Last of the infielders! Matt Wieters, Adrian Gonzalez, Evan Longoria, and the 2B Trio have all been leaders at their respective positions so far. If you happened to miss any of those posts you can read about the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, and third basemen at those links.
But the shortstop post was the one I was looking forward to the least. Where we stand on this issue is the subject of much debate among Yankees fans and the gap is pretty insurmountable by either side. Regardless of all that, here we are. Objectivity is nearly impossible, but I give it my best effort.
There is only one new face among the shortstops in the AL East and that is Mike Aviles who takes over for the departed Marco Scutaro in Boston. Derek Jeter, Yunel Escobar, Sean Rodriguez, and J.J. Hardy are all back where they've been. The 2011 season was kind to some and less kind to others, as we've seen with nearly every position we've discussed so far. With that being said, onto the numbers!
Looking at all their triple slashes from 2011, the only things that really stand out are J.J. Hardy's slugging and Sean Rodriguez's average. Hardy was certainly the best AL East shortstop in the home run department last year with 30. His closest competition was Yunel Escobar with 11. Hardy's average wasn't flashy, and he didn't get on base a whole lot, probably due to his Robinson Cano-like philosophy on taking walks, but he played a very strong defense to go along with his impressive power numbers.
Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar had a bit of a comeback season in 2011. His numbers were higher across the board than they had been in a few years after playing in only 75 and 60 games, respectively, the two seasons prior. His defense was solid in addition to the good offense he provided, which is really important for a lineup that desperately needs protection for Jose Bautista.
Captain Yankee Derek Jeter's 2011 was a tale of two halves. If you asked me, I would say that neither half is very indicative of who Jeter really is at this point in his career. The first half was probably a little worse than we can expect from him, at least for the immediate future, and the second half was just wholly unsustainable. We'd all love it if Jeter could hit .327 as he did after the break last season, but that's just not realistic. The triple slash he ended the season with in the graph above is probably what I'd predict is in store for 2012, with a slight drop off due to being a year older and likely not having a similar second half to boost the results, if he can stay healthy, which is always a concern with aging players.
As for his defense, we all know about it. People will oooh and aah over the jump throws and Gold Gloves, but the range will continue to be an issue as long as he plays at shortstop. He generally does a good job on anything hit directly to him, but aside from that, it's not so great. It is what it is at this point, though, and the Yankees have always lived with it because of his offense. Nothing is going to change about that right now.
Sean Rodriguez is basically your prototypical defensive-minded shortstop, in that he doesn't have gaudy offensive numbers, but has a job because of what he can do with the glove. The Rays have gone with that philosophy at a few positions, which is a defensible position, just not one that is terribly exciting. Reid Brignac could challenge him for the spot, but neither is an offensive star, so there probably wouldn't be a boost in production gained by the switch.
The Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to presumably free up salary for a pitcher that they then used on Cody Ross, which left Mike Aviles to take over duties at shortstop. He was the only AL East shortstop besides Derek Jeter to have a negative dWAR in 2011, so they certainly didn't give him the job for his defensive prowess. I don't think Scutaro was a shortstop wizard, but I believe they may ultimately regret their decision to send him off if Aviles can't improve. Jose Iglesias could potentially work his way into the mix, but his complete lack of offense has to be troubling.
People will vote for Derek Jeter in the poll, and people will criticize those who do for being blind to the facts. Jeter is one of the greatest Yankees of all time and sure first ballot Hall of Famer, but aside from the memories that have made him a fan favorite for so many years, it's exceedingly difficult to argue for his case as the best AL East shortstop of present date. He's definitely the most accomplished by far, but that's as far as I can go. Alas, the decision is up to you.