Fantasy Keepers: Shortstops

Continuing on with my series of keeper rankings by position, it’s time to look at the shortstops. Without further ado, here are the rankings.

1. Miguel Tejada, Orioles: A few years ago, Tejada wasn’t quite good enough to be grouped along with the Holy Trinity of AL shortstops. Now, thanks to his own improvement and position changes and injuries for some of the former Trinity, he’s at the top of the list. Tejada just had the best season of his career, both for fantasy purposes and otherwise, by hitting .311 with 34 homers, 107 runs and 150 RBIs.

Obviously, you can’t really expect him to reach that RBI total consistently, but he’s still only 28 years old and there’s no reason he can’t continue to put up impressive numbers offensively for at least the next three or four years. I would expect him to hit around .300 with 30-35 homers, a handful of steals, at least 100 runs and 115-125 RBIs. The really nice thing about him is his durability, as he hasn’t missed a game the last four seasons.

2. Derek Jeter, Yankees: Back in May, when Jeter was struggling to get his batting average above the .200 mark, I never would have thought I’d be putting him here on this list. Yet here we are. Jeter came on very strong the last four months of the season and finished with pretty good fantasy numbers, hitting .292 with 23 homers, 23 steals, 111 runs and 78 RBIs.

I thought Jeter was starting to decline a couple years ago, but he was really good last year when healthy and he was really good this year for the last four months. He’s 30 years old, but I can see him hitting better than .300 with 15-20 homers, 20-25 steals, 110-120 runs and 70-80 RBIs for at least a few more seasons.

3. Michael Young, Rangers: In his third full season, Young continued to progress and showed that he probably is a pretty good hitter after all. He was a bad hitter his first full season, a decent hitter last year and a very nice hitter this year with a .313 average, 22 homers, 12 steals, 114 runs and 99 RBIs. Young doesn’t walk much, but he’s striking out less and his IsoP and SecA have improved each full season.

Young just turned 28 year old, so he should still be at or near his prime for the next two or three seasons. I’m not sure if he’ll continue to get better, maintain this year’s production or slip back toward last year’s production, but I know he’s one of the better bets at this position. He’s shown the ability to hit for average and some power, to steal bases and to both score and drive in runs. That kind of production across the board is hard to find in a shortstop.

4. Edgar Renteria, Free Agent: Renteria’s had a bit of an up-and-down career and this season was more down than up as he hit .287 with 10 homers, 17 steals, 84 runs and 72 RBIs. Renteria’s actually only had two seasons that were significantly better than this year, but they were the last two seasons, so it seemed he had gained some consistency.

He didn’t hit nearly as well as last year (when he hit .330/.394/.480), but maybe the biggest problem for fantasy owners is that his stolen base total was cut in half. I think Renteria just had a bit of an off-year and will bounce back next year in his age 29 season. I’d expect him to hit around .300 again, with 10-15 homers and 25-30 steals. His run and RBI totals will depend on what team he signs with and where he hits in the lineup, but I’d expect him to get at least 160-170 runs and RBIs combined.

5. Nomar Garciaparra, Free Agent: Garciaparra will never again be the player he was in 1999 and 2000 and he is certainly an injury risk. However, when he has been able to play, he’s still produced the last three years, hitting .306 with 61 homers, 28 steals, 273 runs and 266 RBIs in 393 games. That’s pretty darn good production for a shortstop.

Garciaparra is 31 years old and he’s missed significant playing time in two of the last four seasons, but if he can play 140 games, he can still hit .300-.310 with 25-30 homers, 5-10 steals, 100 runs and 110 RBIs. That production would make him one of the top two or three fantasy shortstops, which is a much higher ceiling than any other shortstop I’m going to mention has.

6. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies: After a solid rookie season, Rollins regressed over the next two seasons to the point where his steals (which were declining from 46 to 31 to 20) couldn’t make up for the fact that he wasn’t bringing anything to the table in any other category. This year, however, Rollins put everything together and progressed to the level people might have imagined after that rookie season, hitting .289 with 14 homers, 30 steals, 119 runs and 73 RBIs.

