We're a long way from the days of the Rodriguez/Nomar/Jeter/Tejada days at shorstop, where offense was the primary focus of the position and defense took a bit of a back seat. In 2013, defense is becoming the main factor teams look for when choosing a shortstop, and as a result, the overall state of the position is a bit different than it was a few years ago. Hell, only eight starting shortstops in 2012 had a wRC+ above 100. This list is probably going to create a lot of friction, but we'll see what happens.
Remember: this list (and all of the lists we'll be rolling out this week) reflect the order I'd prefer to have the players for the 2013 season. I don't care about 2016, I don't care about 2010, I care about 2013. Got it? Good.
10. JJ Hardy, Orioles
Hardy had a great 2011 with Baltimore, but his numbers took a huge hit in 2012, with a 100 point drop in slugging being the biggest blight on his performance. Despite logging 146 more plate appearances in 2012 than in 2011, Hardy hit eight fewer homers, due largely in part to a shift in his ground ball and fly ball rates back towards his career marks. Despite that though, Hardy is still an excellent defender with good pop, one of only four shortstops to homer 20 times in 2012.
9. Derek Jeter, Yankees
Jeter would probably be higher on this list if it weren't for that pesky broken ankle that he suffered in the ALCS against the Tigers. Before the injury, Jeter was enjoying his best season since his MVP caliber 2009. While there are many, many flaws about Jeter, he was a capable starting shortstop last season, even if he wasn't the prime Jeter. But his range (which is already diminished) will likely take an even bigger hit in 2013 after the ankle injury, and he could be absolutely brutal this year…or he could be fine. Who knows?
8. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
When healthy, Tulowitzki is a franchise player, one of the best in the league. The problem is that he's never healthy, recording 600 plate appearances just three times in his six year career. When Tulowitzki is on, he is *on*, a six win player with 30 homer pop and 20 steal speed. When he's off…well, look at 2008. The Rockies are committed to him for the long haul, and they really need to get him a plastic bubble of some sort to keep him healthy. If Tulowitzki has a year in 2013 like he did in 2010 or 2011, he's probably at the top of this list next offseason.
7. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Cabrera has slowly transformed himself into a very good offensive shortstop after showing no power early on in his career. In 2009, Cabrera homered just six times, but smashed 42 doubles, indicating that he could turn into a 20 homer guy with a little bit of luck. Sure enough, after a lost 2010, Cabrera homered 25 times while adding 32 doubles in 2011, becoming one of the top hitting shortstops in the league. He doubled 35 more times in 2012 while homering 16 times, and while he ran much less, he's still a dangerous offensive weapon for the Indians. He's traded some of his patience at the plate for power though, and while that 11.0% walk rate from 2008 would go great with his .187 ISO from 2011, I'm sure the Indians are satisfied with his 8.4% walk rate and .153 ISO from 2012.
6. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
After a lost 2011 due to several injuries, the Marlins shifted Ramirez to third base for the 2012 season. He continued to struggle and was dealt to the Dodgers, who moved him back to shortstop and saw his production tick up a little bit. Despite having another down year in 2012, Ramirez still had a 20/20 season, his fifth in the last six years. Ramirez is in the same boat as his teammate Adrian Gonzalez: he's coming off of a bad season, and can easily jump up several spots on this list if he has a statement year in 2013. I can't reasonably go any higher with Ramirez after his last two years, but everyone knows the talent is still there. Maybe getting out of the baseball cesspool that is Miami will help him going forward.
5. Starlin Castro, Cubs
It's hard to believe that Castro is going to be 23 in March, and that he'll be entering his fourth season in the majors. The Cubs were very aggressive with their young star, throwing him into the deep end, and Castro (to his credit) has played rather well. He's increased his power output in each of his three seasons in the majors, and could have a shot at hitting 20 homers this year. While I think that somewhere in the area of 15 homers is a more realistic example of what to expect from Castro going forth, 15 homers with 200 hits from a shortstop makes an excellent player. For the record, Derek Jeter has done that six times over his career, with the first such season coming in 1998, a season Jeter started at 23 years old. Hmmm…..
4. Elvis Andrus, Rangers
The bat has never come around with Andrus, which hurts his overall value. But he's so good defensively that an OPS hovering around .700 is good enough to make him one of the best shortstops in the league. But even though his power is essentially nonexistent, Andrus still manages to walk at a clip between 8 and 9%, allowing him to use his speed to swipe 30 bags a year. Andrus is the prototype of the new age of shortstop, and a guy who teams are looking at to craft their new shortstop of the future.
3. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
Despite playing the season as a 33-year old, Rollins had his best year since 2008 in 2012. His 23 homers were the most he's had in a season since his MVP-winning year of 2007, and he stole 30 bases for the eighth time in the last nine years. 2012 was a renaissance year for Rollins, and he responded in a big way after being written off by many (myself included) after back to back disappointing years heading into free agenct last winter.
2. Ian Desmond, Nationals
After looking like a replacement level guy in the first two years of his career, Desmond's power erupted in 2012, and he became a five win player. Now, I'm not sure that he'll hit 25 homers again in 2013 thanks to his 18.3% HR/FB in 2012, but 20 is definitely within reason. Those 20 homers, along with a .280-.290 batting average and 20 steals at an 80% clip, make a pretty elite shortstop.
1. Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
Reyes got a lot of flak for his 2012 with the Marlins, but it was still a 4.5 fWAR year with 40 steals. The toxic Miami environment probably effected him in the same way it did Ramirez, and throwing him in a hitters park in Toronto could shift his numbers off the charts. It's funny, though. Even with a .298 BABIP, Reyes' lowest since 2005, he still had a .780 OPS and a .287 batting average. Perhaps more importantly is that Reyes was healthy in 2012, playing 160 games. He hasn't been that healthy since 2008. Even as a below average defender, Reyes' track record gives him the leg up on the rest of the shortstops across the league going into 2013, despite a disappointing (by lofty standards) 2013 season.