A captivating yet unlikely spring competition is about to heat up. The starting shortstop position for the San Diego Padres is still up in the air, and two seemingly polar opposites are in the running.
There’s one thing even Yankees and Red Sox fans could agree on. The shortstop position, no matter the circumstances, is absolutely critical.
Franchises can be completely transformed with the addition of a shortstop. Players like Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter, and Ozzie Smith changed baseball forever. Young shortstops such as Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Addison Russell, and Xander Bogaerts are currently changing the fortunes of their respective clubs in today’s MLB.
The San Diego Padres are still in search of this elite shortstop. And while they may not be finding one in time for 2017, the stakes of this spring’s competition for the starting role are still extremely high.
After all, general manager didn’t bring in veteran Erick Aybar just days before the beginning of spring training just for fun. Aybar had the intention of competing for an every day job, and still does. The 33-year-old is an eleven year major league veteran who has made a name for himself as a staple of the middle infield of the Los Angeles Angels.
Many thought that Aybar, as a free agent this offseason, would consider calling it a career. Apparently though, the native of the Dominican Republic had other ideas, and so did the Padres. Aybar, under the radar, is very much in the running for the every day shortstop role.
His counterpart will be 23-year-old Luis Sardinas. With four different clubs in three seasons, Sardinas has a career batting average of just .237. Coming on late last season though, the shortstop put himself in a position where he could be considered an option at the position in 2017 and for years to come.
The competition will be a captivating one, for sure. At the conclusion of 2016, few would have thought it would come down to Aybar and Sardinas. At that point, Alexi Amarista was still in the mix, and the Padres seemed to have no intention of pursuing a veteran middle infielder.
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Certainly, the play of Aybar and Sardinas will determine who gets the starting nod, and whether or not Aybar even remains a part of the organization. With Rule 5 pick Allen Cordoba on the roster, and required to stay there, Aybar and Sardinas won’t both be kept. One figures to be assigned to AAA El Paso before Opening Day. For Aybar, this would likely mean becoming a free agent again.
The decision doesn’t, however, come down completely to talent, or to how efficient each player is during Cactus League play. The Padres have a serious decision to make before this season begins. They must continue to evaluate Sardinas, and decide whether or not the 23-year-old is the answer at the shortstop position. If this remains unclear, they must then decide whether or not starting a 33-year-old every day is best for the future of the organization.
Despite Aybar’s superior expereince, Sardinas has the upper hand due to what he offers the organization for the long term. If nothing else, the veteran will only help the young shortstop’s development, as well as that of Cordoba. But the competition once again serves as a fork in the road for the Padres. With two unlikely candidates for the starting shortstop role, which path will they take?