Once one of the weakest positions on the fantasy diamond, shortstop is becoming a viable place to spend your fantasy dollars in the American League. The 10 best AL shortstops in 2016 earned $224, which was $30 higher than in 2015 and $34 higher than in 2014. The earning potential at short looks even better in 2017, with a new class of young studs poised to redefine the position for years to come.
Based on position eligibility entering 2016, two of the Top 10 AL shortstops in 2016 are now in the National League while a third shortstop remains in the league but loses eligibility. Ian Desmond was the only shortstop-eligible player in the AL to earn $30 or more, but he’ll spend 2017 manning first base for the Colorado Rockies. Eduardo Nunez was an afterthought in AL-only auctions last year but still managed to earn $23 before being shipped to the Giants in late July. Jose Ramirez started 2016 with shortstop/second base eligibility. He ended it as a third baseman/outfielder, earning $29 on his way to a World Series appearance for Cleveland.
There was virtually no free agent talent to be had at shortstop this offseason. Jerry Dipoto did AL-only fantasy managers a solid by making a blockbuster trade for Diamondbacks shortstop Jean Segura. At $36, Segura was the second-best NL-only hitter, and his stats in AL-only would have been worth $37.
Desmond’s $30 season was sixth best overall in AL 5×5 leagues. Only second base, outfield, and DH had a higher earner at the position. Using preseason eligibility, other top earners by position were Jose Altuve ($43), Mookie Betts ($42), David Ortiz ($30), Miguel Cabrera ($30), Josh Donaldson ($29), and Gary Sanchez ($12).
The most expensive shortstop last year was Carlos Correa, who had an average salary of $33. Thanks to those high expectations, Correa was viewed as a disappointment, but a $23 season for a 21-year-old shortstop is anything but. Correa had a .297 TAv. Among qualifying shortstops, only Corey Seager and Asdrubal Cabrera were better. Thus far, market hasn’t been fooled by Correa’s “down” year. In NFBC drafts, he is being drafted 17th overall on average. Manny Machado is the only SS-eligible player being taken ahead of Correa. It is logical to expect a better season from Correa, but unless he runs at 2015’s pace he will have difficulty meeting draft day expectations yet again.
After Nunez, the next biggest bargain at short in the AL was Tim Anderson. Spring rumors about a potential move to the outfield made many believe that Anderson wouldn’t make the majors in 2016, and at an average salary of $1, he was almost entirely overlooked in the expert leagues. Even though he didn’t make it to the majors until June, a broad base of contributions in all five categories led to a $14 season, good for 11th among qualified AL shortstops. Anderson’s free-swinging approach somehow didn’t impact his batting average, which at .283 accounted for two dollars of his earnings. Given the batted ball profile, something between .240 and .260 feels more sustainable this year.
Anderson’s short-term value rests primarily with his speed. He is viewed by some as having more upside in stolen bases than Trea Turner. Anderson stole 21 bases in 27 attempts between Triple-A and the majors but it is his 49 steals in 2015 that get fantasy enthusiasts all hot and bothered. In the current climate where almost no one runs, particularly in the American League, the idea of a 35-40 steal season from Anderson is worth salivating over. On the down side, even his modest power doesn’t seem sustainable, particularly if he gets pull happy like he did in the second half.
Thanks to a J.J. Hardy injury, Machado is the guy to target at shortstop in 2017 AL auctions. Machado’s fantasy ceiling is limited if he isn’t going to steal bases, but 40 home run potential combined with multi-positional eligibility makes the lack of stolen bases worth overlooking. Thanks to the presence of a few younger and glitzier names at short, it is easy to forget that Machado is only 24 years old. Two consecutive seasons of full health have put any concerns about Machado’s 2014 horrific knee injury to rest. Machado has a change to be this generation’s version of Miguel Cabrera: a player who perennially earns in the $30s despite no stolen bases, and one of the best hitters of his generation.
