As the MLB offseason kicks into high gear with the upcoming GM Meetings next week and the Winter Meetings in early December, the Atlanta Braves have one glaring hole: shortstop. Every other position has a returning starter, but the Braves are in the market for a shortstop with Alex Gonzalez a free agent.
Braves general manager Frank Wren has stated that he is looking for a stopgap solution to fill the shortstop position next season. The Braves have two young prospects in the minor leagues, Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons, who are regarded as possible long term solutions to the shortstop vacancy. Pastornicky, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the deal for Yunel Escobar, split time between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this past season and hit .314 with 7 homers and 27 stolen bases as a 21-year-old. Simmons hit .311 and stole 26 bases as a 21-year-old in High-A Lynchburg.
The two biggest names on the free agent market this offseason are Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins. Both Reyes and Rollins will command multiple years and a significant amount of money. While either player would provide a definite upgrade to the Braves' shortstop position, they are out of the Braves' price range and do not fit the bill of a stopgap solution at all.
The Braves will likely scour the free agent and trade markets for a veteran shortstop. The Braves aren't completely sure what they have in Pastornicky. While he put up fantastic numbers in the minors last season, he has only had 104 at-bats above Double-A. There are also questions about Pastornicky's defense. Ideally, the Braves would like to sign or trade for a veteran with a solid glove and a decent bat. If Pastornicky shows he is ready after two or three months sharpening his skills at Triple-A Gwinnett, then he can take over the starting gig.
The Braves seemed disenchanted with Gonzalez's offensive performance last season, and there appears to be no talk of the Braves attempting to re-sign him. Clint Barmes is a veteran with a great glove and an average bat, but he may not be willing to accept a one-year deal.
The Braves may look to the trade market to find a shortstop. Jed Lowrie, Sean Rodriguez, and Reid Brignac may be moved and are possible candidates. They are cheap and would likely not cost too much in a trade.
It is also entirely plausible that the Braves hand the reins over to Pastornicky from day one. In that case, they would likely look for a veteran backup that could step in and start from time to time as Pastornicky goes through the typical rookie growing pains. Edgar Renteria, Cesar Izturis, and Jack Wilson are all free agents who would be capable backups.
Finally, Wren has shown over the years that he likes to be creative and will sometimes make a move that is very unexpected. Therefore, it is always a possibility that he uses Pastornicky or Simmons in a deal for a proven shortstop like Hanley Ramirez or Alexei Ramirez. Although Wren is more forthright with his plans than John Schuerholz was, he still likes to play his cards close to the vest, so there's no telling if this is even an option that is being discussed.
There aren't too many great options at shortstop, but Wren will certainly kick the tires on every possibility. It could happen next week or at the end of March, but it sure looks like the Braves will have a new starting shortstop in 2012.
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