Free Agency Preview: Corner Infielders

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(Chris Davis, 30, Top and Byung Ho Park, 29, BOTTOM, courtesy of the MLB and KBO)

The crop of free agent corner infielders does not have much middle of the order talent like in years past, but there are some guys that can be solid players to have in a team’s everyday lineup. The problem for team’s that need first or third base help is that they don’t want to overpay for a player because the market does not have a lot of starting options. Here is an overview of this years free agent first and third baseman…

First Baseman

Starter

1. Chris Davis (30): 160 games/.262/.361/.562/47 hr/5.2 WAR

Davis has been one the best power hitters in the major leagues the best three seasons, collecting 126 homers since 2013. Davis led the MLB in homers this past season and also had a good on-base percentage at .361. In 2014 and early in 2015, Davis had trouble adjusting to the shift, as defenses were taking away hits that would normally fall in for the power hitting first baseman. However, Davis was as hot as any hitter in the major leagues the second half of the 2015 season. The main problem with Davis is that he strikes out at a very high rate and can go into long slumps because of his strikeouts. But when Davis is hot, he can be a top five hitter in the major leagues. I would pay a steep price for the power potential that Davis offers, even if it comes along with some inconsistency. Davis is one of the premier power hitters in the league and he should be paid like one, which I think he will be.

Expected Contract: Six years, $175 million

Contract I would give: Six years, $175 million


2. Byung Ho Park (29): 140 games/.343/.436/.714/53 hr (In the Korea Baseball Association)

This free agents situation is very interesting for many reasons. The first is that Park is under a different free agent process under the posting system, where teams have to blindly bid on a player and pay a posting fee. Park’s posting period has already occurred, so acquiring him may eliminate a team’s chances of signing a player like Chris Davis or Jason Heyward. Analyzing Park as a player, you can clearly see how he has dominated in the KBO for the past couple seasons. I mean his numbers are unreal. The main concern is how these numbers will translate in the MLB.

Courtesy of the KBO 

Park’s swing looks to be a little longer and not as quick to the ball as his Korean counterpart Jung Ho Kang, who had a great year with the Pirates last season. But there is clear power coming from his swing, which is going to translate to the MLB. He also seems to be able to hit the ball to all parts of the field. Foreign position players making the jump to the MLB has seen a wide variety of results. For every José Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes, there is a Yasmany Tomas, who struggles to adjust to major league pitching. I’m under the mindset that I like to see players produce at the major league level if I’m going to shell out a lot of money, but there is always the potential to get a good deal like Kang’s because he is unproven. There are clear power hitting tools and skills that validate his good numbers in the KBO, but I have a feeling that in addition to the costly posting fee, that a team is going to spend big bucks for an unproven hitter, which is just something that I’m not a fan of doing, especially when his skills don’t jump out at me to say that he will be an all star.

Expected Contract: 5 years, $58 million ($12.8 million dollar posting fee)

Contract I would give: 3 years, $28 million


3. Justin Morneau (34): 49 games/.310/.363/.458/3 hr/0.4 WAR

Morneau had a resurgent season in 2014, hitting .319 with 17 home runs. He also got off to a great start last season until the veteran first baseman suffered another concussion, which would end his season after just 49 games. Morneau has a proven track record in the MLB ever since his days with the Twins, but his injuries limit his value. Morneau has a nice left handed swing and can hit the ball to any part of the field. He is definitely a capable starting first baseman if he remains healthy and he is still under 35, but the injuries do give me pause about how reliable he is, which will limit how much he is going to be offered on the open market. I expect Morneau’s contract to be incentive-maiden due to these health concerns. I expect Morneau to continue to be a productive hitter, but his injury situation can’t be ignored and it makes me hesitant to give him a multi-year deal.

Expected Contract: 2 years, $15 million (with $5 million in incentives)

Contract I would give: 1 year, $7 million (with $4 million in incentives)


Platoon

4. Mike Napoli (34): 133 games/.224/.324/.410/18 hr/0.4 WAR

Mike Napoli has been on a number of great teams in recent years. He has been a capable power hitter in the league for years now. Even in a down year he still hit 18 home runs. Now he is not going to hit for  high average, but over his career he has shown an ability to walk at a good rate. Napoli is no longer the middle of the order hitter he once was, but a team in need of some power in the lineup would be wise to sign Napoli for a platoon situation and he won’t cost that much money.

