With Robinson Cano and Jhonny Peralta off the market, as well as second tier names such as Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson and even retreads such as Mark Ellis and Rafael Furcal, it is Stephen Drew who stands head and shoulders above the remaining free agent class.
Stephen Drew, 30, SS
Oft-predicted to be a solution for the Cardinals to begin the offseason, St. Louis instead opted for Peralta, thanks in part (we assume) to his lack of a qualifying offer. The Red Sox did extend the qualifying offer to Drew, meaning he carries the cost of an additional draft pick on top of any monetary compensation.
News has been slow on Drew, but the Red Sox have expressed interest in retaining him and agent Scott Boras has stated he's received multiple multi-year offers for him. The Mets have been suggested as a possible destination given that they have a protected first-round pick and have already forfeited a second-round pick in signing Curtis Granderson.
Selected 15th overall by the Diamondbacks in 2004, Drew has been part of the national (baseball) consciousness for a quite a while. He tore through the minors in only two seasons, arriving in Arizona in 2006 and producing immediately. He's been up and down since then on both sides of the ball, mixing good seasons with bad, seeing his wRC+ range from 70 to 114 in that time.
He's struggled to be considered an elite option because of this consistency, though the qualifying offer made it clear that at least the Red Sox consider him to be a well above average option. While he did turn in an absolutely brutal 2012, he was recovering from a nasty ankle injury that clearly affected his play.
Healthy in 2013, Drew turned in a 109 wRC+ while playing quality defense up the middle, positioning himself for a large contract this offseason. While teams are in dire need of talent at shortstop, it appears that the additional cost of a draft pick is acting as a deterrent, at least in these early goings.
Jamey Carroll, 39, 2B/SS
step full flight of stairs (and perhaps more) down from Drew is Jamey Carroll. He's drawing interest from multiple teams despite a lackluster 2013 season, thanks to his versatility in the field and his history of drawing walks. With most of the middle infield talent off the board, teams are left to fight for scraps Carroll, with the Rays being mentioned more than once and having lost out on Ellis, an earlier target.
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Carroll received a $250,000 buyout from the Royals after rejecting his outright assignment, becoming a free agent. He's done his best to fight age, producing an impressive 12 percent walk rate as recently as 2010, though that fell all the way to 7 percent last year, with his wRC+ checking in at a ghastly 43. Prior to 2013, though, he had value thanks to his ability to hit for average and draw walks. His impressive contact ability (career high of 17.6 percent) means those good batting averages carried a bit more weight.
Not willing to settle for being average or close to it on offense, Carroll has contributed on defense as well, notching positive numbers, almost uniformly. He has seen a couple seasons that are slightly on the negative side of the ledger, though the vast majority of his seasons rate him as a positive contributor on defense, including a 11.6 defensive rating in 2012 per FanGraphs.
While his offense is almost assuredly not as bad as the numbers showed last season, Carroll can't continue to defy the effects of time. Even with below league average production on offense, Carroll can help most any team thanks to his defensive prowess and versatility.
Jordany Valdespin, 25, 2B
Non-tendered earlier this offseason, Valdespin is coming off of a rough season in just about every aspect. At the plate, he couldn't clear the Mendoza line, in the field he posted negative numbers for the second straight season, in the clubhouse he confronted manager Terry Collins upon hearing of his demotion (demanding instead to be placed on the DL with a trumped up injury), and to top it all off, he received a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the BioGenesis investigation.
He accomplished all of that in six months. Don't you feel like a slacker? Valdespin played the majority of his season in the outfield, though he did log 73 innings at second base, and given the scarcity of available talent, and a 94 wRC+ season in recent memory, Valdespin qualifies on one of the better options up the middle at this point.
While he's not particularly effective on offense or defense, and he is suspended for 50 games, he does have good baserunning going for him, which is nice. The most recent news on Valdespin has him switching agencies, departing ACES and signing up with Metis Sports Management.
Munenori Kawasaki, 32, SS/2B