Free Agent Frenzy: Profiling the Shortstops

In the the fifth and final installment of the free agent profiles, Joe Kaiser tells us all about the solid group of shortstops on the market.

Nomar Garciaparra
Age on Opening Day 2005: 31
2004: .308/.365/.477, 9 HR, 41 RBI, 4 SB
Career: .322/.370/.549, 182 HR, 710 RBI, 86 SB

Player Strengths:
Garciaparra is still one of the best hitters in baseball and remains a solid defender, when healthy. Now 31, the former batting champ can be a very productive bat in any lineup and is a threat for a four-hit game every night out. The days of hitting .370 with 30 home runs are over but there is no reason why he can't sit in the .320 range with 20+ bombs.

Player Weaknesses:
Continuing this year's theme, injuries are Nomar's only downside and his free-agent status is tempered largely due to the long stints on the disabled list the past few seasons. At shortstop Garciaparra's range has been effected by the bad heel and unless 100% the 31-year-old is merely average with the glove.

The Mariner Factor:
If Bill Bavasi and the Mariners clan need a backup plan with the offense, Garciaparra might be an option. Otherwise, expect the All-Star to take a one-year deal in attempt to re-establish his value and then re-enter the market next winter with a three-year deal in his sights.

Edgar Renteria
Age on Opening Day 2005: 29
2004: .287/.327/.401, 10 HR, 72 RBI, 17 SB
Career: .289/.346/.400, 83 HR, 565 RBI, 237 SB

Player Strengths:
In the field, Renteria is solid defender with solid range and a very good arm. The former World Series hero (ask Charles Nagy) is a decent hitter but regressed from last season and was barely average this year. The good news is, he is just 29 and still in his prime after fighting through nagging injuries in 2004. Renteria could match the numbers put up by Derek Jeter and easily outshines the Yankee captain with the glove.

Player Weaknesses:
The step back at the plate this season is a little concerning and makes one wonder if 2003 wasn't the exception rather than the rule. At times, Renteria will get a little too anxious at the plate and not wait for the best pitch to hit. This sort of impatience led to drop in batting average of more than fifty percentage points.

The Mariner Factor:
If the M's failed in their bid to land a big bat at the hot corner, Jose Lopez could make a move to third, opening the shortstop position for a guy like Renteria. Whether the Cardinals let him walk or not is another story for another author, but a lot would have to happen for Renteria to be a fit in Seattle.

Orlando Cabrera
Age on Opening Day 2005: 30
2004: .264/.306/.383, 10 HR, 62 RBI, 16 SB
Career: .268/.316/.409, 72 HR, 412 RBI, 97 SB

Player Strengths:
Cabrera came to the Boston Red Sox with a reputation of being a very good defensive shortstop with a bit of a free-swinging approach at the plate that resulted in better-than-average power. Now a free agent, Cabrera's scouting report oozes phrases like "plate discipline", "patience" and "savvy" after a stellar three months with the World Champions. Add solid speed and a team attitude to the book and the brother of Mariners reserve Jolbert is a pretty good free agent shortstop.

Player Weaknesses:
Cabrera has a tendency to fall into hitting slumps, though there wasn't much evidence of that after he arrived in the American League. The former Expos gold glover isn't a great base stealer and isn't going to wow anyone with any one skill outside of his glove.

The Mariner Factor:
Cabrera is what I like to call "Safeco Food." His 14-18 home run power from the right side is exactly what the Mariners do not need. Safeco's cavernous left-center field gaps and the cool spring air through the month of May would swallow the power of a hitter such as Cabrera. Both the Texas Rangers and the Anaheim Angels are fits for 30-year-old.

Cristian Guzman
Age on Opening Day 2005: 27
2004: .274/.309/.384, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 10 SB
Career: .266/.303/.382, 39 HR, 289 RBI, 102 SB

Player Strengths:
Speed, quickness, defense. Guzman uses all three skills to his advantage and is one of the better shortstops at turning two. Guzman could win a gold glove one day if the writers had any clue what "Gold Glove Award" really meant.

Player Weaknesses:
Lacking much pop in his bat, Guzman would lose the power he does have if he signed with a team that plays in a pitcher's park. The career Minnesota Twin is a triple machine but without the turf to scoot liners onto, even that will be minimized. Guzman might be the league's fastest regular that has no idea how to steal bases.

The Mariner Factor:
Guzman might fit the Mariners next winter when they might be in need of a defensive minded second baseman. For now, they will pass on the 27-year-old as he likely returns to the Twins for a 7th season.

Jose Valentin
Age on Opening Day 2005: 35
2004: .216/.287/.473, 30 HR, 70 RBI, 8 SB
Career: .243/.3221/.452, 226 HR, 722 RBI, 125 SB

Player Strengths:
Valentin might be the most underappreciated defensive players in the game and this skill might get him a better contract than some believe he deserves. Purely a left-handed hitter these days, Valentin's sub-.250 average isn't an attractive statistic but he has 30 home run power and would fit very well on a veteran team.

Player Weaknesses:
As a free agent, being 35 and coming off a sub par offensive season isn't what Valentin was hoping for. Defensively he still has it but at what point will he lose a step and the questions surrounding his bat are very valid.

The Mariner Factor:
His left-handed power is the only attribute that fits the Mariners. Valentin's age alone is enough to scare off the re-building M's and could land the former Brewer and White Sox shortstop in a Boston Red Sox uniform.

Omar Vizquel
Age on Opening Day 2005: 37
2004: .291/.353/.388, 7 HR, 59 RBI 19 SB
Career: .275/.341/.358, 66 HR, 715 RBI, 318 SB

Player Strengths:
Vizquel isn't quite the defender he was three seasons ago but the 37-year-old is still one of the best few in baseball at his position. Many in the game will say that Omar's most underrated skill is his bat and his solid season in '04 is proof that he isn't ready to retire just yet. His best attribute might that he is simply a winner. There isn't much "Little O" can't do.

Player Weaknesses:
Vizquel isn't getting any younger and after 35, players can hit the wall really hard. Can he keep up the solid all-around play or will he fall to Father Time while playing the second most demanding position in baseball?

The Mariner Factor:
Should the Mariners deem another season in Triple-A a necessary factor for Jose Lopez, the M's could pick up Vizquel on a one-year deal to shore up the defense. Cleveland isn't likely to bring him back but there might be other teams willing to go further than one season for the best defensive shortstop, maybe of all time.

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