Jun 15, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes (7) slides safely under Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy (2) for a double during the fifth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Toronto Blue Jays defeats the Baltimore Orioles 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
With Derek Jeter no longer in the AL East, numerous changes have occurred at the shortstop position in the division. Last year, I ranked Jose Reyes first and J.J. Hardy second, and really, there is no reason to change that.
In fact, the Orioles made sure Hardy did not go to a divisional rival. It was well-known that the Yankees wanted J.J. in pinstripes, but Dan Duquette didn’t let him get away. The Orioles kept their sure-handed shortstop, and it appears they have signed some insurance in case he is hurt as well.
1. Toronto Blue Jays – Jose Reyes, Ryan Goins, Steve Tolleson
The 31-year-old Reyes was finally healthy in 2014, and it showed for the Jays. Reyes was a great leadoff option, getting 175 hits to a tune of .287/.328/.398. And to think each of those numbers is below his career average.
As long as Reyes stays healthy, he is the best of the bunch. In the AL East, it is easy to forget that Reyes was a bona fide star in the NL East, and is a very good player. He will never be the best defensive shortstop, but he is more than adequate.
Goins is slotted as the reserve, but he will be battling to start at second base, as will Tolleson. Regardless, neither one will battle for playing time. As long as Reyes is healthy, expect him to play in over 140 games.
2. Baltimore Orioles – J.J. Hardy, Everth Cabrera*, Ryan Flaherty, Rey Navarro
The not-yet formally announced addition of Everth Cabrera almost jumps the Orioles to number one. However, Hardy is firmly entrenched at short, so Cabrera’s impact will be elsewhere as long as Hardy is healthy.
Hardy, 32, will be looking to regain his power stroke in 2015. His nine home runs in 2014 was the lowest since he came to Baltimore, as his previous three years he hit 25, 22 and 30 respectively. But, Hardy was clutch for the O’s in 2014, and is a defensive star. Hardy won the Gold Glove for the third year in a row last year, despite committing 13 errors.
The O’s are paying Hardy over $10 million for the next three plus seasons, meaning he is their shortstop. So why are they about to sign Cabrera, as discussed here? Easy, Cabrera brings depth, and we all know how Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter like their depth. He brings speed, he is a switch hitter, and he is a guy the Orioles can use in many ways. He may be Manny Machado‘s backup, or start if Manny is not healthy. He could play second base, pushing Jonathan Schoop to the minors, or a utility role. Or Everth has one option to be sent down himself.
At this point, Flaherty’s roster spot is in major jeopardy, and Navarro officially has very little chance of making the team.
3. Boston Red Sox – Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez, Brock Holt
Raise your hand if you are suspicious that Hanley Ramirez will end up starting at shortstop for the Red Sox. Am I the only one? Bogaerts hit .240 last year for Boston, with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs. He also struck out 138 times, which is a very high number for a shortstop. Add in the fact that he has 20 errors between shortstop and third base, and it makes you leery about Bogaerts, who was supposed to be the Red Sox’ prized future star. However, he certainly showed some positive signs in 2014; maybe he just needs another year in the majors. He is only 22 years old.
The Red Sox seem intent on putting Ramirez in left field, where he has never played before. Which is curious, considering they have Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Shane Victorino. However, it shows what they think of Bogaerts. Ramirez’s big question mark is his health. Hanley played 128 games last year, but three seasons before that didn’t play over 100. The speed part of Hanley’s game is greatly diminished, but he is still a high average guy with some pop, a guy who does not strike out a lot, and a player who hits a lot of doubles. All good things there.
Holt, as discussed at every other infield position, will likely be a utility infielder for the Red Sox, as he is a versatile, gritty player.
4. Tampa Bay Rays – Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Franklin, Tim Beckham, Hak-Ju Lee
The Rays are hoping that Asdrubal Cabrera can provide the offense that they struggled to coax out of Yunel Escobar from the shortstop position. Cabrera’s slash line in 2014 of .241/.307/.387 is nothing to write home about. But it also was the worst year of his career, being traded midseason from Cleveland to the Washington Nationals.
Cabrera gets a fresh start in Tampa, where he might do some platooning with Franklin. However, I think Cabrera will get most starts at shortstop. Beckham, a former top pick, will have to play his way onto the roster, and it won’t be easy. Cabrera is a two-time All-Star, and I think he will have a bounce back year this year for the Rays.
5. New York Yankees – Didi Gregorius, Brendan Ryan, Stephen Drew
Sorry Yankee fans, your team is bringing up the rear again. Gregorius was supposed to be the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting shortstop last year, but struggled and eventually was demoted. He ending up hitting .226/.290/.363 in 80 games for Arizona, with 57 games in AAA.
Then there is the fact that he is replacing a Yankee icon, and it makes the task more difficult. Gregorius has been traded twice in his career, and the 25-year-old (as of today) has big shoes to fill in New York. On an aging team, Gregorius will likely need to play well, because his replacements may have to play at other parts of the diamond.
As of now, Drew is projected to start at second base, and Ryan is little more than a defensive replacement. Yankee fans couldn’t get J.J. Hardy when the O’s gave him a contract extension before the playoffs started, and they could certainly use a player like him on their team.
What are your thoughts?