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The Cardinals should not pay a high price for a Shortstop

internal options aren't perfect, but should be cromulent

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

As you well know, the Cardinals' non-stop injury parade has continued on. After Molina had two thumb surgeries this off-season, and with Lance Lynn already lost for the upcoming season, Peralta last week had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, rendering him out until mid-season. Pretty much immediately, speculation began on whether the Cardinals would make a move for another Shortstop. As John pointed out when the news first broke, the last reputable shortstop left on the market, Ian Desmond, signed just a week earlier, for pennies of his actual worth to play out of position with the Rangers. Had Desmond held out longer this could have been a perfect match, but that chance has passed.

One of the more popular narratives is the Cards acquiring Erik Aybar from the Braves, who received Aybar from the Angels as part of the return for one of the best defensive shortstops since Ozzie himself, Andrelton Simmons. The Braves reportedly have a high asking price for Aybar though, and really, why shouldn't they? They are rebuilding of course, but they still need eight starters, and he is their best current option at the position. Of course, they do have 2015 #1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson who plays shortstop, and they acquired when they traded Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks, but they're probably not in a hurry to start his service time. They also get to wait from now to the deadline at the end of July to find a deal they want. On the other hand, if the Cardinals are going to acquire a new shortstop, it would make sense to acquire one before Opening day. Simply put, the Braves have all the leverage.

At the same time, Aybar isn't exactly a clear upgrade over the Cardinals internal options. Here's Fangraphs' current depth charts for Peralta, Aybar, and Jedd Gyorko:


Gyorko has his limitations (namely, that he ideally shouldn't be used as a shortstop), but he is still probably a better option at this point than Aybar, and the Cardinals already have Jedd in house. The WAR/600 column I added shows that according to the projections, the Cardinals would actually be downgraded by trading for Aybar and starting him over Gyorko. But the projections are just that. Let's revisit Gyorko's career, which started with getting called up early in 2013:


After a solid 2013 that earned him an early extension, Gyorko looked to be an average to above average contributor who could play the skilled infield positions. 2014 of course was a turn for the worse. In 2013, his .195 ISO was a big part of making him an above average hitter, and that fell off in 2014. Looking at his batted ball stats, this can be seen from his nearly 16% HR/FB rate in 2013 dropping to 9.5% the following season.

His HR/FB bounced back to 13.7% in 2015, and with that his ISO and overall numbers. He didn't quite get back to 2013 levels, but it was much better than his replacement level performance in 2014. He was also better in the second half, and while we shouldn't usually put much stock in second half improvements, he did manage to trim his GB% quite a bit from a first half of 44.9% down to 40.8%, leading to more batted balls in the air where they can do more damage, so perhaps he did make an important adjustment or two.

But, maybe you're just not crazy about Gyorko playing shortstop. Maybe you think he'll be a disaster. In his first 220 MLB innings at shortstop (which all came in 2015), he did indeed score a -17.5 UZR/150, meaning he was 17.5 runs worse than the average shortstop if his numbers were stretched over a full season. 220 innings is of course a very inadequate sample size, as defensive metrics need three years to stabilize, but that's all we got for shortstop specifically. Second base, where he's played most of his career, offers a much larger sample size, where he's been just below average among second-baseman (-1.1 UZR/150). Being that second-base and shortstop has a positional adjustment of +2.5 runs and +7.5 runs respectively, this would imply that Gyorko would only be about 6 runs worse than average at shortstop. This is just an average of players who have moved between shortstop and second-base though, and there's room for Gyorko to be worse at shortstop than his second-base numbers imply.

While Gyorko would clearly be a below average shortstop in the field, he'd also clearly profiles be an above average shortstop at the plate. Shortstops averaged an 85 wRC+ in 2015, so according to the projections, Gyorko would be nearly 15 points of wRC+ better than the average shortstop, which translates to roughly ten runs over a full season. So depending on exactly how bad Gyorko is at shortstop, he could still pull off a roughly average performance.

But, maybe you subscribe to the theory that you need to have strong up-the-middle defenders, and that the runs saved on defense by shortstops are more important than the runs good hitting shortstops add at the plate. I disagree with that premise, but it is an opinion shared by community members here. In which case, you're probably disgusted with the idea of Gyorko playing shortstop everyday, and are thinking more about Greg Garcia and Aledmys Diaz as the expected everyday shortstop, despite them not exactly being lauded for their shortstop ability. Because of their low projected PA totals and the effect of rounded numbers in the depth charts, we can't learn much about their overall value. But, we can use their Steamer600 (their steamer projection spread out over 600 PA) and their Zips projection, who's playing time projection isn't based on expected MLB role:


Both of the best public projections think that neither Diaz or Garcia are complete zero's, though as the projections have only minor league numbers to go on (and for Diaz, that isn't even all that much) there will be large error bars to go along with these projections. It is nice to have a second and third decent option behind Gyorko though, and the Cardinals would do well to get all three time to see who makes the most sense at short. I'm not sure how either projection system projects defense for players with little to no MLB career, so I imagine that should be taken with a grain of salt as well. The scouts' opinion on these two players defense should be considered more descriptive of their value at this point.

It is also might behoove the Cardinals to pick up an all-glove shortstop on the cheap, as someone to use as a defensive replacement in the late innings. This will help mitigate the damage done of having weak defensive shortstops in the lineup. Yep, the Cardinals finally rid themselves of the horrific bat of Pete Kozma, now they're in a position where it would be nice to have him back, provided Matheny could keep him in a limited role, which he actually handled pretty well in 2015. Said defensive specialist could also spell the other shortstop options when heavy ground-ball pitchers, such as Jaime Garcia start.

But that shouldn't cost all that much, and if it does, well it's probably not worth paying for. Mozeliak and company should be looking for bargains, someone to help hedge against the other three uncertain internal options the Cardinals already possess. They shouldn't be looking for someone that will take away from a farm already marginalized by promoting boatloads of talent over the last three to four years, just as a fix to a three month problem, when they already have three non-replacement level options that could all use MLB time to see what they have. Until Peralta comes back there will almost certainly be some frustrating moments, but it's not worth the reported trade-off.