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Comparing the A.L. East Shortstops

A look at J.J. Hardy, Jose Reyes, Stephen Drew, Derek Jeter, and Yunel Escobar


Since there are still some positions up in the air for a few A.L. East teams (mostly the Red Sox and 1B), next up in my position comparison in the division are the shortstops. Spoiler: there are some good ones.

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles

There has been discussion around the internet about the possibility of looking at trading Hardy, or maybe moving him to second base, so that Manny Machado can take his place at shortstop. It doesn't appear that either of those things will be happen, and so the gold gloved one will again be at shortstop for the O's in 2013.

Despite hitting 22 home runs in 2012, Hardy had perhaps the worst year of his career at the plate. It looked especially glaring back-to-back with 2011, which could arguably be his best year at the plate (I'd pick 2008 myself, but they were close). But that's what you get with Hardy, really. He'll hit for power but don't count on him getting on base too often, especially via the walk. But that hitting style combined with his outstanding defense makes him a very valuable player, worth between 3-4+ wins depending on how his season at the plate is going.

Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays

I love Jose Reyes, and he was a player I wanted the Orioles to sign right up until the Marlins gave him a six-year contract before the 2012 season. Part of the blockbuster trade that included Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle going to the Blue Jays, Reyes is a great addition to the team.

Other than a few seasons when Reyes struggled with being injured, he's played at a star level since 2006, his second full year with the Mets. Reyes isn't known for his fielding, but his bat and his baserunning at such a premium position more than make up the difference. He has about an 80% success rate of stolen bases over his career and even though he's no longer the guy who swipes 60 on the regular, he's probably good for close to 40 if he doesn't get hurt. And his speed and baserunning smarts make him a triples machine; other than the injury-plagued 2009-2010 seasons he's hit between 12-19 triples every year since 2005 and has led the league four times. To compare, the O's team leader last year had 3. The last time an Oriole had double digit triples was 1995 when Brady Anderson had ten.

So now that my love letter to Jose Reyes is complete, how do I think he'll play for the Blue Jays? He'll be 30 in 2013, he's moving to a new league and a stadium that uses artificial turf (although much better artificial turf than in the old days of Sky Dome). I think he might fall off a bit defensively; it's never been his strong suit and the turf plays differently. But I don't doubt his ability to get on base and cause trouble once he's there, and I think when it's all said and done he'll be (again) one of the best shortstops in baseball, and the best in the A.L. East.

Stephen Drew, Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox signed Drew to a one-year, $9.5M contract. Drew is, in my opinion, a bit of a J.J. Hardy-lite. While he was with the Diamondbacks he showed some power, but not as much as Hardy. He had several good defensive seasons (again, not as good as Hardy). He has shown the ability to get on base a bit better than Hardy, but he's certainly not a powerhouse in that department either. I think that other than the salary (which doesn't seem to be a concern for the Red Sox the way they've been going after free agents), this is a very good pickup for the Red Sox.

It's not without risk, of course. There's a reason Drew only signed a one-year deal. He missed the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012 with a broken ankle, and after coming back in July of last season he put up poor numbers for both the Diamondbacks and the Athletics over the rest of the season. If Drew spends 2013 playing the way he did before his injury, the Red Sox will be in business. And luckily for them, if he doesn't, it's only a one-year deal.

Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

It seems like every year people count on Derek Jeter getting older and as such, worse at baseball. It almost looked like it might happen a few seasons ago, but Jeter bounced back and in 2012 he was very solid and, according to FanGraphs, a 3.2 WAR player. Next season Jeter will be even older, turning 39 in June, and the naysayers will add to that fact he had surgery to repair a broken ankle suffered in the playoffs. All reports are that Jeter will be ready for Opening Day, but there will be the question in the back of people's minds if he's 100% healthy.

I'm not going to count him out. I've fallen for that trick before. Yes, he's old. Yes, he's injured. And yes, watching him play defense gets more enjoyable every season. But the guy can get on base. He had a .362 OBP last season, which is below his career average and yet still considerably better than anyone on the Orioles last year not named Nick Markakis. If he can keep up modest power numbers with that kind of OBP, he'll have another Jeter season at the plate.

Yunel Escobar, Tampa Bay Rays
When the Blue Jays traded Alex Gonzalez for Yunel Escobar mid-season 2010, I wondered why the Orioles couldn't pull of something like that. Escobar seemed like your classic change of scenery player. He'd fallen out of favor with Bobby Cox but his talent was apparent. Now I feel a lot better about it, thanks both to Hardy and the fact that Escobar might actually be a jerk (note: I don't know him personally, so I won't say for sure he's a jerk. But signs seem to point in that direction).

What I do know is that Escobar had some good seasons with the Braves, then his performance trended downward a bit and he was unloaded to the Jays with rumors that he was trouble in the clubhouse. He had one great season with the Jays and then wasn't good at all in 2012, and in September he was suspended for three games for insulting either women or gay people (depending on the translation) in his eyeblack, and as such was shipped out of Toronto to the Marlins, who then flipped him to the Rays for a prospect.

Jeff Sullivan wrote an article about why the Rays wanted Escobar when the trade occurred, and honestly I think he'll have a good year for the Rays in 2013. It's another change of scenery and everyone know he has the talent to be a very good ball player. The only thing that remains to be seen is how long he'll play there before he wears out his welcome. And the Rays are in a good position to trade him or cut him loose when that does happen, as they hold options for him for both 2014 and 2015.

It's a strong class of players at shortstop this year in the division. Any of them has the ability to have a fantastic season but all have questions as well. It's tough to rank, but as far as the player I'd want on my team, I'd go with: 1) Reyes, 2) Hardy, 3) Escobar, 4) Jeter, 5) Drew. That's taking into account not only their talent but also the level of risk with each one (and not taking into account that I wouldn't ever want Escobar on a team that I root for).