With free agency looming, the Oakland A’s are suddenly facing a big concern at shortstop. The club had two very capable shortstops on the roster when the playoffs ended, but by trading Cliff Pennington and declining the $10 million mutual option on Stephen Drew, the A’s are now left to compete in the scramble for shortstops with other teams.
Coming off of an ankle injury, Drew started at short for Oakland during the season’s final months after the team acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks for little more than a song. However, the price on his option year proved to be too expensive for the A’s, hardly an unexpected turn of events.
Had Oakland not already traded Pennington to Arizona for Chris Young, the team would likely sit tight at shortstop, content to let Pennington play solid defense if not offense.
Without Pennington or Drew, the team now has no immediate options at short, at least not within the organization. Oakland fans probably continue to hope that prospect Grant Green could return to the shortstop position, but given that he had to switch to the outfield for defensive reasons in the minors, this seems like little more than wishful thinking.
Adam Rosales is the only player on the roster at the moment capable of handling the defensive responsibilities at short, but there is no way around the fact that he would be a terrible liability in the offense.
An even worse option would be Brandon Hicks, who proved in his limited time in the majors last season that he will struggle to handle the duties of a backup, let alone an everyday player.
No, Oakland must explore the market for shortstop in free agency, looking for a quality player to hold them over until Addison Russell is ready for the big leagues in a couple years.
Their hunt should start with Drew. There are not many shortstops in the free agent pool who stand out as quality starters. Drew is one of the few and the A’s will doubtless try to offer him a longer contract for less money than the $10 million his option would have given him. However, there are plenty of bigger market teams in need of a shortstop who might well overpay Drew just to have an above-average player in the fold.
If the A’s cannot negotiate a new deal with Drew, who else might they try to sign? Marco Scutaro jumps off the page as a possibility. Oakland is probably the closest thing Scutaro has ever had to a lasting home, sticking with the organization for four years. He might be willing to stay in the Bay Area and once again sign with the A’s.
Beyond Drew and Scutaro, the free agent market at short is highlighted by marginal talents such as Jason Bartlett. Clearly, this is a weak year for free agent shortstops, which opens up the possibility that the A’s attempt to shore up the situation via trade.
Where Oakland would turn to in a trade is anybody’s guess. Last season, general manager Billy Beane reportedly had a deal for Hanley Ramirez fall through at the last minute. While Ramirez is obviously no longer a possibility, perhaps the A’s would be willing to pursue a different big name shortstop. Though not exactly a household name, Yunel Escobar might also be an option as he was linked to Oakland in trade rumors last July.
At the end of the day, one has to believe that Beane was prepared for the current situation. Presumably, the A’s had already decided not to pick up Drew’s option when they traded Pennington. That means that they felt comfortable enough about their odds in signing one of the few quality free agents or acquiring a player via trade to enter the off-season without a starting shortstop.
Whatever happens, Oakland’s shortstop hunt should be interesting to watch.