Question: What do you do with your gold glove caliber shortstop who at the age of 40 can’t seem to hit for beans any more? Your farm system has had trouble producing positional talent that can play at the highest level and there appears to be no help in sight. The free agent market is a wasteland full of undesirable and overpriced players, of whom David Eckstein is probably the best available talent for what you need. Any time the word “best available talent” and “David Eckstein” are lumped together, you know that you’re in trouble.
Answer: Please, for the love of god don’t sign David Eckstein. I’m begging of you Brian, please!
The re-sign Omar Vizquel campaign may have already started within the Giants clubhouse. The Chron has a recent article where Kevin Correia lends his support to bringing back Omar. During the three years of his contract Omar has remained steady defensively, winning gold gloves in his first two years with the Giants. But the difference between Omar this year and his two previous years is that his offensive game has taken a nosedive in 2008. Omar is not the same hitter that he was in his first two years with the Giants when he OPS+’d 84 and 93 in 2005-2006. In 2008 his OPS+ is 56, the second lowest number it’s been since he debuted almost 19 years ago. Remember when dealing with OPS+ anything under 100 is below league average and anything over is over league average. Even though Omar was below league average as a hitter, his awesome defense contributed to his overall worth. But that’s when Omar was hitting around his career line of (.274/.340/.356). This year Omar is hitting (.240/.300/.296). Yes, his slugging is actually lower than his on base percentage. That’s not something you’re going to see everyday.
Even though his bat, what little of it he had, has disappeared completely, his defense is still very good. Judging by BP’s defensive metric FRAR – which stands for Fielding Runs Above Replacement, think of a replacement player as any AAA or waiver guy that a team can easily pluck up and plug into a position – Omar is actually a little better this year than his gold glove season of 2006. His FRAR this year is 23 runs, which means that by defense alone, Omar has saved the team 23 runs. In 2005 he saved 31 runs and in 2006 he saved 20 runs. The point is that Omar is still a very good defender. For comparisons sake, Troy Tulowitzki, probably the best defensive shortstop this year in the NL, has saved the Rockies 41 runs over what a replacement level shortstop could do.
At this point in his career Omar has turned into a all-field no-hit player when he used to be a all-field can-sorta-sometimes-hit-but-still-get-on-base player! But what are the other options that the Giants can pursue before they decide whether to bring back Vizquel?
Free Agent SS for 2008 with WARP-1 Scores Included
David Eckstein (1.6)
Cesar Izturis (0.2 w/ Pittsburgh -0.2 w/ Chicago) *
Ramon E Martinez (-0.5) *
Neifi Perez (-0.3)
Juan Uribe (3.1) *
Thanks to Cots Baseball Contracts for the free agent listing. The asterisk denotes that the player has a 2008 option which might or might not be picked up.
As you can see, even with Vizquel’s down year (1.7 WARP-1 Score), he’s still better than half these guys. If you’re unfamiliar with WARP-1, it takes into account both hitting and fielding to evaluate how many wins a player would contribute to a team over what a replacement level player would. Eckstein and Uribe have both played above replacement level while Izturis, Martinez, and Perez have actually been worse than a warm body that any team could claim from waivers or pull from their minor league depth. The White Sox are still considering picking up Uribe’s option or not so he could potentially be the best SS talent available on the market but one that I would be leery of. Uribe’s got a slick glove – FRAR of 34 runs – but his bat is just terrible – .219 EqA. The White Sox have been noted that they may want to move in a different direction and I don’t know their minor league system well enough, but I would figure that they would bring Uribe back mostly on the weakness of FA options.
Eckstein, I’m not a fan of either. Not only has his already weak glove dropped this year – FRAR of 1 – he’ll be turning 33 in January. It seems unfair to criticize him for turning just 33 when the Giants could very well bring back a 41 year old Omar to play short but Omar is a freak of nature and not many guys can play the position like he can at his age. Only Honus Wagner and Luke Appling have played 100 games at short stop at age 41 or greater. If Omar comes back in 2008 it’s realistic that he could play 100 games if he avoids the injury bug. Ozzie Smith just missed the 100 game cutoff for guys 41 or older in his final season of 1996. Smith played 83 games that year. Omar and Eck are basically opposites this year. Omar has the glove and Eckstein’s bat has played above replacement level but not his glove. Eckstein will require multiple years and Omar has already expressed interest to come back to SF and could come back on a 1-year deal.
Ramon E. Martinez isn’t an option that any sane club would bring in to play a starting position, even Brian Sabean isn’t that crazy. Neifi Perez was suspened for a 3rd positive test for a banned stimulant in August and earned himself an 80 game ban, he’ll be out for most of ’08. If Perez ever puts on a Giants uniform again, I’ll eat my hat.
At the major league level the Giants don’t have much to fill in for shortstop. Rich Aurilia is no longer a starting shortstop and should only be used for emergencies. Kevin Frandsen has seen some time at short this year but he’s a 2B for a reason. In the games I’ve seen K-Fran play at short this year, he never really looked comfortable. I’d much rather hope that the Giants can dump off Durham over the offseason and let Frandsen get time at 2B in ’08. Fransden had a FRAR of 0 this year for his brief time at SS, only 17 games at the position, which is a very small sample size. Chances are that if Fransden is given more time at short he’s going to play in the negative.
In the minors the guys that could play a future shortstop are too far away – Bocock and Burriss are both in A-ball – and the AAA guys that play short are utility men in training at best. Luis Figueroa, Ivan Ochoa, and Tomas de la Rosa all hit around .300 but probably won’t be considered. Out of the three, Figueroa, probably had the best season hitting (.302/.349/.397) but he’s a 33 year old minor league journeyman and those stats shouldn’t impress anyone in the hitter-friendly PCL. Ochoa was only 24 but this was his first season ever in his minor league career that he OPS’d over .700
Suddenly, Omar Vizquel on a 1-year deal isn’t looking like such a terrible choice. The free agent market or the Giants system has no clear cut shortstop favorite. The market is just plain lousy and the Giants minor league system is very uninspiring. Unless the Giants can find someone that can play shortstop through a trade, I think Omar is their best option. His bat has taken a huge dive this year but it’s good news that his glove is still playing. If Omar could take a paycut to say around $3M or less, the Giants should probably give him a look. Only bring him back for 1-year and if his glove leaves him the same way his bat has, then you either bench or cut him and throw a player like Figueroa or Ochoa out there for the remainder of the season.