Shortstops are in short supply this winter.
And across the sport, the value of the run-producing shortstop -- a commodity that was oddly common in the late 1990s and early 2000s -- is higher than it has been in about two decades.
Consider that in 2012, in the all-around evaluation that is a position player's OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), Major League shortstops, on average, turned in their lowest such mark -- .688 -- since 1991. The highest OPS among shortstops with at least 200 at-bats belonged to Washington's Ian Desmond, with an .845 mark. Desmond was the only shortstop to crack .800.
So if you've got a shortstop who can swing it about as well as he fields it, well, congratulations. Because with next week's Winter Meetings in Nashville approaching, you've either got a cornerstone-type player, or an extremely valuable trading chip in a winter in which the free-agent market for shortstops is pretty thin.
"There's not much out there," said D-backs general manager Kevin Towers, who has certainly looked around. "Even via trade."
In August, as his club fell out of contention, Towers dealt Stephen Drew to the A's. Today, Drew, who missed nearly a year of action from 2011-12 following a gruesome ankle injury and has a career-adjusted OPS below the league average, is arguably the top shortstop available on the open market.
The others at the top of the class?
Probably the 37-year-old Marco Scutaro, who actually played second base down the stretch for the Giants, with whom he might re-sign, and 30-year-old Japanese Pacific League option Hiroyuki Nakajima, who was unable to reach a deal with the Yankees after they won his posting rights last year and is now a free agent.
Beyond that, you're looking at role-player types such as Alex Gonzalez, Cesar Izturis or Jason Bartlett. The Blue Jays already swooped in and signed Maicer Izturis -- for three years, no less.
So, yeah, it's slim out there. You can't, therefore, blame a team in need (and the D-backs, A's, Rays, Red Sox and Cardinals all qualify, to varying degrees) if it is looking more closely at the trade market than the open market.
Nor can you blame clubs with this particular commodity in hand for countering with a high asking price.
"Generally," said an American League executive, "there are not that many quality alternatives. It's a very difficult position to fill. It's a function of supply and demand."
This puts a club like the Rangers, who have All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus on hand and top prospect Jurickson Profar potentially ready to contribute in a meaningful way, in an opportunistic position. The Rangers could hold onto both guys, potentially shifting Profar to second and Ian Kinsler to the outfield. Or they can look into dealing one or the other and expect top talent in return.
Another All-Star shortstop who might be available is Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians, who could be in rebuilding mode after a 94-loss season. Their top prospect is shortstop Francisco Lindor. At 19, he is still far from the big leagues, but the Indians recently acquired veteran Mike Aviles, which buys them some time.
Two years from now, Andrus and Cabrera could be the cream of the free-agent shortstops. But for now, they are playing on affordable extensions (Andrus will make $11.3 million over the next two seasons, while Cabrera will make $16.5 million), making them all the more attractive to teams looking to deal.
Unsurprisingly, it won't be easy to pry either one from his current club. There have been several reports that the Rangers wouldn't part with Andrus or Profar in talks with Arizona about Justin Upton, and the Indians won't deal Cabrera for anything less than the always hot commodity that is high-upside starting pitching.
A third All-Star shortstop is the subject of trade rumors. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski picked up the 2013 option on Jhonny Peralta, even though Dombrowski was -- and is -- open to the idea of an upgrade at the position. After all, Dombrowski knows that, in this particular market, Peralta could probably bring back a quality piece in a trade should the Tigers eventually land a more rangy defender for the position.
"When you look at the obvious alternatives at this time," Dombrowski said when he exercised Peralta's option, "I don't know where that obvious alternative is."
Other trade possibilities might exist.
Maybe the Marlins are looking to flip Yunel Escobar after recently landing him in their megadeal with the Blue Jays. Maybe the Astros go even younger by dealing Jed Lowrie. Maybe the Reds move one of their kids -- Zack Cozart, who had a solid rookie season, or 22-year-old prospect Didi Gregorius. Maybe the Braves get swayed by an offer for the slick-fielding Andrelton Simmons.
It would seem, given this alignment of market conditions, that there is enough fuel for a major deal to go down -- perhaps next week, under the roof of Opryland. Or maybe those with shortstop talent already in place count their blessings and stand pat.
"Up-the-middle talent is what people are looking for," Towers said. "People tend to hoard those guys, for obvious reasons."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.