Movement at shortstop remains to be seen
Teams generally set, but those in need have multiple choices
The top shortstop on the free-agent market probably has his destination set already. The rest appear to have no clear landing place.
It isn't a sign of shortstop being any less important. It's a sign of how important it is for teams to be set at shortstop.
Unlike many positions, shortstop is one where many teams -- even the big-market clubs -- have their answers. Some found it within their farm systems (Starlin Castro with the Cubs, Alexei Ramirez with the White Sox, Erick Aybar with the Angels, Cliff Pennington with the Athletics). Others filled their shortstop needs last year -- i.e., Minnesota's acquisition of J.J. Hardy last winter and the Jays-Braves swap over the summer that sent Yunel Escobar to Toronto for Alex Gonzalez.
Top shortstops on the market have usually found job security with contenders, from Marco Scutaro's two-year, $12.5 million contract with the Red Sox last winter to Rafael Furcal's three-year, $30 million extension with the Dodgers two winters ago.
Derek Jeter, meanwhile, just finished up a 10-year contract but will get a new one this winter -- and he almost surely won't have to leave New York to find it.
If Jeter wanted an all-out courtship with other clubs, he would be one of baseball's biggest-name free agents, even at age 36. But to say there's mutual interest between Jeter and the Yankees in getting a deal done would be putting it mildly. After that, it gets interesting, starting with Giants postseason hero Juan Uribe.
Contract options will play a big part in shaping the market before free agency officially begins. The Reds declined their $4 million option on Orlando Cabrera, but could be interested in bringing him back for a lower price. The Tigers declined the $7.25 million option on Jhonny Peralta but are trying to work out a new agreement with him. The Mets' new management team exercised Jose Reyes' $11 million option, so he will not be on the market.
Add Cabrera and Peralta to the market and it's much deeper on everyday talent. Keep them where they are and it's pretty thin.
Looking to buy: The Yankees, Reds and Tigers will be in need if they can't keep their own guys. Of course, the Yankees would probably have the most to spend. Detroit is expected to be a huge factor in free agency, but not at shortstop. The Orioles should be looking since Cesar Izturis is among the free agents. They are looking for another bat for their lineup, though it probably wouldn't come from this group. The Padres and Astros could be looking for short-term guys to slot in with youngsters, though San Diego could make a run at re-signing Miguel Tejada.
Top dog: Jeter's best days may be behind him, but even at his age, he's one of the most productive, consistent and durable shortstops in the game. His leadership capabilities add to his value. But he's a Yankee, even to those who hate the Yankees, and it's difficult to envision him playing for any other team. He's just 74 hits shy of 3,000, and the thought of him doing that in anything other than pinstripes is far-fetched.
Best of the rest: Statistically, Uribe's postseason didn't boost his resume, but it showed what he does at this stage of career: He hits more for power than average, and he plays a serviceable shortstop. ... Cabrera could be moving on to his sixth team since 2007, but the 36-year-old pretty much puts up the same numbers wherever he goes, which in his case is a good thing. ... Jerry Hairston Jr. could be an intriguing option for his offense, but he was more of a middle-infield fill-in this year and battled late-season injuries at age 34. ... Baltimore could bring back Izturis, but if not, he's still one of the best defensive shortstops out there, and is still relatively young with his 31st birthday coming up in February. ... Peralta was a third baseman until the Tigers moved him back to short in August, and his respectable defense down the stretch, which surprised some, went along with his production in RBI situations. ... Injuries limited Edgar Renteria to less than a half-season, but at 34, he remains a potential option for National League teams. ... Whether Tejada is a full-time shortstop at age 36 might be debated, but his offensive punch is not.
Worth a shot: Craig Counsell, Bobby Crosby, Adam Everett, Cristian Guzman, Julio Lugo, Nick Punto.
Potential 2012 class: If the Rays go into full-blown rebuilding mode, trading Jason Bartlett could have a big impact on the market. ... Jimmy Rollins' contract also expires after next season, but it's hard to envision the Phillies not bringing him back if he can stay healthy -- even with his offensive drop the past two seasons. ... A full, healthy season with Minnesota could put Hardy back in the conversation of best available shortstops. ... Scutaro, Furcal and Yuniesky Betancourt all have club options for 2012. Furcal's option will automatically vest if he makes 600 plate appearances next season.