Ok, my interest is piqued, Jim
Competent shortstops are always rare and in demand, but are they especially in short supply so as to inspire a bidding frenzy for an (All-Star) 33-year-old shortstop with a year left at $10 million and a club option?
Well, what are the free agent options if J.J. Hardy is gone? There are recognizable names, but they may not be good anymore.
--Mike Aviles, 34 -- Had a nice career, but should not be getting signed to start full-time
--Clint Barmes, 36 -- Signing him to be a glove-only starter backfired three years ago
--Asdrubal Cabrera, 29 -- Went from being a plus-hitting shortstop to just being a good hitter for the position. Relatively sure-handed in the field but not rangey. You could do a lot worse. Many will!
--Stephen Drew, 32 -- Possibly the prize of this crop if he's coming off his 2012 season, and not his Boras QO Theory disaster. Will probably be a sneakily good very cheap signing.
--Jed Lowrie, 31 -- This dude is this old already? Suffered a down year at the plate and went on the DL again in August. He's as reliably decent as anyone available, but the injury history mitigates his slight age advantage.
--John McDonald, 40 -- This man is 40 damn years-old. Leave this man alone.
--Hanley Ramirez, 31 -- You want 31-year-old Hanley Ramirez's bat in your lineup, you do not want 31-year-old Hanley Ramirez's glove at shortstop. This was also true when he was 27, but it's reached new levels.
So yeah, maybe you do want Alexei Ramirez. He is the best defender of the group. Deep-pocketed teams like the Yankees and Dodgers (if they see the same thing about Hanley) have reasons to be interested, and the Cardinals probably don't want to keep Jhonny Peralta at short for much longer.
As much as it seemed like he cooled off after April, Ramirez turned in another roughly league-average season at the plate, which in this era of shortstops also means he's coming off the best offensive season of anyone on this list save for Hanley, who defends like Alexei if he were trying to play through dueling MCL sprains. I could make an argument that Ramirez was the best shortstop available here if he were shopped, and while it would reek of bias, it would be a gentle enough scent for out of towners to muscle through. He should be enough to bring back a starter (whether a middle-to-back-end starting pitcher or a corner outfielder) along with a live relief arm with potential to contribute. If a replacement could slide in to short and be serviceable, that would be straight profit.
The White Sox have middle infield...depth. As in, there are a lot of people they can try out. Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien both got big league looks, Micah Johnson got significant time at Triple-A last season, Tyler Saladino is polished, if nothing else. Their best prospect, Tim Anderson, probably won't be ready to have any coffee this season. There's a lot of stuff to throw up against the wall, which protects some against the low odds of any of it sticking.
Having to fill in both up-the-middle positions stretches that bit, however. Sanchez and Semien both get plenty of 'utility man' labels slapped on them, and Johnson is kind of unvarnished tools at this point. One of them becoming a solid regular second baseman seems like a bet worth taking. Hoping two shake out and that one of them can be stretched into shortstop defense is a bigger risk, and just doesn't seem like the White Sox play.
--They intend to compete in 2015. While it should be thought of as the first year of a possible competitive window rather than a last chance, Ramirez + Free Agent is a likely a more known commodity than Semien/Sanchez/Saladino + Ramirez Trade Return.
--Ramirez just completed his seventh year with the club. He has been decent-to-great throughout and has two more affordable years (especially when 3 years/$40 million for J.J. Hardy is below-market) of team control. The Sox have not been in the habit of forcing guys like this out, especially not for prospects with high bust potential.
Between Sanchez's light bat, Semien's glove limitations and likely platoon splits (which would correspond well with Conor Gillaspie), keeping that entire group together, waiting to see if Johnson and Anderson turn into anything and using their spare cash to plug their other issues might read as a safer play.
The White Sox have a type, and it's a strongly defined one. I believe dealing Ramirez goes against it, but highly lucrative offers are what force teams out of type, and Ramirez should be enough to draw those out. Ramirez is not atrocious, which sets him apart from the rest of the shortstop field.
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