- Tim Kurkjian, MLB reporter
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Need a shortstop? There are plenty available in the free-agent pool, including the starting shortstops from the 2004 World Series, two others from playoffs teams, a 30-home run hitter, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, a probable Hall of Famer and one of the Big Three.
Flooding the market with shortstops is not advantageous, but eight to 10 teams are in need of one, including the Red Sox, Cardinals, Twins, Cubs and White Sox. There was a day when there weren't 10 decent shortstops in the big leagues, but the position has changed so much in the last 20 years, it's hard to win without a good one. Being terrific defensively isn't enough anymore, today's shortstop has to hit. Some of them hit with power.
The list begins with Edgar Renteria, who helped lead the Cardinals to the World Series. He's 29, has nine years' experience, plays Gold Glove-caliber defense and can hit. Last year, Miguel Tejada signed a six-year, $72 million deal with Baltimore; he responded by leading the majors in RBI with 150, but more important, he invigorated the Orioles with his attitude. "Renteria might ask for $12 million a year, but I think he's closer to $8 million,'' one National League general manager said. "But he'll really help some team.''
The Cardinals hope it's their team. Renteria is their top priority and, it appears, he would like to stay. But the Cardinals have the big contracts of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds to work around, they need to acquire at least one premier starting pitcher and they're trying to re-sign catcher Mike Matheny. Chances are, they will channel most of their energy and resources to re-signing Renteria, then concentrate on adding a No. 1 starter.
After Renteria, there's Nomar Garciaparra, once a devastating hitter even tough he simply wasn't the same player last season -- offensively or defensively -- with the Red Sox or Cubs. But he was playing hurt. "He needs a full year of health, he needs to play on grass for a year, in a small ballpark and get his career going again,'' one National League general manager said. That description fits the Cubs, even though Garciaparra was not productive in Chicago. The Cubs have some interest, so, too, might the Angels. But no team is going to offer him anything close to the four-year, $60 million the Red Sox discussed in spring training of 2003.
Orlando Cabrera, the shortstop Boston acquired in the Garciaparra deal, was a marvelous addition. As great as Nomar was for the Red Sox, they probably wouldn't have won the World Series had they not significantly upgraded their defense with Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz and Dave Roberts. "If I'm the Red Sox, I have to bring Cabrera back, he was so important for them winning,'' one American League GM said. "But not at three years, $24 million.'' It's more likely that Cabrera would get a two-year deal with Boston. Signing with the Mets doesn't appear probable, but Cabrera is a favorite of Mets GM Omar Minaya.
The Indians didn't pick up the option on the contract of Omar Vizquel, who has nine Gold Gloves, partly because of finances, and partly because they have Jhonny Peralta on the way. But, there's no guarantee he's ready. The Indians could sign Vizquel at a lower rate, but time is running out. Vizquel is amazing defensively, and he hit .291 last year. The Red Sox and the Cubs seem like a fit for Vizquel if they don't re-sign Cabrera and Garciaparra, respectively.
Cristian Guzman's option was not picked up by the Twins, making him a free agent. At age 26, he's young enough for some team to keep for a few years. Jose Valentin is nothing special defensively, but hit 30 home runs last year for the White Sox. The Diamondbacks aren't sure where they're going to use Alex Cintron, so they're looking at free agent shortstops Royce Clayton and Rich Aurilia. Veteran Jose Vizcaino did a commendable job filling in at shortstop down the stretch and in the postseason for the Astros. Craig Counsell is available. He helped stabilize Milwaukee's infield defense last year.
And then there's Barry Larkin, who last year became the third shortstop in major league history to play 80 games at that position after turning 40. Larkin was let go by the Reds after 19 years with the club, but he wants to play another year. He might not be a regular shortstop anymore, but as a backup player, with his experience, he could help a team win a ring.
There are so many shortstops and so many teams. The Pick Six will begin soon.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight.
12hAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com
18hAnthony Witrado, Special to ESPN.com