This is now part four of my multi-part series, "Around the Diamond," as today we take a look at shortstop.
Last season, the word "shortstop" was something that many Orioles' fans dreaded. It was something that the team did not have, something that was nonexistent. This had not been the case just years before, when Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Bordick, and Miguel Tejada manned the position. Those days are long and gone now.
After the six player Miguel Tejada trade, the Baltimore Orioles were left with many questions. They needed to find an answer to their new hole in the infield. They thought that they had a solution: Luis Hernandez.
At the beginning of last season, Hernandez struggled at the plate, not even recording a hit for the first few games.
Then came the Seattle contest.
When the O's were down by two going into the bottom of the ninth, a win and four-game sweep of the M's seemed ruined. This was until the Birds scored two runs, put a man in scoring position, and saw Luis Hernandez come up to bat.
That was when it happened. Hernandez stroked a liner into right-center field for his first hit of the young season, capping off what was one of the most dramatic games of the O's 2007 campaign.
After this, it was all downhill.
Known for his defense, Luis was expected to make every play and get the job done. After countless games of faltering with his glove, one final play cost him his chance as a starter.
Against the Oakland Athletics, the Orioles were trying to hold down the opposing team. With a chance to end the inning on a double-play ball hit by Frank Thomas, Luis did not charge the baseball, and, in turn, only got the force at second base and allowed a run to score. That was enough for Dave Trembley's eyes, and that was the last we saw of Hernandez.
The Orioles tried multiple others at the spot. Young utility man Freddie Bynum had his chance, but his bat was useless. Brandon Fahey had his opportunity, but he was never cut out to be a major league ballplayer. Alex Cintron, arguably the O's best option, was hurt and never got the same amount of playing time following the injury. Finally, Juan Castro received the job late in the year, and though he had the glove, he did not have the bat.
In other words, the Orioles were desperate to fill the position that had been occupied for the many seasons. Now, they must search for an answer.
In the free agent market, many names have come up. To point out three in particular, we have Edgar Renteria, Rafael Furcal, and Orlando Cabrera.
Renteria is someone who few people believe would be a nice fit in Baltimore. He is aging, his glove-work is worsening, and his bat will begin to slow down as he grows older.
Rafael Furcal would be a sight to see in a Baltimore uniform, but the odds of picking him up are against the O's. Besides, if they wish to make a run at free agents Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, than Furcal is out of the question.
Orlando Cabrera is someone who I wouldn't mind seeing at shortstop. Only problem is, like Furcal, the O's probably won't pay much attention to him due to the other names in the free agent market.
Instead of looking at free agency, lets just look at some deals that may be made.
Some say J.J. Hardy of the Brewers would work nicely, and I can't say that I disagree; however, I'm sure that Milwaukee will be looking for some nice players in return.
Others say Felipe Lopez may fit at the position. A switch-hitter with average contact, Lopez seems like he could make an impact in the bottom of the batting order. That's great and all, but I've also heard that he has an attitude, and that is something that I want no part of.
Now I will throw in my solution, Ben Zobrist. The Orioles dealt relief pitcher Chad Bradford to the Tampa Bay Rays in return for money and a "player to be named later". Maybe Zobrist is that player. Zobrist, like Lopez, is a switch hitter. Ben also has good "pop" in his bat, something that I like in particular.
So there are the trades and free agents, now we go back down to the farm.
As of now, I believe that the best shortstop prospect that the Orioles posses is Blake Davis. Last season at Double-A Bowie, he hit for a .284 average, with four home runs, 53 RBI, 57 runs scored, and a .324 OBP. Currently in the Arizona Fall League, he is hitting .161, with zero home runs, seven RBI's, and a .213 OBP in 56 at-bats.
For the moment, the shortstop position still remains a mystery. No one really knows what the Orioles plan to do with it. Will they shock us all and go hard after a big-name free agent like Furcal or Cabrera? Will they get a deal done to bring someone in from another team? Will they wait and see how well Blake Davis progresses?
Only time will tell how this conflict will be solved.