Hanley Ramirez is far above all other competition in the shortstop category. Troy Tulowitzki is the only other shortstop that should go in the first round. After these two, the competition falls back on some solid veterans and guys like Marco Scutaro, Jason Bartlett, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Erick Aybar who are looking to prove that 2009 wasn’t just a fluke.
- Hanley Ramirez FLA- Hanley played in 150 games for the 4th consecutive year and had a .400 OBP for the 2nd consecutive year. He’s an all-around player who got to 100 RBIs for the first time in ’09 as he thrived in the 3 spot of the lineup.
- Troy Tulowitzki COL- Besides Hanley, Tulo may be the only shortstop to have 100 runs and 100 RBIs in 2010. Tulowitzki had a career high 32 homers last season along with career highs in triples and steals.
- Derek Jeter NYY- This guy is the model of consistency as he continues to put up All-Star numbers. If he can play like last season (107 runs, 18 HR, 30 steals, .406 OBP, etc.), he could be more valuable to fantasy owners than Tulowitzki. Also, Jeter is playing in a contract year which could motivate him even more.
In the running: Rafael Furcal LAD, Yunel Escobar ATL, Jason Bartlett TB
- J.J. Hardy MIN- After being demoted to AAA by the Brewers last season, Hardy enters 2010 with something to prove. Hardy also moves into a great lineup which will benefit his run production. Hardy has the ability to hit 25 home runs.
- Alexei Ramirez CHW- Alexei had a down year after very rough start to ’09. He eventually came out of that slump but his power numbers were way down from his rookie year. The good news is that he still increased his OBP and is being mentored by Omar Vizquel this spring.
- Elvis Andrus TEX- Andrus won the 2009 AL ROY honors after playing a steady shortstop in Texas. His numbers weren’t astounding but they were better than expected. Andrus is worth taking a chance on with a late pick as his speed leads to runs and steals.
- Jose Reyes NYM- Reyes was recently sent back to New York to have a possible thyroid condition checked out. He is also coming back from leg injuries. Reyes’ needs to prove his health before fantasy owners should risk an early pick on him.
- Ryan Theriot CHC- Theriot is consistent (but not great) as far as batting average, runs, and steals. Fantasy owners should not expect a repeat of his power numbers from 2009. Theriot’s production could be hindered by a transition to second base if shortstop prospect Starlin Castro proves to be Major League ready early in the season.
- Edgar Renteria SF- Renteria displayed rather steady production between 1999 and 2007 before taking a step backwards in 2008 and hitting a wall in 2009. In 460 at-bats in ’09, Renteria only managed 5 HR and a career-low .250 AVG.
One bright-spot of the Chicago Cubs last year was the stride of improvement their ’09 class of prospects made.
Pitcher Randy Wells was discussed as a National League ROY candidate while Jake Fox played five positions and banged 11 home runs. Angel Guzman was healthy for a full year and and posted a 2.95 ERA in 55 outings. There were also some part-time players who contributed big-time. Esmailin Caridad appeared in 14 games, struck out 17, and walked only 3 en route to a 1.40 ERA. Justin Berg found similar success in 11 outings, only allowing one run. Backup outfielder Sam Fuld and reserve infielder Andres Blanco provided exceptional defense and reasonable offense.
Now to Jim Hendry all of this is just fine and dandy but it doesn’t matter. After a couple division titles and two disappointing trips to the NLDS, Hendry is on the hot seat. The window may be slim. Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly are entering the final years of their contracts. Meanwhile, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano aren’t getting any younger…
These factors raise the question: Why not continue getting younger? The bullpen is already almost all products of the organization’s farm system. It consists of mainly pre-arbitration arms, providing the team with some financial security and still the possibility of a future. The rotation will have openings after this year which top prospects Jay Jackson, Andrew Cashner, and even ‘the other’ Chris Carpenter should have opportunities to fill.
The offense has an opening in center with the plans to move Kosuke Fukudome back right after the imminent Milton Bradley disposal. Instead of replacing Bradley with a high-priced center fielder (Curtis Granderson, Vernon Wells, Aaron Rowand, etc.), I would plan on leaving the spot open for an internal replacement. Tyler Colvin made his debut last season and is a lefty gap hitter who plays center. He hit very well at AA. Kyler Burke is another top outfield prospect but he is only 21 and still a few years away.
As for the middle of the infield, Starlin Castro is the young phenom rising fast in the club’s inner circles. Still only 19, Castro will not break camp with the big league club this spring. But that’s not necessary. Leave him at AAA to get some more seasoning and let Jeff Baker hang onto the starting gig which he earned last summer. If Castro can prove himself in Iowa and the right situation arises, a promotion is likely as Ryan Theriot has already agreed to moving to second base if it would help the team.
Going along with these moves will be tough for a GM under fire and a manager in the last year of his illustrious career, but will set up the Cubs for a financially functional future. The Ricketts have big plans for Wrigley so saving money when possible would be nice. Instead of the huge free agent/trade targets, the Cubs need to pursue a right handed outfielder to split time with Colvin in center and share the load with Kosuke against tough lefties. If Marlon Byrd’s value really does drop as far as some say it will, he would be a perfect fit as would guys like Randy Winn, Coco Crisp, and Reed Johnson. Otherwise, acquiring this outfielder as part of the return for Milton Bradley makes sense with such possibilities as Gary Matthews Jr. and Nick Swisher. The other spot Hendry needs to focus on is the rotation because it sounds like Ted Lilly will miss extended time next year.
I don’t predict this to be a huge off-season for the Cubbies, but I also don’t think they need huge changes. Saving some money now may give them the flexibility to add payroll in a couple winters when the free agent class will offer better values.