It has been more than a decade since elite offensive shortstops dominated the position. In 2003, Nomar Garciaparra had his sixth and final six-WAR season, according to Baseball Reference. That was the final year Alex Rodriguez played shortstop. Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada and Jimmy Rollins are all past their primes now. Some younger players have temporarily assumed their mantles, but injuries and inconsistencies to those players have left the roles often vacated.
Perhaps it is a reflection of the reality of the talent pool, or maybe it's because teams have only recently discovered the tools to measure the impact of defense, but priorities seem to have changed. Baseball Info Solutions estimates the average difference between the best and worst shortstop's defense over the past decade has been 46 runs per season, which approximates to between four and five wins. Before then, we didn't have Defensive Runs Saved to show how much impact an exceptional defensive player could have on a team.
You need only look at recent decision-making to recognize that teams have reached a similar conclusion. At his current pace, Andrelton Simmons will fall just short of 15 home runs this season, but he is a phenom because of his defensive prowess. Elvis Andrus signed a $120 million extension a few months ago, and he has 15 home runs in his career. Even the Tigers, who have assembled an offensive dream team at the general expense of defense, traded for elite gloveman Jose Iglesias when they lost Jhonny Peralta for the season.
Given this change in priorities, it seems like a good time to re-evaluate which players are the very best at the position. In some cases, offense remains king, but some defense-first players have joined the elite. Based on a combination of offensive, defensive and baserunning contributions, here are my top five shortstops in the game today: