Despite its perception as a weak middle infield position, there is significantly more quality and depth at shortstop than at second base. The best shortstop isn’t actually a shortstop anymore, but he leads a group of 10 players who would make fine, everyday starting shortstops for your fantasy team. (Note: Rankings are based on 5×5 Rotisserie scoring).
1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: He may technically be a third baseman, but he still qualifies at shortstop and he’s still the best. Playing his home games at Yankee Stadium instead of The Ballpark at Arlington will probably hurt his numbers, but he should still hit around .300 with 40-45 home runs and about 10 steals.
Batting third in New York’s impressive lineup will help him reach the 120 mark in both runs and RBIs. If you have the top pick in your draft, this is still the guy to take.
2. Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox: Garciaparra’s wrist injury, decline in numbers from his 1999 and 2000 seasons and 2003 September slump have some people worried, but there’s one thing you need to remember: he’s a shortstop who can hit .300-.310 with 25-30 home runs and 10-15 stolen bases.
It appears he’s going to bat fourth behind Manny Ramirez this season, so look for his RBI total to go up to around 125 and his runs to decrease to around 100.
3. Miguel Tejada, Orioles: Last season was considered an off year for Tejada, and he still hit .278 with 27 home runs and 106 RBIs. Moving from Oakland to Baltimore may not help his offense as much as you’d think (Camden Yards and Network Associates Coliseum have very similar index factors for right-handed hitters for both batting average and home runs), but he should still improve on last year’s numbers.
Expect him to hit .280-.285 with at least 30 home runs and 7-10 steals. He’ll also score at least 100 runs and knock in at least 115.
4. Edgar Renteria, Cardinals: Renteria was the third-best shortstop in fantasy baseball last year, after Rodriguez and just barely behind Garciaparra. He probably won’t hit .330 again, but he won’t be a complete drag on any category.
He should hit .305-.310 with 12-15 home runs and 25-30 steals. If he stays in the lower half of the lineup, which is the current plan, he’ll knock in 100-105 runs and score 90-95. If he moves up towards the top of the lineup, he could score 110-115 runs, but his RBI total would drop to 85-90.
5. Derek Jeter, Yankees: There were two problems with Jeter last season. First, he missed 43 games with a separated shoulder. Second, he didn’t steal bases like he used to once he returned. He swiped 11 bags, or one every 10.8 games, which is a big dropoff from his rate of one steal every 5.6 games for the previous three seasons.
Since he didn’t have surgery on his shoulder, it’s likely that the possibility of his shoulder popping out at any moment deterred him from attempting too many steals. That deterrent will still be there this season, and there’s no telling if he’ll be able to match last year’s .324 average.
Expect a .310-.315, 10-15 home runs and 10-15 steals. He’ll score a ton of runs (at least 125) with Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield hitting behind him and he should still reach 80-85 RBIs, but he’s a much bigger risk than any of the four shortstops ahead of him.
6. Rafael Furcal, Braves: You may not have noticed, but Furcal was one of just three players in the majors to score at least 130 runs last season (along with Todd Helton and Albert Pujols). Two of the guys who helped him cross the plate that many times (Sheffield and Javy Lopez) are gone, but he’ll still have three good hitters batting behind him.
He’s still approaching his prime and he’s improved each of the last two seasons, so there’s no reason to expect a drop in production from him. He should hit .285-.290 with 10-15 home runs and around 25 steals. The Atlanta lineup is still good enough for him to score 115 runs and he should drive in around 55.
7. Kazuo Matsui, Mets: It’s very difficult to project what guys like him will do in the major leagues, but a conservative estimate would probably be a .280 average, 15 home runs and 10 steals. If he puts up those numbers, he won’t be deserving of this spot, but he also has the potential to be quite a bit better.
If he can get on base at a 34-35 percent clip, he should be able to score 100 runs, and he’ll probably pick up 65-70 RBIs. It’s not likely that he’ll completely bomb, so he’s a nice low-risk, high-reward player.
8. Orlando Cabrera, Expos: Cabrera had a career year last season, and he’ll want to prove it wasn’t a fluke so that he can get a big payday when he escapes from Montreal at the end of the season. He probably won’t be quite as good as he was last year, but he shouldn’t decline too much either.
Expect a .290 average with around 15 home runs and 20 steals. He’ll probably score around 90 runs and drive in around 80, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’ll be playing 22 games in the bandbox that is Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico.