Not only is Rollins coming off a very nice season for a shortstop, he just turned 26 years old at the end of November. His best years should still be ahead of him, and there’s no reason he can’t hit .280-.290 with 10-15 homers, 30-40 steals, 100-115 runs and 60-75 RBIs for the next several seasons. If he can keep up that production level, this ranking may actually prove to be a little bit low.

7. Rafael Furcal, Braves: In the four seasons in which Furcal’s been able to play the majority of the season, he’s been anywhere from a good to great fantasy shortstop. This year, he was good, hitting .279 with 14 homers, 29 steals, 103 runs and 59 RBIs. He doesn’t seem likely to steal 40 bases again as he did in his rookie year, but he seems to have added some power since then to help offset the loss of steals.

Furcal’s only 26 years old still, and he’s been fairly consistent over his career. He’s proven that he can hit at least .275 with 10-15 homers, 25-30 steals, about 100 runs and about 60 RBIs. If he keeps putting those numbers up over the next three or four (or more) seasons, you’ll likely be getting your money’s worth from a keeper at shortstop.

8. Carlos Guillen, Tigers: After four seasons of being a mediocre at best player who had trouble staying healthy with the Mariners, Guillen was traded to Detroit before this season. As you probably know, he responded by turning in one of the most surprising seasons in some time, hitting .318 with 20 homers, 12 steals, 97 runs and 97 RBIs.

To put that in perspective, his highest average over the previous four seasons was .276, his home run total from the previous three seasons combined was 21, his stolen base total over the previous three seasons combined was 12, his highest run total from the previous four seasons was 73 and his highest RBI total from the previous four seasons was 56. So, this performance from Guillen came completely out of nowhere.

Still, even if this was a career year, I don’t expect Guillen to completely regress back to where he was in Seattle. He’s 29 years old and for at least the next two or three years, I’d expect him to be able to hit .290-.300 with 10-15 homers, 5-10 steals, 80-90 runs and 80-90 RBIs. It’s possible that he’ll fall a little short of those ranges or go a little over those ranges, but the point is that I expect him to be a definite fantasy starter at the shortstop position for a few more years.

9. Juan Uribe, White Sox: In my midseason fantasy rankings, I left Uribe off the lists for all three positions (2B, 3B, SS) at which he qualifies because he was starting to slump badly from his hot start and I didn’t think he’d be able to finish the season strong. I was wrong. After hitting .123/.190/.228 in July, he hit .289/.305/.579 in August and .353/.371/.635 in September. He ended the year hitting .283 with 23 homers, nine steals, 82 runs and 74 RBIs for a solid fantasy season.

After four seasons in the majors, Uribe is still only 25 years old. He underperformed badly in Colorado and he still did some things that worried me in Chicago (he only walked 32 times and he was caught stealing 55 percent of the time), but he clearly has some offensive ability. Another problem is that he might not play shortstop or even play full-time, depending on what the White Sox do this off-season. Still, if he plays and continues to progress a little, he could easily hit .290 with 25-30 homers, 10-15 steals, 90-100 runs and 90-100 RBIs. I don’t think he will, but the fact that it’s a possibility earns him a spot on this list.

10. Bobby Crosby, A’s: Crosby wasn’t as good as I thought he would be this season, as he hit just .239 with 22 homers, seven steals, 70 runs and 64 RBIs. However, I don’t really love the future fantasy potential for Cesar Izturis, Jack Wilson and Julio Lugo and I can’t yet advocate B.J. Upton, which leaves Crosby and Khalil Greene. I’m going with Crosby because I think he just has a little higher ceiling.

I think Crosby will definitely improve on his rookie season next season and continue to get better after that. He should hit at least .250 and probably .260-.270 and he could hit 25 homers and steal 10-15 bases while scoring 75-80 runs and driving in 70-75, and I think he might evolve into a .280, 30-homer, 15-steal player. Greene could certainly top Crosby, but I think if he does it will be because he holds steady and Crosby doesn’t improve the way I think he will.

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