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Can the Mets find a shortstop on the free agent market this winter?

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Neither Ruben Tejada nor Wilmer Flores is the answer at shortstop next year, and several current major league shortstops will hit the market after this season.

As the Mets look forward to next season, it is clear that the team does not have a viable major league shortstop on its current roster. Neither Ruben Tejada’s bat nor Wilmer Flores’s glove figures to be capable of handling the position on an everyday basis for a team that should be looking to contend as Matt Harvey returns. If the Mets want to improve at short, one of their options is obviously to hit the free agent market for a suitable replacement.

It is not yet known whether or not the Mets will be willing and able to spend money on free agents this offseason, but if they so, there are a few major league shortstops set to hit free agency.

Asdrubal Cabrera

The 28-year-old Cabrera debuted in Cleveland in 2007 and hit pretty well for a shortstop from then through 2010, but he made a name for himself by hitting 25 home runs in 2011. He has not matched that total since, but Cabrera hit 16 home runs in 2012, 14 home last year, and has 12 home runs with just over a month to go in the regular season this year.

Cabrera was signed by the Seattle Mariners back in 2002, but Seattle traded him to Cleveland during the 2006 season. He remained in that organization until this year’s trade deadline, when he was sent to the Washington Nationals. Since his arrival with the National League East leaders, Cabrera has played all but one game at second base, as the Nationals have an established everyday shortstop in Ian Desmond.

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Photo: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

For his career, Cabrera has hit .270/.332/.412 with a 105 wRC+. This year, he’s hitting .251/.316/.402, which is actually good for a 104 wRC+ given the current state of offense in the game. As for his fielding, here's what Jason Lukehart of Let's Go Tribe has to say.

When Cabrera made his MLB debut with the Indians late in 2007, he made a lot of tough plays and his defense seemed like a big plus for the next year or so, but his range declined pretty quickly. That's not the sort of thing you necessarily notice when you're watching, and so he continued to feel to me like a pretty good shortstop for a while. At some point it became a pretty divisive issue among Tribe fans, with some considering him a plus defender, because he still made a lot of pretty-looking plays, and others starting to feel like he wasn't getting to many of the balls he should have been.

To my eyes, he looked pretty bad by 2013, and with the Tribe's top prospect (Francisco Lindor) being touted as the best defensive shortstop in the minors, it was easy to want to see Cabrera replaced, to the point where he probably became somewhat undervalued by a lot of fans. I think he's probably better suited to being a second baseman at this point, which is where the Nationals have mostly played him since acquiring him at the trade deadline. He's probably still got enough overall value to rate as a league-average shortstop, all facets of the game considered, but not anything better than that, and probably not even that for more than another year or two.

The metrics agree, as both Defensive Runs Saved and UZR rated Cabrera a scratch or slightly negative defender early in his career but were more harsh about his play in the field in recent season.

So Cabrera is capable of hitting for power—which the Mets' front office clearly likes—but a long-term deal seems like a bit of a reach given his limitations with the glove. On the upside, since he was traded during the season, Cabrera cannot be given a qualifying offer at season's end and will therefore not cost a new team a draft pick to sign him.

Stephen Drew

Stephen Drew and the Mets were linked in rumors all winter, but Drew had turned down a qualifying offer from the Red Sox after last season and didn’t sign anywhere before the season started. From there, Drew opted to wait until the amateur draft had passed so that he could sign somewhere without costing a new team a draft pick for doing so. But he signed with the Red Sox for the pro-rated portion of a $14.1 million salary for the remainder of this season, a deal that he could have had in full had accepted the qualifying offer or come to terms with Boston at any point between declining and the amateur draft.

A career .264/.329/.435 hitter with a 97 wRC+ through the 2013 season, Drew’s bat played at short. He hit at least twelve home runs in each of his five full seasons in the big leagues, and the defensive metrics have generally given him good marks on defense, too. Late in the 2012 season, he was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Athletics. After that season, he signed with the Red Sox for one year, and after finally signing late this year, he spent just 39 games with the Sox before they traded him to the Yankees.

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Photo: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

But Drew has hit just .169/.245/.323 with a 51 wRC+ through 59 games between Boston and New York this year. If there’s anything encouraging about his season so far, it’s that his power has not completely disappeared—he has a .154 isolated slugging this year compared to a .170 career mark—and he has just a .200 batting average on balls in play. He’s probably not quite as bad a hitter as he’s looked like this year.

Like Cabrera, Drew cannot be offered a qualifying offer since he hasn’t been with one team since and wasn’t even on a team on Opening Day. He’s 31 years old now, and he’s always had a hard time hitting left-handed pitching, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to predict a bounce-back season. And given his awful year, perhaps he would be available at a reasonable price.

J.J. Hardy

Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the second round of the 2001 amateur draft, JJ. Hardy made his major league debut in 2005 and has stuck in the big leagues. He’s made a career for himself by playing excellent defense at short and hitting home runs.

Hardy spent five years with the Brewers and broke out in 2007, his third season, by hitting .277/.323/.463 with 26 home runs. He was even better the following year, but he struggled at the plate in 2009, and Milwaukee traded him to the Minnesota Twins for Carlos Gomez, who the Twins had acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade. Hardy bounced back at the plate in 2010, even though he hit just six home runs, but played in just 101 games. Following the season, the Twins traded him to the Orioles for a pair of minor league pitchers, neither of whom has made an impact in the big leagues yet.

