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Shortstop help scarce on the free-agent market

Starved for middle-infield help during the season, the Giants remained patient with young, light-hitting shortstop Brandon Crawford. In return, he rewarded San Francisco with dazzling defense and some clutch hits en route to a World Series triumph.

Crawford's emergence proved key, and for now, the Giants likely won't have to turn to a lackluster crop of free-agent shortstops for assistance. The shallow group of available players at the position is devoid of much star potential.

While Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke figure to anchor the free-agent market and command lucrative contracts, the shortstop field is ripe with backups, platoon guys and utility players, such as Brian Bixler, Cesar Izturis and Ronny Cedeno.

On Tuesday, the Tigers exercised a $6 million club option on Jhonny Peralta, removing an impact bat from the band of availables. During the 2012 campaign, Peralta hit .239 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs, all below his totals from the previous season. Nonetheless, Tigers president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski didn't see any upgrades on the open market.

"You're always looking to get better," Dombrowski said. "But when you look at the obvious alternatives at this time -- because you don't know what else is out there -- I don't know where that obvious alternative is."

The A's declined a $10 million mutual option on Stephen Drew, making the former first-round Draft selection available. The 29-year-old batted .250 with five homers in 39 contests after Oakland acquired him in an Aug. 20 exchange with the D-backs. Oakland is said to still have interest in re-signing Drew, who missed the second half of the 2011 season and the first half of '12 with a broken right ankle.

The best of the bunch might be a guy who didn't even play the position when it mattered most. Marco Scutaro turned 37 on Tuesday and played an integral role at second base in San Francisco's run to a championship following a late July deal with the Rockies.

"I knew he was a heck of a baseball player," Giants senior vice president and general manager Brian Sabean said after his club completed a sweep of the Tigers in the Fall Classic. "Most general managers would be heartened to be able to acquire a player like that, because he's just such a complete player, in every aspect. He's the kind of guy you want to reward."

From 2009-11, Scutaro manned the shortstop position in 384 of the 407 contests in which he played. This past season, between Colorado and San Francisco, he appeared in only 27 of 156 games at the spot.

Scutaro boasted a .362 average in 61 regular-season games with the Giants before hitting .328 in the postseason. He garnered the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award after batting .500 (14-for-28) in the seven-game series.

"He's a player we'd like to bring back," Sabean said.

After Scutaro and Drew, the talent level drops off considerably to a handful of players whose best days are likely behind them.

Jason Bartlett, 33, compiled a .133 batting average in 29 games for San Diego last season. Alex Gonzalez, 35, hit .259 in 24 contests for the Brewers. The Royals released Yuniesky Betancourt on Aug. 14 after he batted just .228 in 57 contests. He has yet to find a new team.

Maicer Izturis, 32, who has spent time at second, third and shortstop throughout his career, hit .256 with 17 stolen bases in 100 games for the Angels last season. His brother, Cesar, batted .241 in 62 contests with the Brewers and Nationals.

For any team seeking a reserve or utility player, the available shortstops could be of assistance. A club in need of a significant upgrade might be better served exploring a trade.

Jason Bartlett, Stephen Drew, Maicer Izturis, Marco Scutaro