Tejada, Cabrera head free-agent shortstops

Tejada, Cabrera head free-agent shortstops

This year's class of free-agent shortstops features two familiar names in former Most Valuable Player Miguel Tejada and the always steady Orlando Cabrera, yet it's a mostly unheralded shortstop from Venezuela who figures to be the crown jewel of the class.

Toronto's Marco Scutaro, who might not be a household name like Tejada and Cabrera, could certainly provide the most value, considering what he brings both offensively and defensively to the shortstop position.

Scutaro emerged as one of baseball's better leadoff hitters last season, when he hit .282 with an impressive .379 on-base percentage while also providing some power with 12 homers and some speed with 14 stolen bases.

He's the total package at shortstop, especially when his offense is coupled with his outstanding defense, which is where both Tejada and Cabrera have slipped a bit over the years.

Even still, Tejada and Cabrera still bring plenty to the table at shortstop because of their offense, and all three were ranked as Type A players by the Elias Sports Bureau.

No other regular shortstop in the class was ranked, unless one wants to consider Felipe Lopez, who has mostly played second base the past two seasons. Lopez was given a Type B label after he had a breakout season in 2009 with a career-high .383 on-base percentage.

The class is a bit top heavy with Tejada, Cabrera and Scutaro being the only legitimate offensive threats, but there are plenty of veteran shortstops who could certainly fill a few team's needs in the middle infield.

Before Jack Wilson re-signed with Seattle for a two-year deal, he was one of the better defensive players on the market. But for teams seeking a defensive wizard, there's also Adam Everett, Alex Gonzalez and Omar Vizquel, while there are also plenty of quality utility players who can man short when needed, such as Juan Uribe, Juan Castro, Alex Cora, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Craig Counsell.

In addition, there are two relatively young reclamation projects out there in Khalil Greene and Bobby Crosby, who followed up success early in their careers with disappointing seasons.

Under rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players may file for free agency beginning on the day after the conclusion of the World Series, which was last Thursday, and continue to do so for a 15-day period. Their 2009 teams retain negotiating exclusivity for the same period, after which, beginning Nov. 20 this year, other teams can enter the picture. Here are the shortstops:

Head of the class

Scutaro, (12 HR, 60 RBIs, .282 AVG), Type A: Because of what he brings both offensively and defensively, Scutaro is the cream of the crop in this year's shortstop class. The 34-year-old also emerged as a highly productive leadoff hitter last year with a career-high .379 on-base percentage while walking 15 more times than he struck out.

Tejada, (14-86-.313), Type A: Tejada proved last year that he can still hit, as evidenced by his .313 batting average with the Astros. Tejada also showed he still has some power left in his bat with 14 home runs and a .455 slugging percentage. But at age 35, he's starting to become a liability defensively, as his .970 fielding percentage was his lowest since his first full season in 1998. He also led the National League in grounding into double plays for a second straight season.

Cabrera, (9-77-.284), Type A: Cabrera, 35, is also starting to show some signs of aging, but proved last season that he's still an above-average shortstop. He overcame a slow start to bat .284 while playing for both the A's and the Twins, but he has never been one to get on base very often, as evidenced by his .322 career on-base percentage.

Lopez, (9-57-.310), Type B: Lopez hasn't spent significant time at shortstop since 2007, so he might be a liability defensively, but he broke out offensively last season in a big way. The 29-year-old batted .310 with an impressive .383 on-base percentage while splitting time with the D-backs and Brewers.

Uribe, (16-55-.289): The 30-year-old infielder was a pleasant surprise for the Giants in 2009 with a .289 batting average and 16 home runs to go along with a .495 slugging percentage. But the red flag is that Uribe only played 38 games at shortstop, so it would be a gamble to start him there for a full season given his limited range.

Gonzalez, (8-41-.238): Gonzalez, 32, fits the mold of a slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop with a career .247 batting average and .294 on-base percentage, but he did hit .284 in 44 games with the Red Sox last season. Boston declined his $6 million option for 2010, but he could return at a lower price.

Also on the market

Juan Castro (Dodgers), Cora (Mets), Crosby (A's), Counsell (Brewers), Everett (Tigers), Greene (Cardinals), Hairston (Yankees), John McDonald (Blue Jays), Vizquel (Rangers)

Ready to buy

The Red Sox seemingly are in the market for a new shortstop every year and this offseason shouldn't be any different, although they could decide to bring back Gonzalez after he provided solid defense and offense in his time with the club. The Blue Jays also could be in the market if they can't re-sign either Scutaro or McDonald. The Tigers also need to decide whether to bring back Everett, who is a star defensively or opt for another shortstop. And don't count out the Reds, who might look to improve at the position after Paul Janish hit just .211 last season.

Window shopping

The A's could use a veteran shortstop to go along with 25-year-old Cliff Pennington and could go after Tejada, who won the MVP Award in 2002 with the club. The Padres could also use a veteran utility infielder who could back up Everth Cabrera at shortstop.

Potential 2011 class

Cristian Guzman, Omar Infante ($2.5 million club option with a $250,000 buyout), Cesar Izturis, Maicer Izturis, Derek Jeter, Julio Lugo, Jhonny Peralta ($7 million club option with a $250,000 buyout), Jose Reyes ($11 million club option with a $500,000 buyout), Jimmy Rollins ($8.5 million club option with a $2 million buyout), Edgar Renteria, Ramon Santiago, Ramon Vazquez.

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.