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Photo: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Hardy really returned to form in 2011, hitting 30 home runs, and Baltimore signed him at a bargain: three years, $21 million. His overall production dipped in 2012, though he still hit 22 home runs, and he hit 25 home runs last year en route to a 100 wRC+ for the season.

For his career, Hardy has a hit .262/.313/.424, which translates to a 95 wRC+. This year, he’s seen a significant drop in his power and a slight rise in his strikeout rate, which has always been fairly low. He’s maintained a 97 wRC+ this year, but his .335 batting average on balls in play is higher than his career norm and the league average mark and seems very likely to drop. His defense remains steady, according to the metrics.

Hardy is turned 32 years old a few days ago, and it’s possible that his drop in power is here to stay. A right-handed hitter, he has fared slightly better against left-handed pitching but put up respectable numbers against right-handed pitchers.

Jed Lowrie

Now 30 years old, Jed Lowrie was drafted by the Red Sox back in the supplemental first round in 2005. He made his big league debut in 2008 but struggled to stay on the field in four seasons in Boston before he was dealt to the Astros after the 2011 season. After one pretty good season there, Houston dealt him to the Athletics, and he’s played there for the past couple of seasons.

Lowrie played 154 games last year, by far a career high, and posted a 121 wRC+ in the process. He hasn’t been as good this year with a 91 wRC+ so far, but Lowrie’s career .259/.329/.413 line and 103 wRC+ aren’t bad for a shortstop.

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Photo: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As for the shortstop part of things, Lowrie has consistently rated between below-average and well-below-average by Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop, while his UZR was more negative on him early in his career and has pegged him as a scratch defender over the last three years, which is when he has gotten the grand majority of his playing time. Here's Alex Hall of Athletics Nation on Lowrie's defense.

Lowrie is a below-average defender at short, and the only question is how far below he is. In 2013 he was atrocious, and Defensive Runs Saved ranked him as one of the three worst defenders in all of baseball at any position (minus-18 runs), along with second baseman Dan Uggla and third baseman Miguel Cabrera. However, he was less than a year removed from an injury to a nerve in his ankle (suffered in July 2012), and many of us believe that his mobility was limited as he recovered. Indeed, he seems to have improved from awful to just regular bad this year, and his DRS of minus-8 is a small step up. (Note that UZR is kinder to him overall.)

As for the eyeball test, Lowrie just isn't quick or agile. He can make the routine plays, and his arm is solid (with occasional flashes of brilliance), but he doesn't have a lot of range. If it's more than a couple steps to his side, there's a good chance it's bouncing through for a hit. Our local broadcaster always yells "... and that's past a diving Lowrie!" which has led to chants of "Pasta!" and various pictures of spaghetti whenever the opponent grounds a ball out of his reach.

In other words, Lowrie is in the lineup for his bat.

Given Oakland’s payroll limitations, is there any chance they would give Lowrie a qualifying offer? Here's what Alex had to say about that.

I seriously doubt it. The qualifying offer last year was $14.1 million, and I think it will exceed $16 million this winter (it's based on top-tier salaries, which are rising quickly). The fact that Lowrie is having a bit of a down year might make him more interested in playing out a one-year "show-me" contract before going for his big multi-year payday the following year, but I think Billy Beane can probably do more with $16 million than that. The A's will have a huge hole to fill at shortstop, but it's hard to imagine Lowrie being by far the highest-paid player on the team.

Last winter, Jhonny Peralta got four years, $53 million from the Cardinals, and he's a better hitter and a better fielder than Lowrie. Omar Infante got four years, $30.25 million, and he's roughly as valuable as Lowrie but at a less important position. Plus, a qualifying offer would mean a signing team would have to forfeit a draft pick, which will suppress his price further. So, if Lowrie is looking at 3-4 years for $10-12 million (at the most), and the A's are offering one year and $16 million, I bet he'd take it, especially after watching Stephen Drew overplay his hand and go unsigned last winter. And since I think that would be a bad deal for the A's, I don't think they'll offer it. But I've been wrong about lots of stuff before. And none of that precludes the chance of him re-signing with Oakland in the end, though I think that's unlikely.

It should also be noted that Beane didn't extend qualifying offers to Bartolo Colon or Grant Balfour last winter, and they were both All-Stars in 2013. He's likely only going to offer it if he's positive that the player will reject it and leave.

Hanley Ramirez

No, the Mets are not signing Hanley Ramirez this winter. Though he’s somehow still just 30 years old, Ramirez came up through Boston’s minor league ranks before getting traded to the Marlins and becoming a Mets divisional foe for six-and-a-half seasons.

From his rookie season in 2006 through 2010, he was simply one of the best players in the game. In 2011, he played in just 92 games and had a 97 wRC+, the worst year of his career to date. The following year, Ramirez continued to underperform, at least by his lofty standards, and the Marlins shipped him to the Dodgers. He was a bit better there for the rest of that season, but he really returned to form—at least in terms of production at the plate—with a 191 wRC+ in 86 games last season. Ramirez has a 133 wRC+ in 101 games so far this year, which is still pretty great for a shortstop.

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Photo: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

But here’s the thing about playing shortstop: Hanley Ramirez isn’t very good at it. Both DRS and UZR have rated him pretty poorly at the position. Asked about the current state of Ramirez’s defense, here’s what Eric Stephen of True Blue LA had to say:

Should probably move to third base immediately. Current shortstop defense: [photo of a dumpster fire]

And on top of that, Ramirez is certain to get a qualifying offer, so he would cost any team other than the Dodgers a draft pick if they were to sign him this winter. Take all of that into account, and Ramirez doesn't seem like a fit for the Mets at all.

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