Greinke Fallout: Shortstop

Yuniesky Betancourt, popping up a bunt.

As the dust settles on the Zack Greinke trade and everyone in Brewers Nation tries to wrap their heads around the prospect of having a competitive rotation, there are a couple things that need to be addressed: what happens to the spots formerly occupied by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain?  Escobar was really the only option in the Brewer system to play shortstop at the major league level, and Cain, after having a very impressive stint in the majors at the end of last season, was expected to come in and be the opening day centerfielder.  Now that they are gone, who do we turn to?

First, shortstop.  Along with Greinke, the Brewers picked one up, Yuniesky Betancourt.  In 2010, as a 28 year old, Betancourt had a line of .259/.288/.405 with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs.  For comparison, Carlos Gomez had an on base percentage 10 points higher.  Betancourt has a little pop, evidenced by the 16 homers, and at least some knack for knocking in runs, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up – prior to 2010 he had never hit more than 9 home runs in a season and his previous season high RBI numbers were 67, 51, and 49.  Betancourt has never gotten on at better than .310, and that was in 2006.  His on-base percentage has been declining ever since, bottoming out in 2009 when he hit .245 with a .275 OBP in a season split between Seattle and Kansas City.  Not exactly the kind of guy that you want in your lineup.  And that doesn’t even touch on the other side of the ball.  Betancourt’s defense is an ugly sight – defensive metrics peg him as one of the worst defenders at shortstop in all of baseball.

At this point, it looks like Doug Melvin is planning to go with Betancourt on opening day.  The re-signing of Craig Counsell Thursday morning gives some insurance, but Counsell is 40 years old and certainly won’t be able to start too many games.  Are there any other alternatives?  Here is a look at a few of the shortstops still on the market:

  • Orlando Cabrera, who will be 36 in 2011, had a .263/.303/.354 slash line for Cincinnati last year, and didn’t produce many runs.  He isn’t a defensive whiz, but he would be an upgrade over Betancourt.  He could be had on a fairly cheap one year deal.
  • Felipe Lopez, who played with the Brewers in 2009, saw his batting average drop to just .233 last year, but his career numbers suggest he is a much better offensive player than Cabrera or Betancourt.  He hit .310 in 2009, including .320/.407/.448 in 66 games with Milwaukee.  He played second base with the Brewers, as the replacement for the injured Rickie Weeks, and he is more comfortable there, but he is capable of playing shortstop (though the metrics suggest he is a far better second baseman).  However, there are many questions about his attitude.  He’s only 30 years old, so he could turn it around, but it could be a risk.
  • Edgar Renteria is slightly younger than Cabrera, and is coming off a season that saw him named World Series MVP.  He was a pretty productive player when he wasn’t injured (.276/.332/.374), but he only played 72 games, and hasn’t played 140 since 2006.  He is a reasonably good fielder, but after he supposedly felt insulted by the Giants one year, one million dollar offer, he may not come as cheap as others on this list.
  • Nick Punto, the last shortstop on our list, sports a .233/.313/.302 line and has never hit 5 home runs or driven in 50 RBIs in a season.  His value would come from his defense, where he is very solid.  However, the Twins may have an interest in resigning him.

I’m not sure anyone on this list stands out.  Renteria seems a servicable option, but he has injury trouble and might end up being more expensive than the Brewers would like to pay, as they will have to pay Betancourt no matter what.  Cabrera is probably too far past his prime to be much of an improvement over Betancourt.  Lopez is intriguing, but probably wouldn’t cut it as an everyday shortstop.  Punto would be valuable as a defender, but would contribute heartily to the black hole that may end up being the bottom of the Brewers lineup.  Luis Cruz doesn’t appear to be able to be a major league hitter, and Milwaukee does not have any shortstop prospects ready in the their system.  Would any of these guys be a significant upgrade over Betancourt?

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