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Clint Barmes and Other Astros Shortstop Options

When Ed Wade decided to hold on to Clint Barmes at the trade deadline this past year it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he was going to make a strong effort to re-sign Barmes to an extension much like he did with Brett Myers the previous season. The effort would make sense due to the fact that the Astros have no immediate replacement ready for the position in the near future. However, if the past week is any indication of Wade’s plans for the position it appears that Barmes is no longer considered a viable target for the Houston Astros. In a recent article written last week by Brian McTaggart on Ed Wade gives the impression that he is doubtful that the Astros will be able to re-sign Barmes this offseason, citing the fact that he expects Barmes to be in high demand. Coming on the heels of this article the Astros picked up utility man Brian Bixler from the Nationals this past Thursday on waivers, giving the Astros another in-house option to man the position along with "front runner" Angel Sanchez.

So what has changed this offseason that has now made Clint Barmes a long shot to be re-signed?

One factor affecting the decision that has not so much changed since the trade-deadline but more or less remained the same is the fact that the sale of the Houston Astros from Drayton Mclane to Jim Crane has still not been approved by MLB. Until this occurs, assuming Crane is in fact approved, we can only guess as to what type of budget Crane will allot Wade for free agency. The fact that Ed Wade indicated in the article that he does not expect to be big players in the free agent market and also hints that Barmes may be out of the Astros price range does not leave room for much hope for offseason acquisitions. This also assumes that once the sale is approved Wade will still be the person that is making the offseason decisions for the Astros.

Another interesting development that may have played a role in re-signing Barmes is the fact that he will be a Type B free agent this offseason. This means that if the Astros offer Barmes arbitration and he chooses to sign elsewhere then the Astros will receive a compensation round draft pick in next year’s amateur draft. Wade stated that he thinks the best plan of action was to continue the rebuilding process that was started when Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were traded, and was continued this past season with the Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn trades. An extra draft pick in next year’s draft could help that process, and could also potentially lead to a better prospect than what could have been received had the Astros chosen to trade the defensively oriented shortstop as a half-season rental.

Who are some of the other viable candidates out there should the Astros explore the free agent shortstop market?

Assuming that Brian Bixler is depth or a utility infielder this season there are other free agent options out there that could still be interesting acquisitions. By choosing one of the lesser tier shortstop free agents Ed Wade could essentially solve both issues listed above by signing a more cost effective shortstop for next season while also receiving the compensation round draft pick due to Clint Barmes departure. Below is a look at some of the more intriguing shortstop free agents offensive and defensive statistics that could fit the Astros financial needs:

Player Year AVG OBP SLG BABIP BB% K% 2011 Salary
Ronny Cedeno 2011 .249 .297 .339 .313 6.6% 20.5% $2.05 Million
Career .246 .286 .353 .297 5% 19.8%
Ramon Santiago 2011 .260 .311 .384 .283 5.8% 12.9% $1.25 Million
Career .249 .316 .342 .286 6.6% 14.9%
Jerry Hairston Jr. 2011 .270 .344 .383 .301 8.8% 12.2% $2 Million
Career .258 .326 .371 .282 7.5% 11.7%
Jamey Carroll 2011 .290 .359 .347 .332 9.2% 11.4% $1.8 Million
Career .278 .356 .348 .325 9.9% 13.9%
Alex Gonzalez 2011 .241 .270 .372 .285 3.7% 21.2% $2.5 Million
Career .247 .291 .399 .282 4.8% 18.7%
Angel Sanchez 2011 .240 .305 .285 .278 8.2% 13.4% $.432 Million Career .255 .304 .308 .302 6.1% 14.8% Brian Bixler 2011 .205 .267 .265 .266 7.4% 20.2% League Minimum Career .187 .248 .247 .286 5.8% 31.2%
Out of the 5 free agents listed Jamey Carroll posted the best AVG/OBP/SLG slash line for both last season and his career, followed by Jerry Hairston Jr., Ramon Santiago, Ronny Cedeno, and then Alex Gonzalez. Ronny Cedeno and Alex Gonzalez are the only two that have a career strikeout rate near 20%. None of these free agents walk at a very high rate, with Jamey Carroll leading the way with career totals close to 10%, and Jerry Hairston Jr. following him with career totals close to 9%. Each of these players maintained a batting average on balls in play in 2011 relatively similar to their career totals, so there is no reason to expect a drop off in performance next year.

Both Angel Sanchez and Brian Bixler were listed in the chart for comparison purposes. Angel Sanchez had the lowest batting average of all the guys listed in 2011, but also had a batting average on balls in play 22 points lower than his career totals. Sanchez also had the lowest slugging percentage out of the group. Brian Bixler’s stat’s were listed, but due to the fact that he has only had 260 major league at-bats his offensive production is tough to gage at this point.

Player Season Defensive Chances (SS) Errors Fielding % DRS UZR
Ronny Cedeno 2011 601 13 .978 8 5.9
Ramon Santiago 2011 117 2 .983 2 1.8
Jerry Hairston Jr. 2011 3 0 1.000 1 0.2
Jamey Carroll 2011 214 4 .981 -5 -1.9
Alex Gonzalez 2011 633 12 .981 15 -0.3
Angel Sanchez 2011 194 7 .964 -3 -1.7
Brian Bixler 2011 5 0 1.000 -2 -0.8
The first thing that is easy to notice is that only two of the five free agents listed saw a significant amount of playing time at shortstop this past year, and even with the full season it is tough to gage defensive metrics for just one year. Both Jerry Hairston Jr. and Brian Bixler did not record enough reps at the position to even try and compare where they stand, although Jerry Hairston Jr. did manage to tally 1 defensive run saved in his 3 chances at shortstop this season. Besides Alex Gonzalez and Ronny Cedeno the other players listed all had a relatively small sample size at shortstop for 2011. Of the free agents listed only Ronny Cedeno and Ramon Santiago posted a positive ultimate zone rating, and Ronny Cedeno, Ramon Santiago, and Alex Gonzalez all posted a positive defensive runs saved metric. As for Angel Sanchez, in his limited amount of attempts he posted the worst fielding percentage, and also posted a negative defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating last year.

So to tie all of this together it looks like Ed Wade and the Astros have decided at least for now that Clint Barmes will be out of their price range. Wade also said that he does not expect to be major players in the free agent market, but did not necessarily rule out low key acquisitions. Should he choose to replace Barmes via free agency then guys like Jerry Hairston Jr., Ronny Cedeno, Ramon Santiago, Jamey Carroll, and Alex Gonzalez all make the case to be intriguing stopgap choices. If the Astros chose to go with their in-house options then Brian Bixler may be the better option based on the fact that he has a better minor league track record than Angel Sanchez. In a perfect world it would be nice to see one of the other free agents on this list holding down the position over the incumbent options, but budget constraints could keep that from being the case.