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MLB roundtable: Which free-agent shortstop would you most want to sign for 2021?

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The calendar has flipped to 2021 and spring training is (probably) only four short weeks away. Hopefully MLB and the MLBPA can put their differences aside and get spring training and the regular season started on time, though I fear I’m being overly optimistic.

Throughout the offseason my fellow CBS Sports MLB scribes and I will bring you a weekly roundtable breaking down, well, pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. Last week we discussed whether the Mets are the team to beat in the AL East. This week we’re going to tackle the free-agent shortstop market.

R.J. Anderson: Simmons. He’s an elite defender and he’s been more productive at the plate than people realize — he’s had an OPS+ of 95 or higher in three of the last four years, even if those marks play “lighter” because of his lack of walks and slugging. Semien had that brilliant 2019, but I think he’s probably more of an average hitter who’ll move off the position in the coming years (if not this year). Gregorius, meanwhile, looked a step slow and had some abysmal exit-velocity numbers in 2020.

Matt Snyder: If I had confidence Semien’s 2019 was repeatable on a regular basis, I’d think about him for a second. Alas, the rest of his career track record makes it look like that season was an outlier. I’m also fully convinced that Simmons is going to age well, defensively, at shortstop and continue to be an elite-level defender through probably his mid-30s. His ability to put the bat on the ball should become increasingly important as the league moves toward limiting or even banning shifting, which I expect to be a major talking point in the years to come. I think the best bet offensively is Gregorius and the best offensive upside is Semien (based on the aforementioned production in 2019), but the surest bet to be the all-around best player here in my opinion is Simmons. 

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Katherine Acquavella: I’d take Simmons if I had to pick. Semien would be my second choice, and Gregorius third. As a four-time Gold Glove winner, Simmons has the defensive prowess that will instantly upgrade a team’s infield upon signing him. And while the glove is his strength, Simmons has shown that he can still hit for average and get on base. It’s possible a team decides to go with a one-year, prove-it type of deal for Simmons, with him having to solidify his return as a productive hitter, especially after some recent injury setbacks. Semien’s coming off a rough 2020 season and Gregorius regressed offensively. I think all three have some upside for 2021, but Simmons’ consistently great defense edges out the other two for my top pick. And while we’re on the topic of free-agent shortstops, let me add that I’m very excited for next year’s free agent class which could include Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez and Carlos Correa. Should be a fun one.

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Mike Axisa: I’m going with Semien because I think he’s the most well-rounded player of the three and the best bet to be a positive contributor at the plate and in the field. Gregorius is pretty clearly the best hitter of the group and Simmons is the best defender, but Sir Didi has abysmal exit velocities and is a candidate to post a sub-.300 on-base percentage because he rarely walks, and Simmons has seen his defensive ratings cut in half each of the last three years. He’s gone from otherworldly to merely very good, and at age 31, defensive declines usually don’t reverse.

Semien’s MVP caliber 2019 looks like an outlier at this point, but he’s been only a tick below league average at the plate every other year of his career, and I buy into his defensive improvement. I think he’s a legitimately above-average defensive shortstop now. He deserves a lot of credit for how far he’s come in the field. Also, Semien has missed only 67 games since 2015. You can count on him being in the lineup every single day. I’ll take Semien because I believe he’s most likely to be good at everything in 2021, with the best chance to be great at everything.


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