It's no secret that the No.1 thing on Brian Cashman's winter to do list is to find a replacement for Derek Jeter. Whether that is a short term or long term replacement remains to be seen. The good news is that it will be easy to improve on Jeter's 2014 season. The bad news is that the free agency crop of shortstops isn't very good and full of players who may have to move off the position. The good news is that there are a good number of trade candidates available, but that would of course mean giving up prospects when the Yankees are trying to rebuild their farm system. Lets take a look at the candidates:
Hanley Ramirez- Ramirez represents what might be the greatest risk of any free agent on the market let alone the shortstop market. His bat is still extremely productive and that is huge in this day and age of baseball when offense is limited. He hit .283/.369/.448/.817 last season with a .362 wOBA and a 137 wRC+. Those are excellent numbers for a shortstop in what was supposedly a "down" season. Of course they don't even compare to 2013 when he put up MVP numbers (.345/402/.638) in only 86 games.
The risk comes with Ramirez' age, injuries and defense. He will be 31 by next season, has had injury issues in three of the last four seasons and he might have to move off shortstop sooner rather than later. Of course if Ramirez did have to move off shortstop the Yankees currently have no long term plan at third base either if Chase Headley does not return.
Obviously, Ramirez is a big risk, but if he stays healthy he can be a bargain. He has the potential to turn into a 5 WAR player again and might not be paid that way. Even in the "down" year last year Ramirez was still worth $18.6 million, according to FanGraphs. I don't see the Yankees going after him aggressively because after dealing with Jeter's mediocre defense for all those years they are valuing it more at the position. Unfortunately, they really need the offensive upgrade too. If you can sign Ramirez for under $100 million it's a risk worth taking.
Jed Lowrie- Lowrie is coming off a poor 2014 season and will have to hang his hat on his 2013 3.5 WAR season. He hit .249/321/.355 with a 93 wRC+. Between 2012 and 2013 he hit 31 home runs, but that power was zapped last season when he only hit six. His defense has always been just average. Lowrie could be a nice buy low option and does not cost a draft pick.
Asdrubal Cabrera- Cabrera's value lies in his power. He has 30 home runs over the last two seasons. However, he has been declining offensively and offers negative value defensively at shortstop. He still just turned 29, so maybe he can find some of his old form.
Stephen Drew- Drew is considered the fallback option for the Yankees. My issue with that is that the free agent crop next year at shortstop isn't any better, so you're not saving up for anybody next year. Of course somebody can always come up for trade. Obviously, we know Drew was absolutely horrific last year, but historically he has never been close to that bad of a hitter. By bringing Drew back the Yankees would be banking on him returning close to his Boston 2013 production of .253/.333/.443 and a 109 wRC+.
Troy Tulowitzki- There's no doubt Tulowitzki is a top five player in MLB when healthy. Heck, even when he isn't healthy he's pretty close. He has had a WAR over 5 in four of the last five seasons and the most amount of games he's played is 143 in 2011. He achieved a 5.1 WAR last year only playing in 91 games, which is amazing.
Tulo has six years, $144 million remaining in his contract, which most people believe is a detriment. I think that contract is fine for the kind of player he is, and even with the injuries he would get a lot more on the open market. FanGraphs averaged his value to $28.1 million last year and again that's only in 91 games.
Whether the Yankees have the prospects to trade for Tulo even if they wanted to is debatable. What the Yankees do need is a star to bring them into their next post Jeter era. They're going to need somebody to drive ticket sales. Tulo is that player and could be very well worth the risk.
Alexei Ramirez- Ramirez is coming off a solid season and has a very reasonable contract. He is 33 years old though, but that helps keep his trade value lower. He hit .273/.305/.408 last year with 15 home runs and a 97 wRC+. His defense has always been a big strength of his and he seemed to regain his power after only hitting 15 home runs combined in 2011 and 2012. Ramirez represents an attractive stopgap option.
Jimmy Rollins- Rollins may be 35 years old, but he was still league average hitter last year and still above average with the glove. League average doesn't sound very exciting, but the Yankees didn't have many league average hitters last season. Rollins has a no-trade clause and reportedly would not waive it to go to the Mets. You would think he would be more interested in the Yankees. He has an $11 million vesting option for 2015 that vests if he has 600 plate appearances in 2014.
Which option would you go with? Discuss in the comments.