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SnakePit Round Table: Short-stop for the Diamondbacks

For the first 2011 entry in our round-table, we move to the short-stop position. It is one of the toughest to write about, simply because 2011 will almost certainly bring Arizona exactly the same as 2007-2010: Stephen Drew, close to every day. While I wouldn't go quite as far as to describe this as "boring," there isn't a lot in terms of question-marks or resulting topics for discussion. But when has that ever stopped us?

With 135 or more games each of the past four seasons, Drew has been one of the most regular players for Arizona of late. Assess his strengths and weaknesses.

Jim: He’s a very under-the-radar guy: it’s worth nothing that, since 2008, his OPS+ is almost the same as the much-more touted Derek Jeter (105 vs. 106), and is a lot better than Jimmy Rollins (91). He just shows up everyday and plays, with no fuss or flash, but is certainly in the upper-tier offensively, at the position. His defense seems to have improved over the past couple of seasons as well. Previously, he was reliable enough if he got to the ball, but seemed to have a lack of range. That’s expanded, with Drew appearing to get to more balls. Solid and reliable are the two words I’d use to describe him.

Kishi: Under-the-radar is right, he’s probably one of our most underrated players. If I was going to sum him up in one brief phrase, it’d be "solid, not flashy." Which, now that I write it, sounds like a back-handed insult, and I really don’t mean it to be one. He doesn’t draw the attention that a lot of other players do for their work, but it seems like he’s happy that way. But because of that, it’s easy to forget some of the things he did do- like the fact his 12 triples was the third most in baseball, only behind Dexter Fowler and Carl Crawford. He’s pretty much the bedrock of this team in a lot of ways- with all of the uncertainty the team has had over the past couple years, I’ve never felt like we should be concerned about the shortstop position. I mean, just consider that the guy has played at least 150 games in three of the past four years for us. The guy has been solid.

Azreous: I’ve never had a problem with Drew. There have been numerous conversations at work about the guy, who I know some casual fans don’t like as much. He doesn’t show any emotion, they say. He looks like a blank slate. He doesn’t do anything all that great. (And yes, they think the same way about Upton.) To me, I don’t care about any of that. The predominant word used so far has been "solid," and I think it’s the perfect description. Drew gets the job done day in, day out at a level above most shortstops in the MLB.

Wailord: It seems everyone else hit the nail on the head when it comes to Drew - he’s solid, plain and simple, and does his job day-in and day-out without getting too much attention. So I can add a bit to the conversation, I’ll throw some interesting stats out there. Since Drew joined the league in 2006, he ranks thirteenth in WAR in that span (being worth 8.9 wins), eighth highest in SLG, and tenth in OPS. Here’s the link from the always-awesome Baseball-Reference Play Index to check it out.

soco: It may seem odd, but I do think his low-key nature is his major weakness.  Even watching him everyday it’s easy to forget how good he is at his position.  Players like Derek Jeter might dazzle you with fancy moves to hide their average play, while Drew seems to lull you to forgetting his spectacular play.  He never seems to need to dive and make twirling throws because he either positions himself correctly, or gets to the ball easily enough to not seem troubling.  But that’s also a strength.  I’d like to see him show a little more flash with the bat, and he’s starting to show that, but it’s hard to expect too much from a shortstop.

IHSB: I find it a little odd that the words people use are "solid" and "reliable" when, by all useful statistical measures, this guy is a star as a nearly impossible-to-fill position.  But that’s probably just the way that Drew likes it.

Drew will be the everyday short-stop for the Diamondbacks again in 2011. Your thoughts?

Jim: Did I mention, "Solid and reliable"? It’ll be interesting to see where he bats in the line-up this year. In 2010, he mostly hit lead-off, but also had more than 100 PAs batting second, third and seventh. We still don’t seem to have any "obvious" candidates for the #1 spot, and as Drew (in almost 900 PAs) has a career line of .289/.346/490 there, he and Chris Young would seem to be the main contenders. He got his walk rate up to a career-high 9.8% (MLB average is 8.6%), so that is another point in his favor. .

Kishi: Excellent. Like Jim said, solid and reliable. Drew is one of the only roles on the team that we haven’t had to worry too much about during this off-season or last, and I think most fans will be glad to see him out there again this year.

Azreous: Let’s just say I’m a much bigger fan of him being pencilled in 150 times again in 2011 than seeing M. Mora on the lineup card 100+ times. And I don’t think leadoff is a terrible spot for him, given our present lineup construction.

