StrategyFebruary 17, 2005

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Fantasy’s Best Shortstops

By Jamey Feuer

Supermodels, rock stars and shortstops. Shortstops? Yup, shortstops. Although our society has always been drawn to its athletes, rarely has a position so captured the collective imaginations of sports fans and non-fans alike. With the exception of star NFL quarterbacks such as Broadway Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and most recently Tom Brady, no other position can boast the glamour of today’s shortstop. Why that should be so is a matter for debate, though it’s most likely due to the fact that the athletes playing the position in recent years, Alex Rodriguez (although he’s now a third baseman), Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra, are the modern day equivalents of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, extremely well paid, talented and good-looking athlete/playboys who transcend the sport, capable of making the extraordinary seem routine and the routine seem extraordinary.

That being said, there’s nothing routine in drafting a shortstop for your fantasy team. The fantasy landscape has changed a bit since the mid to late 90s, the era that saw today’s shortstops rise to such public prominence. So, let’s take a look!

At The Top Of The Game

Miguel Tejada (Bal): For a notoriously slow starter, Tejada started off as hot as Texas asphalt and never cooled off last season. The move to Baltimore apparently agreed with “Miggy” as he posted a career high 150 RBI. Tejada is a textbook fantasy stud; he hits for power and average, offers a sharp eye at the plate, and while he doesn’t walk much, he won’t hurt you with strikeouts either. Last season’s numbers were simply eye-popping, .311/34/150 with 107 runs scored. While the Orioles didn’t make any earth-shaking off-season moves (though the acquisition of OF Sammy Sosa should provide the lineup with even more punch and power), the Orioles still have a loaded roster and there’s no reason to believe that Tejada won’t have another splendid season. Look for Tejada to again be the top shortstop in baseball and fantasy, and put up numbers akin to .313/33/138.

Derek Jeter (NYA): To say that Jeter started last season off at a glacial pace would be a marked understatement. Fantasy owners thought that perhaps, after a miserable April, Jeter would light it up in May. But when the last week in May rolled around and Jeter was still well below the Mendoza Line, more than one fantasy owner panicked and moved the All-Star shortstop. But alas, those who refused to give up on Jeter and those who traded for the Yankee captain were well rewarded. Jeter was a house afire over the season’s final four months, and he ended the ‘04 campaign with a very good line of .292/23/78, with 111 runs scored and 23 swiped bags. While there are many who’ll say that Jeter is the second-best Yankee shortstop (those people are generally Red Sox supporters), he nevertheless possesses remarkable intangibles and is a run waiting to happen. Batting in the best lineup money can buy, Jeter remains an elite option at short and should post another outstanding season as he continues his relentless march to Cooperstown. Look for .297/22/80 with 23 SB.

Michael Young (Tex): While listing Young as the #3 fantasy shortstop is sure to provoke criticism, the dude did have almost 220 hits and put up .313/22/99 while hitting primarily out of the leadoff slot. Add his 114 runs scored, 12 SB, 44 walks, and 89 Ks out of 690 AB, and perhaps the ranking will make a little more sense. The Texas lineup’s got a cast of mashers, remains imposing, and Young is just entering his prime. Let’s pencil this gamer in for .315/25/97 with 16 SB.

Nomar Garciaparra (ChN): Nomah is also going to be jotted in as my Comeback Player of the Year. While he battled through an injury-plagued ‘04, he was also forced to contend with the legion of distractions that surrounded his trade from Boston to Chicago. The confluence of issues no doubt contributed to Nomar’s down season and arguably poor attitude. Nonetheless, assuming he stays healthy, Garciaparra’s got the potential to bounce back into the top three at his position. However, such an assumption is a bit of a risk due to Nomar’s age, 31. Anticipating that Garciaparra, a very talented athlete, has recovered from his Achilles injury, look for a line of .310/20/95. (This could be a very generous line.)

Jimmy Rollins (Phi): No longer just a “good” fantasy shortstop, Rollins has crossed into the blue and become an elite middle infielder. Offering power, speed and excellent production, if Rollins hits the basepaths running he’s got a shot at having a career-best season. Pencil the still developing Rollins in for .299/17/77 with 35 SB.

You Won’t Get “Short-changed” With These Guys

Rafael Furcal (Atl): There’s admittedly a bit of a drop-off after Miggy, “DJ,” Young and Nomah. Still, Furcal offers his owners rare speed and decent pop. If Furcal can tear himself away from his local pub, he should put up a line of .285/17/65 with 30 SB.

Edgar Renteria (Bos): Owners hoping that Renteria would duplicate his remarkable ‘03 season were sorely disappointed. Renteria’s hits dropped from 194 to 168, his runs fell from 96 to 84, HRs from 13 to 10, RBIs from 100 to 72, SB from 34 to 17, walks from 65 to 39, and his average plummeted from .330 to .287. If you include the nearly 100-point drop in OBP (.406 to .314), the difference was almost night and day. And yet the brighter side is that even with the diminished productivity, Renteria remains a top ten shortstop. Let’s operate under the assumption that Renteria’s true numbers lie somewhere between his ‘03 and ‘04 seasons, and look for .291/8/85, with 80 runs scored and 25 SB.

