PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 25: Ronny Cedeno #13 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws to first base during the game against the St Louis Cardinals on August 25 2010 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
It's really a shame that the Orioles were able to get to J.J. Hardy before the Pirates did, because he's so much better than any of the other available shortstop candidates. And the price the Orioles paid - minor league relievers Jim Hoey and Steve Jacobson was so small that I wonder whether Neal Huntington thought he could top it. The Twins' evaluations of players are sometimes rather unusual, so it's possible they value Hoey and/or Jacobson much more highly than other teams do.
Anyway, now that Hardy is off the board, what next? Here's the problem: Ronny Cedeno isn't actually that bad. A lot of the names that are being tossed around right now (Brendan Ryan, who went to the Mariners; Jack Wilson; Jason Bartlett and so on) aren't substantial improvements over Cedeno. Ryan would have provided help on defense, but no offense at all - defense is important, but it's not the only thing, and if it is, it's almost as if the Pirates might as well just put Pedro Ciriaco out there. Wilson, meanwhile, is now simply broken down and old.
Bartlett would have been a great idea three years ago, but now, not so much. His UZR has been well below average in each of the last two seasons, and his great hitting in 2009 looks like a giant fluke - he really isn't much better with the stick than Cedeno is. And he might not even be available - it's unclear whether he's going to end up traded to the Padres.
You can check out the rest of the free agent position players. It isn't an inspiring bunch. There's Orlando Cabrera, who is now 36 and hasn't posted an OPS above .705 since 2007. There's Edgar Renteria, who's 35 and could potentially be average. And that's about it.
I'd still be interested in the idea of upgrading the infield defense by acquiring Orlando Hudson and moving Neil Walker to third and Pedro Alvarez to first, but all indications are that the Pirates aren't thinking about doing that. Also, I agree there's a good argument to be made for leaving Walker and Alvarez in their current positions for a year to give Walker time to see whether he can learn to play second a little better, since he's much more valuable as a decent defensive second baseman than as a good defensive third baseman.
At this point, then, unless Neal Huntington gets really creative on the trade market, I think the Pirates will be stuck with Cedeno as their shortstop next year. And while that's not what I wanted, it's much better than grabbing a Wilson or a Cabrera in an attempt to fix the problem by making it worse. At the very least, the Pirates now have Josh Rodriguez who, unlike Ciriaco or the departed Argenis Diaz, could credibly push Cedeno for playing time if Cedeno doesn't improve. As Tim Marchman points out, now isn't a great time to be hunting around for shortstops. It isn't ideal, but if the Pirates can finish the 2011 season with some idea of whether Cedeno or Rodriguez can help them for a few years, at least they will not have wasted that time with one of the mediocre veterans available.