Wailord: I’m a fan of seeing him batting leadoff, as there’s no true runaway candidate for the spot as Jim said; when it comes down to him and CY, I’d like to see someone with the "pop" CY does (when compared to Drew) a bit deeper in the lineup. Plus, considering Drew gets on base more often, he just seems like a better fit.

soco: My thought is "well, yeah."  His position on this team hasn’t been in doubt since he came up, and there’s no one to replace him.  And really, there’s not many names that would be better replacements in baseball, let alone a realistic choice.  

IHSB: Umm, "FTW!" comes to mind as a thought.

Who should back up Drew at short for us next season?

Jim: Geoff Blum and Tony Abreu are both switch-hitters, but Blum is pretty crappy as a right-hander (career line: .231/.299/.368), which would seem to limit the platoon potential; I think it’ll mostly be Abreu. However, Drew has averaged over 140 starts per season at shortstop for the Diamondbacks, so unless there’s an injury, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to get much playing time.

Kishi: Abreu. I mean, if nothing else, we hardly have to change the cheer- Droooo, Abreoooo, it’s an easy conversion for the fans. Seriously, though, the less time I have to spend remembering that we’ve got Geoff Blum on the team, the happier I’ll be, I think.

Azreous: With Augie gone, it’s Abreu’s time to shine. Granted, that time will probably be restricted to about 150 ABs, but hey.

Wailord: Can I just skip this question? Geoff Blum’s rapidly approaching five thousand years old and I’m not a big fan of Abreu. Probably because the only game I actually got to watch that he happened to be in he managed three errors. First impressions, Tony. First impressions.

soco: Not sure if Towers agrees, but I’d like to see if Abreu has any future in Arizona, and if he is worth the hype he was given at one point.  Make him the back-up for Drew and Johnson, and see if he has what it takes to make it.

IHSB: Probably Abreu, mostly by default, really.  Blum isn’t a SS at this point in his career, if he ever was one.  He’s more of an emergency option than a true backup.  I really don’t think Abreu ever sheds a utility role, but that can have value, if only replacement-level value that we don’t have in our upper-minors.

Has Tony Abreu any future with Arizona?

Jim: He’s now aged 26, so the label "prospect" doesn’t apply much any longer. Last year was a huge disappointment, with an OPS of only .560, albeit in sporadic playing-time - though his lines off the bench or as a starter were pretty similar. When you’ve got Drew and Kelly Johnson in the line-up, you’re going to get the playing time you earn. It’s time for him to prove he deserves to start.

Kishi: I think this season may determine that quite a bit. If he performs well, then that might give him a future with the Diamondbacks, filling in for a couple years until one of the farmhands comes up to the bigs. If not, I suspect he’ll just be destined for the bench and eventual release.

Azreous: I’m beginning to think he doesn’t. Still, we got to take a chance on a decent prospect for a month of Jon Garland. Even if it didn’t pan out, the idea was solid. As it stands, Abreu appears to be a versatile bench bat, and not much more. Not a terrible thing for the Diamondbacks to have, but they’re going to want to use that limited playing time to start checking on a multitude of prospects that’ll be close to the MLB level next season, if not late this season.

Wailord: I don’t think so, honestly. I’d consider having a "future" meaning he ends up as a regular starter that deserves his job, and even if we lose both Kelly Johnson and Drew, Abreu doesn’t strike me as a guy that can man the position. As Azreous said, though, I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about the deal to acquire him. We hoped he would pan out, and he hasn’t yet (who knows what the future holds). Not much to be mad at.

soco: It’s now or never.  I think his future in Arizona depends solely on whether Drew and/or Johnson are kept on.  He hasn’t shown us much yet.

IHSB: I’m inclined to say no, assuming that the question implies eventually having an everyday role by "having a future."  His approach is a mess for someone of his size and physical build.  What is going to be the tool that he uses to take hold of an everyday gig?  Perhaps batting average, but that will either require unprecedented drops in K-rate or incredible BABIP sustainability.  If he can’t post a .300 BA consistently, he’ll never walk enough to be a legitimate on-base guy.  His frame isn’t really built to hit for a serious amount of power.  Even a .140-.150 ISO looks like a stretch.  And I don’t think his defense will allow him to play shortstop consistently, so that looks like a really mediocre second baseman.

Do you think Drew has lived up to expectations, given he was seen as the likely #1 overall pick, just a few days before the 2004 draft?

Jim: I think he’s short of #1 pick production, but not too much. has him at 8.9 WAR, Fangraphs at 10.1, while a #1 college hitter is expected to produce about 14 WAR before free agency. Given the sharp drop as you go down the draft (career output for the average #10 pick is only 6 WAR), I think we’ll be happy with what we got, even if he hasn’t become a superstar, which it seemed possible at one time he might.

