they all would have been more expensive. Either they would have cost more to sign as a free agent or they would have cost more in prospects. The only guy that may have been available for Paulino was Bartlett, and I'm not sure if the Rays would do that deal.
Another point to bring up is that only two teams had negative WAR out of their main shortstop last season: Baltimore and Houston. I'm thinking Barmes' combination of defense and power should up him to 1.0 or 1.5 WAR in 2011. That'd bring Houston up from worst in the league to middle of the Needs Work category. For a trade that was almost universally panned around here, I think that's a bigger improvement than we're letting on. Barmes himself may not be exciting, and Paulino may have had a lot more upside than we got in that trade, but Wade may have just given us a passable shortstop for next season. I don't think we can knock that.