The shortstop position has taken some hits the last few years, but there’s still quite a bit of talent here. Let’s take a look at the rankings. (Note: Rankings based on 5×5 Rotisserie scoring.)
1. Miguel Tejada, Orioles: This is about as big a no-brainer as putting A-Rod first used to be. Tejada has hit at least 27 homers in five straight seasons, and at least 30 in four of them. He’s hit at least .300 two of the last three seasons, and he’s knocked in at least 100 five years in a row while scoring at least 98 in each of them as well.
This year, I’d expect Tejada to hit .290-.300 with 30-35 homers, 5-10 steals, 100-110 runs and 120-125 RBIs. No other shortstop has that much potential combined with as little risk as Tejada, who hasn’t missed a game in four years, carries with him.
2. Derek Jeter, Yankees: I never would have thought I’d be ranking Jeter here when he was hitting .189 late in May. But he recovered to finish the season hitting .292 with 23 homers, 23 steals, 111 runs and 78 RBIs.
Jeter’s been around forever, but he’s only 30 years old, and there’s no reason to think he’s going to decline a lot this season. He’ll probably hit .300-.310 with 17-20 homers, 20-25 steals, 110-120 runs and 70-80 RBIs.
3. Michael Young, Rangers: Young proved that his performance in 2003 (.306 average, 14 homers, 13 steals, 106 runs, 72 RBIs) wasn’t a fluke by hitting .313 with 22 homers, 12 steals, 114 runs and 99 RBIs last year. He even showed some improvement in his strike zone judgment, which is nice to see.
Young’s 28 years old, and he seems like a good bet to keep producing. I think he’ll hit .300-.310 with 17-22 homers, 10-15 steals, 100-110 runs and 80-90 RBIs.
4. Nomar Garciaparra, Cubs: Garciaparra’s never going to get back to the level he played at in 1998 and 1999, but he’s still a heck of a hitter. When he’s healthy, he hits at least .300, has power, has some speed and scores and drives in runs. The problem is the “when he’s healthy” part.
Garciaparra only played 81 games last year, the second time in the last four years he’s missed more than half the season with a serious injury. He’s also 31 years old now, so the injury concerns aren’t likely to lessen. He’s looked great in Spring Training, however, and if he plays 140 games, he should hit .310-.315 with 20-25 homers, 8-12 steals, 85-90 runs and 90-100 RBIs.
5. Edgar Renteria, Cardinals: He was only about the eighth-best fantasy shortstop last year, but while he probably won’t get back to the numbers he put up in 2003 (.330 average, 13 homers, 34 steals, 96 runs and 100 RBIs), he should improve on last year’s production (.287-10-17-84-72).
Renteria’s still only 29 years old, and I think he’ll bounce back to about .290-.300 with 10-15 homers, 20-25 steals, 100-110 runs (he’ll be batting second in a lineup that should score about 950 runs) and 70-80 RBIs.
6. Rafael Furcal, Braves: Furcal is what he is at this point. He’s stolen 22-29 bases each of the last four years, and he’s gotten his power up to where he can hit 15 or so homers. He’s still only 27 years old, so it’s possible that he could make further strides in his game this season.
The biggest question about Furcal is where his batting average will fall. In two of his five seasons, he’s hit .290-.295 and in the other three, he’s hit .275-.280. Obviously, he’s a lot more valuable if he can hit closer to .300. My guess is that Furcal will hit .280-.290 with 12-15 homers, 25-30 steals, 110-120 runs and 55-60 RBIs.
7. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies: After struggling at the plate in 2002 and 2003, Rollins set or tied his career high in almost every offensive category last year. He’s only 26 now, so an improvement makes sense considering his age, but I have trouble thinking he’s going to hit quite that well again.
Rollins could certainly outproduce Renteria or Furcal, but I think they’re better bets than he is. I see Rollins hitting .275-.280 with 10-15 homers, 25-30 steals, 100-110 runs and 65-70 RBIs. He’ll still be good, just not quite as good as last year.
8. Carlos Guillen, Tigers: If there’s a candidate for a decline anywhere in the major leagues, it’s Guillen. It’s not that I think he’ll be bad this year, it’s that last year’s numbers were so far ahead of what he had been doing that it’s hard to see him matching them. He hit 20 homers and stole 12 bases last year, after hitting 21 homers and stealing 12 bases in the previous three seasons combined.
He also hit .318 last year, despite not having hit better than .276 in a full season before that. If he can do it again this year, I’ll be shocked. I think it’s more likely that he’ll hit .280-.290 with 10-15 homers, 8-10 steals, 80-90 runs and 75-80 RBIs.
9. Bobby Crosby, A’s: Crosby struggled at times last year and finished the season hitting just .239, but he did show off his power with 22 homers. He’s only 25 years old, so I’d expect him to keep getting better, with similar power and a better average this year.
Crosby could probably steal more than last year’s seven bases, as he stole 24 in AAA in 2003. I’d expect Crosby to hit .250-.260 with 20-25 homers, 10-15 steals, 75-80 runs and 75-80 RBIs.
10. Orlando Cabrera, Angels: Cabrera can do everything pretty well, but he doesn’t do anything really well. He struggled last year until the trade to Boston, where he hit .294 with six homers, four steals, 33 runs and 31 RBIs in 58 games.
