For the second year in a row, shortstop prices in the CBS A.L.-only Analyst League were somewhat depressed compared to prices at other positions. Despite the fact that five A.L. shortstops earned $20 or more in 2011, only three cracked that barrier in last week's auction. Whether it is the demands of the position, or the reluctance to pay full freight for speed, owners were once again conservative at the position.
THE SOFT TOP-TIER
Elvis Andrus $25, Asdrubal Cabrera $22, Alexei Ramirez $21
For the second year in a row, Andrus was the most expensive A.L. shortstop. He tied Asdrubal Cabrera in earnings ($26), but I think the four-category potential and the strong line-up (more runs/RBI) favor Andrus this year. I don't think the power will ever amount to more than 10-15 HR at his peak, but Andrus will probably be a steady $23-28 earner for years to come. Cabrera slipped a little on price, though not as much as I might have expected. The expectation is that the power will drop, but it shouldn't drop that much, and 15 HR/20 SB is still going to put Cabrera into or near this territory. Ramirez is a steady category performer, but this price is probably a bit of a reach. I don't mind paying for consistency, but Ramirez is more consistently above average than consistently good.
HIGH TEENS WITH LITTLE UPSIDE (SOUNDS LIKE A WEIRD AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL)
Erick Aybar $19, J.J. Hardy $18, Derek Jeter $18
I like Aybar, but at this price there is little if any upside. The power is unlikely to move past 10-12 HR, and while it's good that he's finally running like he did in the minors, a spike to 40-50 steals is unlikely. The boost here could come with Albert Pujols and the Angels improved line-up providing more runs/RBI. Hardy's 30 HR power is probably real. The problem is that even with 30 HR, Hardy was a $20 player last year. This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in Roto: power hitters who don't also provide value elsewhere are never going earn big Roto bucks. I'm OK paying this, but I wouldn't go much higher. Jeter's numbers seem uninspiring, but he earned $22 last year. I'm repeating my comment from last year. Jeter's at the age where he's going to fall off the table sooner rather than later, but as long as he can simply step onto the field, $15 is his floor. It's OK to pay a couple of extra bucks for his durability/consistency.
Yunel Escobar $15, Jhonny Peralta $15, Alcides Escobar $12, Cliff Pennington $10
Yunel did nothing particularly great but still managed to earn $17 last year. The lack of big time power or double digit speed give Yunel limited upside; this is about as high as I'd go here even if he has the ability to earn more. Peralta earned $22 in 2011, but a .275 batting average is a more realistic expectation for him than the .299 he hit last year. This price is a slight bargain, but a repeat seems unlikely given his history. Alcides and Pennington both have their warts but could both be bargains at these prices. Those 26 steals pushed Alcides to a $16 season in 2011. While he might not have much room for improvement, he makes enough contact where he could improve his average by simply utilizing his speed better as a batter. If Alcides can continue to improve his hitting, you'll love this price. Pennington seems like a bland option, but he followed up a $17 season in 2010 with a $15 campaign last year. Just like with Aybar, I wouldn't expect any growth, but it's fairly safe to expect another year in the ballpark of $12-$15 for Pennington in 2012.
Sean Rodriguez $9, Eduardo Nunez $7, Brendan Ryan $7, Trevor Plouffe $6, Yuniesky Betancourt $1.
Rodriguez's 29 HR campaign at AAA way back in 2009 is starting to look more and more like a PCL power mirage. The batting average isn't good either, so while he should get a good chunk of starts for the Rays at SS to start the season, he might not stay the starter if he keeps performing at this uninspiring level. Nunez's price shocked me at first, but I think I get the plan. Alex Rodriguez and Jeter are old and will probably cycle into the DH slot on days where Raul Ibanez doesn't play, which could make Nunez a candidate for 60-70 starts and 25-30 steals. I don't like paying this much for back-ups, though, particularly when the Yankees have zero incentive to bench A-Rod or Jeter regardless of how they're performing. Ryan's another buy I don't like. Yes, he earned $10 last year, but he has little power, doesn't have big time speed and is a poor BA guy. I'll repeat what I said under the second basemen. Pay $3-4 for a guy like Ryan, hope for profit, and cope if he only earns $5 or falls off of the map entirely. Plouffe is like Nunez: a back-up where I'm assuming the hope is lots of playing time as a utility guy over weak options Alexi Casilla and Jamey Carroll. I have a hard time envisioning Plouffe as more than a utility type, and I don't like paying utility types more than $2-3. Betancourt at a $1 is a much better option than any of these guys. No, he won't supplant Escobar, but he could hit 6-8 HR off of the bench on the cheap. For your third A.L.-only middle infielder, that's not half bad.