Carlos Guillen (Det): Having torn up his knee (ACL tear), Guillen is anything but a sure thing. However, a trade that sent Guillen to Detroit from Seattle seemed to be the spark that ignited a career season. At his physical peak, if healthy, Guillen could even build upon last season’s numbers and again be a very good fantasy weapon. Monitor his rehab progress closely. If he’s 95% or so, look for .293/16/95 with eight steals.

Orlando Cabrera (Ana): Another shortstop who benefited from a change in scenery, a move to Boston from Montreal’s comparatively barren lineup spurred Cabrera to finish the season with confidence. Now part of Anaheim’s excellent lineup, a full season with his Angel teammates could even result in a slight upswing in Cabrera’s numbers, possibly to the tune of .280/12/73 with 22 SB.

Jack Wilson (Pit): This dude broke OUT last season. Available through most league’s waiver wires, Wilson (only 27) surprised fantasy owners and teammates alike with a .308/11/59 season. Given that in 2003, he hit at a mere .256 clip with a slugging percentage over 100 points lower than his ‘04 figure of .459, everyone’s surprise was understandable. While Wilson’s not much of a base stealer and doesn’t draw many walks, he won’t kill you with strikeouts either. However, if you should elect to draft Wilson, I’d make certain to have another athlete who offers flexibility at the shortstop position … just in case. Was Wilson’s ‘04 campaign an aberration and career year? Quite possibly, but let’s think positively and assume his ‘05 numbers will lie somewhere between his previous two seasons; look for something like .285/10/62.

Shortstops On The Rise

Bobby Crosby (Oak): Asked to fill some mighty big shoes at short in Oakland, Crosby responded with a solid season that earned him AL Rookie of the Year honors. A flawless season it was not, however, and Crosby must become more discerning at the dish as another 141 strikeout season would be unacceptable. Another off-season of work and spring training should help Crosby develop a better eye, and his developing power bodes well for the future. Look for Crosby to build upon last year and avoid the sophomore slump (hopefully) that afflicted fellow shortstop Angel Berroa. Eight swiped bags and .250/25/75 should be in reach for the A’s young’un.

Khalil Greene (SD): With a high baseball IQ and ample power potential, Greene’s got a bright future. While playing in San Diego’s spacious Petco Park doesn’t help his home run numbers, Greene still mashed 15 dingers last year. Although he’s no speed merchant, the 25-year-old Padre has decent range, 20-homer potential, and should have improved with another spring training under his belt. Look for Greene to post .285/18/75 with five SB.

Jose Reyes (NYN): The Mets have moved this tremendously gifted and quick as a blink athlete from his natural position of shortstop to second base, and now back to short again. An assortment of injuries (predominantly leg) have significantly abbreviated Reyes’ tenure in New York, however, and valid questions about his durability remain. If Reyes can stay healthy and off the trainer’s table, he possesses immeasurable real and fantasy ability. With a quick bat and absurd speed, Reyes has top 15 fantasy player potential. If he can stay on the field, and again that’s a mighty big if, look for .291/8/35 with 31 SB. Note: Although Mets officials are positively titillated with the numbers he posted playing winter ball, I am not a big Reyes fan and question his ability to remain healthy playing at this level. Make certain you have another player capable of filling in for him if need be.

On The Way Down

Omar Vizquel (SF): To say that Vizquel is in decline might be a bit of a misnomer as he hit .291/7/59 and recorded 19 swiped bags for Cleveland last season. Nevertheless, Vizquel (37) is in the twilight of a wonderful career and at his age, an athlete’s stats can plummet from one season to the next. While Vizquel’s production probably won’t fall off a cliff, I still anticipate a modest correction in his numbers. Look for a very reasonable .275/5/55 with 12 SB.

Jose Valentin (LA): Even with 30 home runs on the season, Valentin’s second-half numbers were abysmal. His batting average declined for a fifth consecutive year, and his OBP (.287) was lower than many players’ batting averages. At age 35, the veteran’s best days are behind him, but on the plus side, having been brought in by Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta to replace the departed Adrian Beltre, Valentin will qualify at both SS and 3B this season.

Comeback Player

Nomar Garciaparra (ChN): See above.

Top Sleeper

BJ Upton (TB): The kid’s got a big time bat, but the knock on him remains his iffy work with the leather. Although he’s got great upside, potential is often akin to a four-letter word. Upton, who may well be slotted at second Base this year, might even be available through your league’s waiver wire. Keep an eye on his spring training numbers before you do anything drastic.

Next up: Second Basemen!

Jamey Feuer’s sportswriting is already familiar to regulars at the Football and Basketball Cafes. This series marks his debut for the baseball side.

Which shortstops will you be pursuing in this year’s drafts? Share your views with the Cafe regulars!

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