Kishi: Well, how many #1 draft picks live up to those expectations, really? If he had been a #1 pick, the fanbase probably would be disappointed in him, though I don’t think it’d be justified, fans just seem to expect more show out of a top draft pick- see Strasburg, S. But his performance on the field? I certainly would be glad to see if out of a player around #5 in the draft, and you’ve got to be happy with it from a #15 pick. (Besides, I suspect the Padres wish they’d gone with Drew instead of Matt Bush.)

Azreous: Considering that expectations weren’t through the roof for him, compared to the hype surrounding more recent #1s like Strasburg and Harper, I’d say yes. He hasn’t been a stud, but he’s been very good at a position where very good beats out 25 others at the position.

Wailord: It’s sort of hard to blanket all number-one picks with the same expectations. It seems the media loves to make some out to be the second coming, while others are just "solid." That being said, I don’t think Drew would live up to what one would typically expect out of a number-one pick, but it’s not like I have any issue with his production. He’s been solid. Plus, instead of going first, we got him fifteenth. He’s done fine for a 15th pick.

soco: Looking at the #1 picks of the last 20 years, there are quite a few nobodies, including guys that never even made it to the Bigs.  Considering that Drew made it in only a few years, and has established himself as a franchise shortstop is impressive.  I’d say the investment has paid off.  Not that this is a great barometer of success, but I do think it’s interesting that Drew has been virtually ignored by the card collecting hobby.  His autographed and rookie cards can be had for pretty good prices, in comparison to some other hyped prospects.

Is there any chance of him staying in Arizona after he becomes a free-agent at the end of 2012?

Jim: I don’t think so. While there’s been rumblings about a contract extension, he’s a Boras client, and Scott Boras has gone on the record as being against those for his clients when they’re eligible for arbitration. As a free-agent, Drew will likely be expensive, and since he’ll be 30 by the time he takes the field in that role, and likely on the downside of the aging curve, it would be foolish for Arizona to pay top-dollar for his declining years.

Kishi: I can hope, right? It’s a little difficult to get a gauge on Drew sometimes, because he seems to be one of those players who goes out, plays, and then goes on with his day. So that means all we have to go on is Scott Boras. Blargh. I’d like to see him stick around, but with Boras, I can only assume that the price tag is going to be unpleasant. I’ll hold out hopes for a discount, but I certainly wouldn’t expect one, and if we don’t get an extension...

Azreous: Part of me, deep down, keeps hoping that maybe the overall "meh" feeling that surrounds Drew will allow us to resign him to a relatively decent contract. Yes, Boras. But I’d love to see some kind of deal put together, something like 4 years, $30 million. Maybe as high as $40 mil with incentives. Unfortunately, the time for an extension like that was probably a year ago or so. Same with getting top dollar in a trade, since a new team would’ve had more control left. But ultimately, I think Drew will be gone, and Owings will replace him for the long haul.

Wailord: As we have some potential replacements in the minors for a Boras client, I wouldn’t hold out too much hope. It’s not even like Boras gets the fairest deals for his players. He gets teams to overpay because they have to. We, at this point, don’t. If we manage to negotiate a reasonable deal, I’m all for keeping him, but it doesn’t seem like something that’s going to happen.

soco: The Diamondbacks should probably start figuring out a contingency plan.  I don’t think it’ll be so much Drew wanting to get out, but if a big money club comes calling he likely won’t be around anymore.

IHSB: If you’d asked me two months ago, I’d have probably said no in a heartbeat.  But Scott Boras hasn’t been doing so hot in free agency these days.  Yeah, he got the ludicrous contract for Werth, but what about Beltre?  What about Soriano?  Those are turning into buyer’s markets and those two have got to be at least beginning to sweat out what prospects they have.  If I’m Drew, maybe an extension for a FA year or two isn’t an awful idea if I can secure, say, $16MM per.  However, at the end of the day, Drew is easily a $20MM+/per player, and we don’t have $20MM+/per to offer.  He’ll probably be gone.

When do you think the team should trade Stephen?

Jim: That will likely depend on several factors. How is the season going? Do we have a credible replacement? What offers are we getting? Obviously, his value decreases with the amount of control left, but unless Abreu steps up, we don’t seem to have any immediate alternative. I can see us hanging on to him for the rest of the year, unless we get an offer that blows us away, and we are completely out of contention. But I think he’ll be gone by this time next year.

