The Oakland Athletics better hope they can sign free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, because the fallback plans are limited and bleak.
If the A's look to free agents outside of Drew, they'll likely be disappointed.
Free-agent options include Jason Bartlett, Ronny Cedeno, Alberto Gonzalez, Alex Gonzalez, Cesar Itzuris, Marco Scutaro and Yuniesky Betancourt. Scutaro is the best of these men, but the San Francisco Giants would be wise to re-sign the once-upon-a-time Athletic due to his overachieving performance down the stretch in 2012. Everyone else comes with age, injury risk and concerns of underwhelming hitting.
With Oakland considered to be serious contenders again in 2013, the A's will need more production from the shortstop position than what they got last year and more than what most available guys can provide.
A similar occurrence happened in 2009.
The team garnered heavy expectations with such talent in the rotation as Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden. So the A's made a trade for Matt Holliday and signed Orlando Cabrera to pack punch into the lineup. It didn't go well, and both talents were traded midseason.
In 2012, Oakland surprised the nation while contending for the division. They traded for Drew to spark production from the middle of the infield, and it somewhat worked too.
Now the A's find themselves with higher expectations for 2013, and a huge hole at shortstop.
Signing Drew would be the best choice. A trade is likely out of the question because general manager Billy Beane would have to give up a starting pitcher for a guy like Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie in return, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. It would not be wise to break up a roster on the precipice of contention for years to come.
So if all else fails, here is what Oakland is left with.
If the A's don't sign a free agent or make a trade, they are left with someone who is already on the roster. The options are Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales, with Rosales being the front-runner for a starting spot.
The 29-year-old utility infielder comes with his own downfalls, however.
For instance, he has only played shortstop in 38 games during his entire career, half as much as the time he spent at third base (75) and second (77). But it's still nine more games as a Major League shortstop than Sogard has.
Additionally, "Rosie"—as he is affectionately referred to as by manager Bob Melvin—has a batting average 36 ticks higher than Sogard. But therein lies another issue: Rosales' career average is just .226.
Talent-wise, Rosales' value is less than Cliff Pennington's was a year ago, and even "Penny" lost his starting spot at short.
This would not be ideal whatsoever.
According to Susan Slusser of SFGate.com, "Should the A's fail to re-sign Stephen Drew, Parrino will be a candidate to start [at shortstop]." Parrino was acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres.
The 27-year-old appeared in 50 games last season for the Padres, hitting .207 with one home run, six RBI, one stolen base and 17 walks. Twenty-six of those appearances were at shortstop.
So far, it's not a great indicator of how things could go.
However, it is worth noting that Parrino has done very well for himself in the minors. In Triple-A last year, he hit .326; the year before he hit a combined .305 in Double- and Triple-A. In six seasons total in the minors, he has played every defensive position (including pitcher), but he has spent the most time at shortstop (222 games).
Unless he blossoms wildly in his late-20s (See: Moss, Brandon), this option is a stretch.
So big-name shortstops on the trade market likely require a Jarrod Parker or Tommy Milone in return and are, therefore, not worth it. Free-agent options are underwhelming, but the incumbent front-runners are worse.
The A's are going to have to do something if they're serious about contending again and can't sign Drew.
Ken Rosenthal of MSN FoxSports wrote about the real possibility of Oakland and the Japanese native being a fit for each other. Oakland needs the most efficient shortstop they can get at the cheapest price possible. Nakajima could try his hand in Major League Baseball for the first time in his career.
For the Seibu Lions, he consistently hit around .300 (.297 the lowest and .331 the highest).
Unlike the other options on this list, however, Nakajima is no utility infielder filling a role—he's a shortstop.
This move makes sense as a last resort option.
The A's have been known to target less-risk players with low-base, incentive-laden salaries. As stated, Oakland did the exact same thing in 2009 with Orlando Cabrera. Looking for an upgrade—albeit a temporary solution—the team took a chance at Cabrera for the low price of $4 million for one year.
If they can't nab Drew, why not try for a .300 hitting, Japanese Gold-Glove winning veteran of the game?
Sure, he's never played in Major League Baseball. But neither did a guy named Yoenis Cespedes.
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