I don’t think he’ll hit for quite that high an average this year, but he should hit better than the .246 average he had before the trade. I’d say Cabrera will hit .275-.280 with 10-15 homers, 15-20 steals, 65-70 runs and 70-80 RBIs.
11. Julio Lugo, Devil Rays: Lugo gets a lot less respect for his abilities than Cabrera, but he’s a pretty similar player fantasy-wise. Neither of them is going to hit for a really high average, and they both are capable of hitting for decent power and stealing 20 bases.
Lugo only hit seven homers last year, but he hit 15 in 2003 and he had 21 steals last year. This year, I think he’ll hit .270-.280 with 10-15 homers, 15-20 steals, 75-80 runs and 55-60 RBIs.
12. Khalil Greene, Padres: While it wasn’t great for fantasy purposes, Greene’s production last year impressed me. He hit .273 with 15 homers, 67 runs and 65 RBIs, which is better than I thought he’d do. At 25 years old, he should keep getting better.
I don’t know that he’ll improve the power much, but I think the average will go up at least a little, as will the run production. I’d say he’ll hit .275-.285 with 15-18 homers, a handful of steals, 70-75 runs and 70-75 RBIs.
13. Cesar Izturis, Dodgers: Izturis is another player who came out of nowhere to have a really solid season last year, hitting .288 with 25 steals and 90 runs after hitting .251 with 10 steals in 2003 and .232 with seven steals in 2002. Unlike Guillen, however, Izturis is still a young player (25) who had been improving.
I don’t think he’ll quite be able to match last year’s numbers, but I do think Izturis is a better hitter than he showed in his first two seasons. He’ll probably hit .270-.275 with a few homers, 20-25 steals, 80-85 runs and 40-50 RBIs.
14. Pedro Feliz, Giants: Feliz finally played regularly last year, getting into 144 games all over the field, and he capitalized by hitting .276 with 22 homers and 84 RBIs. He should see regular playing time again this year, and while I don’t know if he can hit that high again (he hit 247 in 2003 and .253 in 2002), his power is real.
This year, I’d expect Feliz to hit .260-.265 with 18-20 homers, 70-75 runs and 80-85 RBIs. If he doesn’t qualify at shortstop in your league (he played 19 games there), then he’s less attractive as a third baseman, but still useful.
15. Jack Wilson, Pirates: Yet another shortstop who greatly improved his production, Wilson hit .308 last year after hitting .252 and .256 the previous two seasons. I’m willing to bet that he won’t hit better than .300 again, but I’m willing to concede that he probably won’t drop all the way back into the .250s either.
His batting average aside, Wilson doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table, so he’s somebody you should be looking at in a backup role only unless you’re in a pretty deep league. He’ll probably hit .270-.280 with 8-12 homers, half a dozen or so steals, 70-80 runs and 50-55 RBIs.
16. Angel Berroa, Royals: Berroa hit .287 with 17 homers, 21 steals, 92 runs and 73 RBIs as a rookie, and then completely disappeared last year. He only hit .262 with eight homers, 14 steals, 72 runs and 43 RBIs.
I don’t really know what to expect from Berroa, but the fact that he’s already had a 15-15 season makes him interesting. I’d guess that he’ll hit .270-.275 with 10-15 homers, 15-20 steals, 70-80 runs and 50-55 RBIs.
17. David Eckstein, Cardinals: Eckstein was better last year than in 2003, but not as good as his first two seasons. He hit .276 with 16 steals and 92 runs, along with his typical lack of power and RBIs. He got cut in the offseason, and he ended up as the leadoff hitter for the team with the best set of 2-5 hitters baseball.
Eckstein will probably hit .275-.280 with 15-20 steals, a few homers and 40-45 RBIs, and playing for St. Louis will allow him to score 100-110 runs.
18. Omar Vizquel, Indians: Vizquel hit .291 with seven homers, 19 steals, 82 runs and 59 RBIs last year, and it seems likely that it was something of a swan song for him. He turns 28 years old in April and only hit .244 in 2003.
Playing in San Francisco’s pitcher’s park probably won’t help things, but he would have been a candidate for decline anywhere. He’ll likely end up hitting .270-.275 with a handful of homers, 10-15 steals, 70-75 runs and 40-45 RBIs.
19. Alex Gonzalez, Marlins: Gonzalez doesn’t hit for a good (or even decent) average, but he does have power, with 41 homers in the last two seasons. If you can deal with the sub par average, he’s a fine player to have around for some extra pop.
He’s only 28 years old, so he’s right in the prime of his career and could conceivably improve a bit. My expectations for him are a .240-.250 average, 15-20 homers, a few steals, 55-60 runs and 65-70 RBIs.
20. Jose Valentin, Dodgers: If Gonzalez is a tradeoff of average for power, then Valentin is just a more extreme version. He’s hit at least 25 homers in five consecutive seasons, but his average has steadily declined over those five seasons from .273 to .258 to .249 to .237 to .216.
Now he’s 35 years old and he’s playing in Dodger Stadium, which won’t help that average. He might only hit .215-.220, but he should hit at least 20-25 homers, steal 6-8 bases, score 65-70 runs and drive in 70-80 runs.