Kishi: I’m living on the assumption he’ll be dealt before Spring Training 2012, unless something very surprising happens. I don’t know if he’s the kind of players that teams will try to pick up in a desperation move at the deadline, so if the team is looking to get the most from him, it’d be best to trade him off for a package in the off-season, when there’s more time to negotiate and see what’s available.

Azreous: I mentioned this above, but if the team wants to get the absolute most for Drew, a trade should happen as soon as possible. Jim mentioned control, and that’s the prevailing factor here, as other mid-market to low-market teams have to exploit that as much as possible. Now, if we’re dealing Drew to a Red Sox/Yankees type, that won’t matter as much -- they’re not going to shy away from a Boras client if they see him as part of their long-term future. Still, I think the much more likely alternative is that Drew plays out his contract here. Either that, or he’s a trade deadline deal in 2012 as a rental to a team that may or may not resign him.

Wailord: Yeah, it’s really difficult to answer this question, so much so that I’ll just have to give the really lame "I dunno" cop-out. It’s entirely dependent on how we’re doing and who’s in the market for a solid shortstop. The Wailoracle’s powers are not that extensive, unfortunately.

soco: Obviously the answer is sooner than later.  I don’t know if it will happen, but if we’re not competing in 2012 then he’ll be shipped out by Memorial Day.  

IHSB: If we can get Detroit to cough up a serious package of arms, I’d be down for that idea.  They could really assemble an elite package for Stephen.  Otherwise, I would wait until we could test the elite, high-budget mid-season market (Yankees, Sox, etc.) to see if a big squad has a major hole at some point over the next couple of years.  The Yankees frankly should find themselves a new SS ASAP, and Drew would be a fantastic option for them.  I wouldn’t settle for anything less than an elite package at any point in the next two years.

How do you see him being replaced? From within our farm system or externally?

Jim: Chris Owings is the top short-stop prospect,. and there’s a lot riding on him, as the only other player at the position in IHSB’s top 30 list was all the way down at #24 (Raul Navarro). Owings is only 19, and spent last season at A-ball, so even if all goes well and we kept Drew until the end of 2012, there would be a gap before Owings is ready for the majors. I can see us picking up an external candidate, perhaps looking for a Kelly Johnson-like pick-up with upside.

Kishi: It really comes down to two questions- when do we trade Drew, and how is Abreu playing? If we get rid of Drew at the Winter Meetings, I’d assume we’re bringing in an outside player to fill in. If we hold on to him until the trade deadline in 2012, then we might be looking at seeing Abreu out there to finish out the season. (I do not acknowledge any reality where Geoff Blum might be our everyday starter. Not without a lot of booze.) Just glancing at the 2012 free agent class, I don’t know if there are any names that jump out as all that exciting, so maybe we’ll find someone through a trade? Or we could just bring back Craig Counsell, right?

Azreous: Since Counsell is apparently never retiring, I don’t see why not. Either way, considering Towers’ early moves, I could easily see some kind of veteran stopgap until Owings is ready, which I’m hoping is Opening Day 2013. Unfortunately, as kishi mentioned, most of the available shortstops next season are mediocre at best. I think it’ll depend on how competitive the team is this season; if we’re terrible, I’d imagine the goal will be to fill any holes as cheaply as possible.

Kishi: Some days, I feel that the heat death of the universe will be put on hold while they tell Jamie Moyer to stop throwing batting practice to Craig Counsell.

Wailord: KT will probably try to find the oldest possible shortstop to act as a stopgap until he’s replaced by someone like Owings. Who’s someone old and scrappy? Maybe King Scrap himself, David Eckstein if he’s not locked into a deal. I’d love to see Counsell back, simply for his batting stance. Maybe his veteran presence could teach everyone on the team to adopt his style. That’d be pretty awesome...

soco: It’s the Diamondbacks, so dumpster dive.

IHSB: Unfortunately, we really have no internal options in the upper levels.  A lot is riding on the Owings/Navarro tandem, with Owings being more likely to reach the majors, and Navarro more likely to stick at shortstop if it accepted as given that both reach the majors.  I could see us making a trade for a stop-gap shortstop though, similar to how the Pirates acquired J.J. Hardy or the Padres nabbed Jason Bartlett, rather than diving into the poo-poo-filled realms of the dumpster FA SS ranks.

Perhaps we dangle Enright as trade bait for a SS if he becomes a valuable innings-eater over the next couple of years.  CY could be dangled by that point, as well, and maybe IPK if we feel he’ll be expensive in arb (though it would make me a sad panda) or a ‘pen arm or two.