Here's where things get ugly.
When we talk about how deep or shallow a position is relative to the others, it's with the assumption that even if you don't make that position a priority, you're going to get someone halfway decent there, at least in standard mixed leagues.
But that's not necessarily true at shortstop. To get someone you can feel good about, you'll probably have to reach, to some degree. It makes the position especially tricky to draft even using the tiers approach because, well ... the tiers aren't all what they seem.
The Elite: Troy Tulowitzki
The Near-Elite: Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond, Jose Reyes
The Next-Best Things: Danny Santana, Ben Zobrist, Starlin Castro
The Fallback Options: Javier Baez, Xander Bogaerts, Alexei Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Jean Segura
The Last Resorts: Elvis Andrus, Jhonny Peralta, J.J. Hardy, Erick Aybar, Andrelton Simmons, Alcides Escobar, Jed Lowrie
The Leftovers: Asdrubal Cabrera, Brad Miller, Wilmer Flores, Chris Owings, Josh Rutledge, Jordy Mercer, Jung Ho Kang, Eugenio Suarez, Brandon Crawford, Yunel Escobar, Didi Gregorius
You could say the lack of depth speaks for itself. The top three tiers, which would be the ideal range for a standard mixed-league lineup (at least before you get into middle infielders, corner infielders and all that), go only seven deep, suggesting only seven owners will be happy with their starting shortstop.
But it's not as simple as that. After all, you're only happy if the return justifies the price, and given the lack of quality options at the position, the price is often inflated.
A crude way to think of it is that each of these players would actually be a tier lower at most every other position. I could have just marked them that way, beginning with Tulowitzki in The Near-Elite, but for consistency's sake, I didn't.
And it wouldn't be entirely accurate anyway. It's more like the shortstop tiers fit between the tiers at other positions. Tulowitzki does in fact have elite potential -- he was the second-best hitter in Head-to-Head points per game last year, for crying out loud -- but drafting one of The Elite should bring with it a sense of security that Tulowitzki, having missed an average of 56.2 games the last five years, doesn't.
And it's not just him. Hanley Ramirez probably comes closer in value to Adrian Beltre, one of The Near-Elite at third base, than Matt Carpenter, one of The Next-Best Things, but because his injury history is nearly as extensive as Tulowitzki's, you can't feel especially confident selecting him. In the early rounds, safety matters.
I guess what I'm trying to say in the most difficult and confusing way possible is that just because Tulowitzki has a tier unto himself doesn't mean you should pass up, say, Paul Goldschmidt for him with the fifth overall pick, even knowing Goldschmidt has three or four other elite first basemen behind him. You don't want to take on that much risk at the expense of assured greatness.
So then, how do you approach the position if the tiers aren't what they say they are? The best advice I can offer is to look before you leap. Ask yourself if what you're forfeiting is worth gaining some kind of advantage at shortstop, because given the risk associated with the few players who can give you that advantage, the answer won't automatically be yes.
It's a departure from the standard approach, but it's to ensure you don't overreact to the position's scarcity. It'd be one thing if you could count on Tulowtizki, Ramirez or Reyes to play 145 games, but you can't.
Wait a minute, though. Aren't I exaggerating the lack of depth just a bit? I say there are only seven mixed league-caliber shortstops available, but Jimmy Rollins and Alexei Ramirez were just as good as any of them last year, Tulowitzki aside.
Yeah, but look what each of them did in 2013. They're 36 and 33, respectively. The track record for shortstops that old isn't good. And both were on the decline before reversing course last year, so I expect them to get back on that path.
Nope, the better bets among The Fallback Options are Baez, Bogaerts and Segura, who all have the potential to become something much more, perhaps even elite someday. Of course, none of them showed much of anything last year, but they're all worthy gambles at a point when you'd probably just be settling for mediocrity anyway.
More likely than not, I'll wind up with one of those three as my starting shortstop with a what-do-I-have-to-lose type of pick unless Santana happens to fall to that point, which I've seen happen from time to time. I get that he had a crazy-high BABIP last year, but batting average isn't all he brought to the table. He could be like Castro, but with stolen bases.
Are you doomed if you have to settle for one of The Last Resorts? I mean, they all do something well. And fortunately, there are enough of them that you shouldn't have to pay that much for one. You won't be alone if you have to go that deep, which is why avoiding it may not be worth the overpay early.