Last week, Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin officially kicked off the club’s 2011-2012 offseason by declining now former shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt’s 2012 club option.
While the move was largely anticipated by Brewers fans to no end, Melvin must now probe the free-agent market for a replacement. Betancourt, who amassed 13 HR, 68 RBI and a .252 BA last season, proved to be more of an inconvenience than a productive shortstop last season, and should be replaced in a timely fashion this winter.
Here are five free-agent shortstops Melvin and the Brewers will target this offseason.
Reports show that the Astros are interested in bringing back the 32-year-old Barmes for a second go-around with the club in 2012, but all indications say they probably won’t have the money to re-sign him.
Despite missing essentially the entire month of April, Barmes batted .242 with 12 HR and 39 RBI last season, and also maintained the ninth-best fielding percentage (.978) among all MLB shortstops. Excluding Jose Reyes, there’s no disputing that Barmes is the best free-agent talent available at shortstop this winter. Moreover, his affordability is staggering, making the Brewers prime contenders for his services.
Although his production at the plate waned from 2010 to 2011 considerably, note that Gonzalez has maintained a reputation for being one of the best defensive shortstops in MLB over the past few seasons. Last season, Gonzalez committed just 12 errors in 149 games, resulting in a truly impressive .981 fielding percentage.
Based on the market outlook, there’s a good chance the Brewers could snag the 34-year-old if Melvin likes what he sees. Needless to say, Gonzalez would be a sublime defensive replacement for Betancourt.
A virtual afterthought just prior to the trade deadline, Furcal was largely responsible for the Cardinals’ postseason run toward their 11th World Series title. In 50 regular season games with the Cards, the 34-year-old notched 7 HR, 16 RBI, 17 BB and batted .255. In the postseason, Furcal batted a lowly .195, but would hold true to a perfect fielding percentage and would turn 11 double plays.
He’s obviously still a viable option to play at shortstop, and while he may not be as much of a power-hitter like Betancourt, he’s a steadfast talent out in the field that won’t make costly defensive mistakes.
The Pirates were willing to buyout Cedeno’s contract just a few days back, making the 28-year-old shortstop an unrestricted free-agent for the first time in his six-year career.
Like so many shortstops sprawling the free-agent market this winter, Cedeno lacks true power at the plate, but makes up for it with a nice glove in the field. His .978 fielding percentage ranks eight-best among MLB shortstops last season, and his 5.04 range factor rank second only to Troy Tulowitzki.
With so few viable free-agent options on the market, Cedeno will likely be a last-resort signing if the Brewers are unable to ink Barmes or Scutaro to a deal. Nevertheless, his young age makes a potential signing all the more intriguing.
At this juncture, the Brewers’ chances of signing Jose Reyes seem more like foolery than actuality. However, isn’t that what we said when Melvin pulled the trigger on one C.C. Sabathia back in 2008?
The fact is, until Reyes is literally signed to a new contract by another team, you can’t count Milwaukee out of the bidding war. Milwaukee doesn’t look to have enough money to bring back Prince Fielder this winter, so Melvin may settle for the next-best-thing.
Granted, Reyes will be looking for a long-term contract somewhere near seven years — which is probably out of Milwaukee’s price range. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if owner Mark Attanasio finds away to increase payroll to sign the speedy shortstop. Ryan Braun seems optimistic. Maybe you should, too.
Follow Alec Dopp on Twitter: @alecdopp.