We knew coming into the season that Ronny Cedeno was going to man the middle. Cedeno was on a short leash because of his legendary good SS/bad SS resume, but nobody stepped up to challenge him.
Well, looks like the same situation is about to repeat in 2012. The Bucs lost out on last year's SS market, which pretty much consisted of JJ Hardy, and Chase d'Arnaud showed he wasn't ready for prime time. This year's free market is headlined by Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, and the Pirate grab bag consists of guys like Jamey Carroll, Cesar Izturis, Clint Barmes and maybe Rafael Furcal. So it's likely that the FO will exercise RC's $3M option and bring him back.
Cedeno, 28, hit .249, about what you'd expect from an eight-hole hitter, although his .297 OBP was disappointing. But his Ultimate Zone Rating/150 of +6.8 was excellent, he had his best professional season of fielding balls in his zone, and had a career high 66 plays outside of his zone. He was the ninth ranked SS in MLB, and third in the NL, with his glove. All in all, he finished the year with a 1.4 WAR, OK for a glove-first position.
Funny how the Bucs seemed to be loaded back in the day with Brent Lillibridge, who went to Atlanta, and Brian Bixler, now of the Nats. Neither lived up to their billing, and the hope is that Chase d'Arnaud doesn't join them.
d'Arnaud is an exciting player, and was taken in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. He flies around the sacks and is an accomplished base stealer. It's just getting him on base that's proved troublesome. In his tiny 2011 MLB sampling of 151 PAs, he hit .217 and only had a .248 OBP. His main problem was discipline, proving a sucker for pitches off the dish. Cedeno, by contrast, hit .249/.297, not very strong numbers but considerably stronger than d'Arnaud's line.
For all his quickness, d'Arnaud was just league average in range and committed 6 errors in 206 innings, not the SS numbers you want behind a pitch-to-contact staff. Again, Cedeno trumped him with above-average range and 13 errors in 1,050 frames.
He'll probably start 2012 at Indy, getting some at-bats; d'Arnaud has only played 70-some games at the AAA level. The 24 year old is considered to be the shortstop of the future, and is toolsy enough to eventually claim the spot.
There's also a chance, since he's also played third and second, that Pittsburgh keeps him on the big team instead of Brandon Wood or Pedro Ciriaco. d'Arnaud is a sparkplug off the bench, but exposed when he's out there every day.
Right behind him is Jordy Mercer, who was actually taken a round earlier than d'Arnaud in the 2008 draft. Mercer is a better fielder with a strong arm - he was a closer in college - and has some pop with the bat. He's had 30 doubles three years running, and knocked 19 balls out of the yard in 2011, split between Altoona and Indy.
But Mercer has discipline problems at the plate, and his OBP for the Tribe was just .304. He is a streak hitter, too - he had to finish strong to end up with a .239 BA at Indy after a terrible August run. Mercer isn't on the 40-man roster, and has to be protected this year from the Rule V draft.
So the Bucs have two minor league guys behind Cedeno, and both have holes. There are also holdovers Pedro Ciriaco and Brandon Wood.
Ciriaco, 25, is a terrific SS with the leather and can run well, but he joins the crowd with a so-so BA (.270) and terrible OBP (.297) in the minors, although he was competent with the stick in his few outings in Pittsburgh. But judging by the way Clint Hurdle buried him, we don't see much organizational love for Ciriaco.
Wood, 26, a waiver wire pick up, also filled in at short, his original position, though he handled third base well. He put together a line of .220/7/31 in 236 ABs. His major drawback is that the other three can also play second - heck, so can RC - and that lack of versatility could haunt him. At least, it makes him a better bench corner candidate than middle infield soldier. Wood can play first, and if the FO can't sign Derrek Lee and returns to platooning with Garrett Jones there, he's a better fit there.
Altoona's Brock Holt, 23, may eventually work his way into the mix, too. He has a good bat and an eye at the plate, but profiles more in the field as a second baseman than shortstop. We may get to see him at Indy in 2012, but if Mercer and d'Arnaud both start there, he could also tread water with the Curve a bit longer.
So the Bucs have four young shortstops - d'Arnaud is 24, Mercer and Ciriaco are 25, and Wood is 26 - but none who is a complete package. Two can field, two can run, and two have some pop, but none have all three tools. So it will be interesting to see how the FO handles the jam, especially if the team feels that d'Arnaud and Mercer both still need work at Indy.
That would leave their choice for back-up SS between Wood, who held the spot most of the season, and Ciriaco, who probably needed a few doses of Dramamine to counter his rapid trips between Indy and Pittsburgh in 2011. Or they could bring in a free agent, which has not exactly been the FO's forte (do Ramon Vazquez, Bobby Crosby and Josh Rodriguez ring a bell?)
If the Bucs hope to find a good field, good hit shortstop, they'll likely have to go outside the system. If one out of two works, they're set.