Because Machado’s shortstop eligibility is almost definitely a one-year blip, Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor join Correa as the future of the position. The power that many believed would eventually arrive for Bogaerts showed up in 2016, as he swatted 21 home runs. Lindor’s production was an even bigger surprise, as he was profiled as a defense-first shortstop whose offensive development was uncertain. Lindor’s power did slip somewhat in his first full season, but he maintained his gains in batting average and posted a $29 season. Because of his defense, Lindor will be a fixture at short for years to come. I’m all in on Lindor as a $20+ earner but am skeptical that he’ll surpass 20 home runs in 2017. Young hitters commonly add power as they get older and stronger, and Lindor did see an increase in his batted ball distance. But overall, Lindor slipped offensively, with his TAv dipping from .286 in 2015 to .270 last year. I love the overall package in real life, but don’t let his star power and million-dollar smile fool you into overspending in fantasy. Bogaerts, Lindor, and Correa are the contemporary answer to Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Derek Jeter, but unlike that trio they haven’t broken into the $30+ stratosphere yet.
I had as much difficulty placing a bid limit on Jean Segura as I did on any other player. His breakout season was cemented by a strong second half, and by an eight home run September in particular. Previously profiled as a one-dimensional base thief, Segura reached career highs in both home runs (20) and batting average (.319) with ease. With an average salary of $15, Segura was the second most profitable hitter in NL-only in 2016 but he won’t sneak up on anyone this year. One positive about Segura is his high floor in mono leagues. Even if the power disappears, Segura is good for earnings in the mid to upper teens thanks to the stolen base contributions.
He won’t get as much love as the hitters above, but Elvis Andrus is the only AL shortstop to earn $20 or more from 2014 to 2016. He’ll never get to double digit home runs but otherwise Andrus is a reliable earner who will get you steals and provide a little something everything else.
Below are a few shortstops who will primarily be owned in AL-only leagues, with my commentary about whether they should be targeted or avoided in this deep format.
Andrelton Simmons – Angels ($13)
Despite missing a little over a month with a UCL tear in his thumb, Simmons managed to turn a modest seven-dollar profit in AL-only leagues. Players like Simmons are boring but necessary in mono formats. He’s not going to suddenly hit 15-20 home runs or morph into a .300 hitter, but a “pedestrian” season with six to eight home runs, 10-15 steals and a neutral batting average works in AL-only. If, for some odd reason, you want to dream on Simmons he improved his stolen base percentage considerably, stealing 10 bases in 11 attempts. Simmons’ defense is worthless in fantasy, but it does keep him on the field and in the lineup for Los Angeles, which in turn ensures that those low-end counting stats you are purchasing stay in your lineup. It also helps that the Angels’ farm system is completely barren and that their major league middle infield backup is Cliff Pennington. Simmons isn’t going to cost much more than what he did last year, and unless his batting average completely drops off of a cliff he will at a minimum break even for his fantasy managers, with an excellent chance to do more.
Danny Espinosa – Angels ($13)
Espinosa will play second base for the Angels this year, but gets another year of shortstop eligibility since this is where he played last year for the Nationals. Espinosa has the same job security that Simmons has on a team with virtually no depth. He should play nearly every day at second, and while the batting average could be brutal, the opportunity to get something in the neighborhood of 20 home runs will be difficult to pass up in AL-only. Espinosa is worth a bid in the high-single digits in AL-only. Anything above that and you should probably pass.
Jorge Polanco – Twins ($7)
The best news for Polanco this offseason is that his name is written in ink for a starting gig for the Twins, most likely at shortstop unless the Twins manage to finally swap Brian Dozier. With Danny Santana likely out of the way, the Twins will give Polanco a clean shot to start. Polanco hit 13 home runs between Triple-A and the majors in 2016, although most of those homers came in the minors. Despite his age, I’m not particularly enthused about Polanco’s offensive ceiling. The opportunity to play every day is what cements most of Polanco’s mono league value.
Tyler Saladino – White Sox ($12)
Unlike the other deep league options profiled in this article, Saladino isn’t projected to start. But because he can hit for a little power and steal a few bases, there is value here in only leagues if Saladino makes the White Sox roster. Saladino has an opportunity to find his way into 300-350 plate appearances and if he does that he could easily earn $10-12. The speed makes Saladino worth a one-dollar flier in the endgame, and if Todd Frazier and/or Brett Lawrie are swapped as part of a full-blown rebuild in Chicago, then Saladino will start and you suddenly have yourself a bargain. The reason you don’t want to spend more than a dollar is because players like this have a way of disappearing and the last thing you want to do is pay for last year’s stats for a player who doesn’t have a clear path to starting job.