The shortstop position has long been difficult to fill on a permanent basis for the Cardinals. Names such as Ryan, Furcal, Kozma, Peralta have quickly come and gone. Among the Cardinals transactions this offseason was the extension of shortstop Paul DeJong. If things pan out as hoped, he will serve as the shortstop/third baseman for the Cardinals during the next six seasons. In the past the Cardinals have experienced both major flops (Allen Craig) and successes (Matt Carpenter) on these team friendly deals. DeJong will decide which category he lands in with his performance.
Not easy to gloss over though was the rising star for the Cardinals at shortstop in 2016, Aledmys Diaz. That season he was named an All-Star and nearly posted a .900 OPS. In 2017 though, he struggled mightily at the major league level and never recovered at Triple A. Some may call it a sophomore slump, I’ll say it was a flash in the pan. Though he’ll get his fair share of time in Toronto to prove me wrong.
DeJong is different in some ways though, as the Cardinals obviously thought he was worth an extension. Not to mention he was the guy who replaced Diaz. To be safe, in the event he endures a sophomore slump or injury this season, I want to know the backup options.
Minor League Options
Yairo Munoz (AAA/MLB)- Munoz came into major league camp heavier than last season, and his range at shortstop is questionable. Though that certainly hasn’t had a negative effect on his hitting. He is batting .339 (19-56) with an outstanding .937 OPS. He could use more time in the minors, as he struggled to make hard contact after his promotion to AAA (86 wrc+). Nonetheless he made the major league roster over Bader and will see time all over the field.
Alex Mejia (AAA)- Mejia has previously been considered the best defensive infielder in the Cards entire system. He has a lot of range, soft hands, and a strong arm. At AAA last season he did put up a strong wrc+ 122 in 55 games. Even though he came up and hit a game winning home run versus the Nationals on July 1st, the bat didn’t translate in the majors. With the lack of power, he will likely never be more than a Pete Kozma type. Mejia would need to be added to the 40 man roster.
FYI I am a big Tommy Edman fan but do not see him ready for a serious role in 2018. Did not mention Jurickson Profar as a trade option but he could be intriguing.
*= In NL Central Division
Elvis Andrus (5/73 with an option in 2023)
4.1 fwar / 4.7 bwar in 158 games played: .297/.337/.471
Andrus had a career year offensively last season, tapping into his power potential with a career high SLG% of .471 and 20 homers. He provides plus value on the bases and steals quite often. This speed hasn’t translated to the infield. He has lost a lot of range compared to his earlier days, with a RngR of -6.1 (range runs above average).
There is only one reason I mention Andrus as a possibility. In his contract are opt-outs after his 2018 and 2019 seasons. If he were to opt out after this season, Andrus and Machado would be the only shortstops on the market who are above average offensively. If the Rangers continue to finish below .500 we could see them sell off veterans for prospects.
*Concerns*- Andrus swung outside of the strike zone 9% more than his career average and had a 8.5% swinging strike rate (whiff). This led to a career high in strikeout rate.
Marcus Semien (3.1 million in arbitration; 2021 free agent)
1.7 fwar / 1.1 bwar in 85 games played: .249/.325/.398
Semien essentially replaces what you lose in this scenario. A power-hitting shortstop who strikes out a lot, except not as good at it. His career high in SLG% is .435, though there is still untapped potential in there. Semien walked close to 10% of the time in 2017, a career best. I believe a power breakout is coming given the chance.
In his career he has been a shaky at best infielder defensively, with an average UZR/150 -5.5. In his first full season as the A’s stop he had 35 errors. There are signs of improvement, cutting down that number to 21 and then 9. He is able to be a threat on the basepaths though. According to FanGraphs he was a well above average base runner. He’s good for 20 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and 70 rbis. He missed time in 2017 to a fractured wrist in his right hand but swung the bat much better upon return.
Jordy Mercer* (6.75 million in arbitration; 2019 free agent)
1.4 fwar / 1.2 bwar in 145 games played: .255/.326/.406
Mercer utilizes what little tools he has to the best of his abilities. What that makes him is close to a league average shortstop. A below average hitter with back to back seasons of an 88 wrc+, he was able to post a career high walk rate and made plenty of contact. Leaving PNC Park would help generate power. If we acquired him he’d bat 6th or 7th. Though his defense has slipped since 2014, he’s still a steady fielder with smooth hands who helps stabilize the infield defense.
Jose Iglesias (6.2 million in arbitration; 2019 free agent)
1.6 fwar / 1.3 bwar in 130 games played: .255/.288/.369
Long gone are the days of Iglesias being a hitter who sustains a .300 average on BABIP. All that remains is a wrc+ of 71 and no power in his swing whatsoever. He’s been unable to be patient at the plate too, with only a 4.8% walk rate, one of the worst in the majors. He drives the ball into the ground with a 50% ground ball rate.
What he does have is speed and a superb glove. During the 2013 offseason, Iglesias suffered from shin splints and missed all of 2014. He dealt with the effects on the bases in 2015 being a horrible base runner. That is no longer the case with back to back seasons of positive ratings.
The glove would be the main reason to acquire him. His UZR/150 (runs above average over 150 games) in 2017 was 10.7, and was worth 4 defensive runs saved (drs). One of the best in the game.
Here’s one of my favorite plays… ever:
(Since we’re on the 2013 postseason now… Jose Iglesias and Stephen Drew were PHENOMENAL)
The Cardinals options in the minors are slim in terms of major league ready shortstops. Munoz can handle it on a short term basis but would get exposed. Mejia’s glove is good but it does not make up for the lack of offense. Really the only substantial upgrade on the trade market would be Andrus but Texas would want good prospects back. My choice would be Iglesias, as though his bat is really bad he is a terrific defender and perfect to cover for a DeJong absence.
Thanks for reading, and please follow me on Twitter @Graham_STL if you’d like to hear more from me! Info from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and spotrac (for contract details). Shout out to Kyle Reis for some of the minor league shortstop details.