9. Jose Reyes, Mets: Reyes took the majors by storm with a .307 average, five home runs and 13 steals in 69 games before hurting his ankle last season. While his minor-league numbers don’t show somebody who’s ready to be a .300 hitter in the majors, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a valuable fantasy contributor.
Reyes stole 58 bases in 134 games in 2002 and 39 bases in 111 games last year and could challenge for the league lead in steals if he stays healthy. If you want to be conservative, expect a .280-.285 average with 30 steals, 6-8 home runs, 100 runs and 60 RBIs.
Even if he doesn’t quite match last year’s production, he should hit around .280 with at least 15 home runs and 15 steals. It looks like Berroa will be batting leadoff this year, which means he should score around 100 runs but might only knock in around 65.
11. Jose Valentin, White Sox: He gets overlooked every season because of what he can’t do, but you might be pleased with what you get if you just focus on what he can do. He can’t hit for a high average, but he can give you more power than all but three other shortstops and he can steal a few bases too.
Valentin has hit at least 25 home runs in four consecutive seasons, and there’s no reason to think he’ll miss that mark this season. He should hit around .245 with 25-28 homers, seven or eight steals, 75 runs and 80 RBIs.
He’ll hit .265-.270 with 10-12 home runs and 20-25 steals. Toss in 85-90 runs and 55-60 RBIs and he’s not bad for a shortstop. If he could get back to stealing 30 or 40 bases, he might even make the top 10.
13. Rich Aurilia, Mariners: Aurilia’s had one really good season, and the rest of his career he’s been pretty close to average. Moving from an NL pitcher’s park to an AL pitcher’s park shouldn’t hurt him, but he’ll no longer have the luxury of Barry Bonds hitting a spot or two behind him.
Aurilia’s not getting any younger, either, so don’t expect him to have another season close to hit 2001 campaign. He should hit around .270 with 15 home runs, 70 runs and 65 RBIs.
14. Alex Cintron, Diamondbacks: Cintron was very impressive last year, hitting .317 with 13 homers in 117 games. He probably won’t match that this year, but he could still hit .290-.295 with 10 home runs and a handful of steals, which would be pretty nice from a shortstop.
He’s expected to bat fifth this year, so he should put up 80-85 RBIs and score 65-70 runs. It also doesn’t hurt that he could qualify at third, and maybe even second, base depending on your league’s rules.
If he can keep his job, and the Twins haven’t given any indication that they think he needs to be replaced, he should hit around .270 with a handful of home runs and 15-20 steals. He’ll score around 90 runs if he bats at the top of the order all season, around 70 if he bats at the bottom all season and around 80 if he moves back and forth. Either way, he’ll drive in 50-55 runs.
16. Bobby Crosby, A’s: Crosby’s one of two AL rookies being asked to replace a departing All-Star, and his minor-league numbers indicate he’s got the ability to do it. After having a pretty good 2002 season, Crosby hit .308 with 22 home runs and 24 steals in 127 games at Triple-A last year.
His combination of skills should allow him to at least hit .260 with 15 home runs and 15 steals. The high side of his potential for this season is probably .280 with 20 home runs and 20 steals. He’d be ranked higher if not for the possibility of some rookie struggles that cost him playing time.
17. David Eckstein, Angels: He’s better than he was last year, but not as good as he was the year before. If he’s healthy, which he wasn’t last season, his production should be closer to what it was his rookie year than to what it was last year.
Expect an average around .270-.275, a handful of home runs, around 20 steals and 50 RBIs. If he hits leadoff, he could easily score 100 runs with the lineup he’ll have behind him.
I wouldn’t expect him to match those numbers, but there’s no reason he can’t hit .265-.270 with a dozen home runs and 10 steals. He probably won’t have a lot of runs or RBIs playing for the Devil Rays, though.
19. Carlos Guillen, Tigers: Guillen never did much fantasy-wise, and it’s not going to get any better playing in Detroit. He’s not a bad hitter, he just doesn’t fill in the fantasy categories the way you’d like.
He should hit .270 with fewer than 10 home runs and a handful of steals, which means he could be a decent backup at best. He’s definitely not a starter, especially if his runs and RBI totals take a hit from playing in Detroit.
Assuming the Cubs don’t trade for a better starting shortstop or something, he should hit .240-.250 with 17-20 home runs, a handful of steals, 70-75 runs and 60-65 RBI.