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The Hot Stove Corner, part 4: Shortstop

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[Note: this was written before the Glaus trade reared its head. As that remains officially incomplete, the following is based on the current roster, and does not take any resulting moves into account]

           BA  AB  R HR RBI BB   K  OBP  SLG  OPS 
Clayton  .271 520 58  2  44 37 104 .320 .352 .672 
Cintron  .219 128 13  3  12  4  12 .246 .336 .582 
Green    .000   1  0  0   0  3   0 .750 .000 .750 
TOTAL    .260 649 71  5  56 44 116 .308 .348 .656 
Ranking     9   - 11 14  12  9   3    9   14   13

2005 review
I think most people would grudgingly admit that Clayton was not as bad at the plate as a lot of people feared. Coming off a Coors-inflated .279, expectations of what he'd produce probably sat around .240. Initially, that seemed optimistic, with Clayton hitting only .227 in April and .232 in May: he rapidly became known as "Royce the Rally Killer" for near-inevitable GIDPs.

At the All-Star Game, he was hitting a mere .242, but the time off totally rejuventated our shortstop, In the first six games back, he went 15-for-26, and hit .301 overall after the break to end the season at a credible .270 - and over .300 with RISP. Alex Cintron gave Clayton an occasional break, but had the least success there of any position he played, making Clayton look positively effective.

On the defensive side, Clayton earned some glowing reviews for occasionally brilliant plays, but his range seemed highly questionable. the phrase "past a diving Clayton" seemed to crop us almost as often in game commentaries as Mark Grace F-bombs. An improvement over the 2004 "headless chicken" infield? Probably. But not what I'd call better than average, overall. However, Clayton turned down our offer of a year's extension, believing he could get a longer, better deal elsewhere. So far, no such deal has materialized, funnily enough. And no-one seems very interested. Have a nice Christmas, Royce.

2006 possibilities

Free Agents
Arizona is in a dicey situation, because everyone knows Drew is on the horizon, so a one-year contract is all they're gonna be offered. Furcal was the top man in this position, but he signed for the Dodgers (IMHO, they overpaid badly for him). We sniffed around Nomar - even investigating the possibility of moving him to CF - but he ended up with the Dodgers too. Maybe they'll offer Clayton a contract as well?

Alex Gonzalez, the Marlins SS, might be useful: his HRs dropped from 20 to 5, but his batting average went up more than 30 points, to .264. However, he earned $3.4m last year, which is probably too much for AZ. [He's not to be confused with Alex S. Gonzalez, also a shortstop - and to make matters worse, also playing in Florida, for Tampa. And the cherry on this? According to Baseball Reference, the most similar batter to Alex Gonzalez at his current age? Alex S. Gonzalez...]

We did pick up Damion Easley; while more of a 2B than a SS, he'll likely be playing backup at both positions. I do have to question whether he'll bring anything more to the table than Andy Green would [or Alex Cintron, though I would NOT be surprised if Cintron is traded between now and Opening Day], at less than half the cost. That "veteran presence" concept dies hard, even with Josh Byrnes now at the helm.

Trades
Unlikely. Nice though it would be to imagine swapping Glaus for Tejada, it ain't gonna happen. This is mostly because of Drew lurking in the wings, but management has also shown no particular apparent desire to wave wads of money to players unnecessarily. This is wise, given that Russ Ortiz is currently our #2 starter. Until that little issue is addressed, paying $12m for a shortstop seems needlessly effusive.

More likely, we'll be sellers: as mentioned above, anyone want a slightly-used Cintron? There are some teams out there looking for shortstops: former Nomar-owners, the Red Sox and Cubs are both in the market. But I suspect neither (rabid) fanbase would be all that happy with a D'back castoff. The Angels, like the D'backs, also need a SS to bridge the gap until their superstar. Brandon Wood, is ready: Alex for a relief pitcher perhaps?

Prospects
Shortstop is, undoubtedly, the most exciting position in the entire organization, with everyone drooling over the arrival of Stephen Drew - and hopefully, Justin Upton. All indications are, Drew won't be on the major-league roster on Opening Day, but I expect him to see action in 2006; possibly before the All-Star Break, if any of our infielders hit the DL. But more on Drew in a minute. Let's start with the forgotten man of our minor-league system, former first-round pick Sergio Santos.

Santos hit a wall in Tucson, hitting just .239 and being described as "completely inept" by Baseball America versus lefty pitching, against whom he batted .148. He is only 22, so has time left to resolve these issues, but it's probably not going to be at short-stop. If, as expected, Drew starts with the Sidewinders, Santos will be moved, either to second or third base - the former may be his best chance of reaching the majors, with Counsell's contract up after 2006.

Perhaps even more forgotten though, is Jerry Gil, who played 29 games in the majors in 2004. He spent much of 2005 on the disabled list, after knee surgery. With Drew appearing at SS in Tennessee, he was forced to play 3B, and batted only .256. One wonders whether he'll ever reach the majors again, and get a chance to break his ongoing career streak of walkless AB's [currently at 86 since his debut, and counting].

Drew finished his holdout while murdering pitching in Camden, to the tune of .427. He was scarcely less impressive in Lancaster (.389), but there was a sharp drop-off in Tennessee, where it seemed his baseball vacation turned round to bite him. However, he came back to hit well in the AFL, and seems certain to start the season in Triple-A, at the very least, with an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster - though this probably relies on injury taking out one more senior player.

Then there's Justin Upton, still threatening to go to Junior College, but negotiations are apparently breaking out again, in a spirit of Christmas reconciliation. The last reported gap between offer and expectation was $1.5m: most fans are very keen to see this gap bridged, especially since that's about what we paid Russ Ortiz per win last year... Failure to sign Upton will certainly end Byrnes' honeymoon as GM.

Given the above, any other SS prospects must be feeling like dead men walking. Mark Reynolds at South Bend (.253, 19 HR), or Danny Richar at Lancaster (.300, 20 HR) are by no means terrible, but the chances of them seeing major-league action with the Diamondbacks are probably about as good as mine.

Summary + Prediction
There does also exist the possibilitly of having Craig Counsell moved over from second base, but I think that probably won't happen. Cintron will likely end up getting another chance initially - if for no other purpose than to increase his trade value - with Easley and Green seeing some action as and when. However, many will be keeping at least one eye on Tucson, from whence the arrival of Drew will be ever-more eagerly anticipated with each K by Cintron.

[If the Glaus to Toronto trade goes through, it looks like Counsell would move to SS, with Hudson taking over at 2B. Cintron's position seems increasingly dicey, with Easley and Green also available as backups.]