Expected Contract: 1 year, $5 million

Contract I would give: 1 year, $6 million


5. Kelly Johnson (34): 111 games/.265/.314/.435/14 hr/0.2 WAR

Johnson had a bounce back season with the Braves and then he continued it after he was traded to the Mets. Johnson is a player that has the potential to go on hot streaks throughout his career, but he has never been a consistent force in a lineup. However, he has been able to contribute some power and at the least can be a good weapon to have coming off your bench. I expect his average to decline a bit to his .251 career average, but his power numbers should remain consistent with what he did last year. This all contributes to him being a possible platoon player with a definite spot on a team’s bench.

Expected Contract: 1 year, $3.5 million

Contract I would give: 1 year, $3.5 million


6. Steve Pearce (32); 92 games/.218/.289/.422/15 hr/-0.4 WAR

Pearce had a break out 2014 campaign, but seemed to be figured out by the league last season. Pearce has a long swing which gives him his power, but it also contributes to his higher strikeout numbers and the slumps that he had last year. There is some good buy low potential here because he has put up some good numbers, but I only expect a slight increase in average with a little bit of a rise in his power numbers if he is given the opportunity.

Expected Contract: 2 years, $11 million

Contract I would give: 1 year, $3.5 million


Bench

7. Mark Reynolds (32): 140 games/.230/.315/.398/13 hr/-0.6 WAR

Reynolds is a power hitter that strikes out a lot and doesn’t hit for a high average. He should strictly be a bench player at this point. He can play first and third base and he should be able to find his way on a team’s opening day roster.


8. Sean Rodriguez (30): 139 games/.246/.281/.362/4 hr/-0.1 WAR

Rodriguez played a lot of games for the Pirates last season, but his numbers were not too impressive. Rodriguez has never really proven to be anything more than a bench player in his career, but his position versatility should help him break camp on a 25 man roster.


Third Baseman

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(3B David Freese, courtesy of lojosports.com)

Starter

1. David Freese (32): 121 games/.257/.323./420/14 hr/2.3 WAR

Freese is best remembered for his playoff heroics during the Cardinals 2011 World Series run. But we are four years removed from Freese’s clutch performance. Freese has been a solid starter for both the Cardinals and Angels since that time, hitting for a combined average of .259 the past three seasons. Freese also has decent, but not overwhelming power with the bat. I expect Freese to actually increase his power numbers from last season with his average being around .260. However, with the lack of quality third baseman on the market I have a feeling Freese is going to get paid more than he deserves. Freese makes for a solid third base option for a team that needs someone at the hot corner, but that’s all he is, a solid player that will get overpaid on the free agent market.

Expected Contract: 4 years, $45 million
Contract I would give: 3 years, $26 million

Bench

2. Juan Uribe (37): 119 games/.253/.320/.417/14 hr/0.9 WAR

All in all, Uribe overachieved last season. He played for three different teams and played a role in the Mets surprising second half run. Uribe is going into 16th season in the league and is going to be 37 years old. I expect Uribe to a a bench piece for an NL team as a pinch hitter, just like he did with the Mets, but I expect his numbers to slightly decline as he gets deeper into the season.


3. Alberto Callaspo (32): 97 games/.235/.315/.278/7 hr/-0.4 WAR

Callaspo was solid for the Dodgers hitting .260 in 60 games with the NL West champs. Callaspo can play both third and second base, and will give you some offense. At this point, Callaspo is strictly a bench player for a team looking to improve their depth.


4. Mike Aviles (35): 98 games/.231/.282/.317/5 hr/-.3 WAR

Aviles has put up some good numbers in his career, but he did have a down year with the Indians last season. He can play a lot of positions in the field and should be a good utility man for a team. Aviles should find his way on a opening day roster, and I think he is one of the better utility men on the market.


5. Maicer Izturis (35): Did not play last season

Izturis did not play last season due to injuries and only played 11 games the year before. However, Izturis has put up some good numbers in his career. He has a career .269 average and can play many different positions. He will most likely get a minor league deal to prove that he is healthy, but I am inclined to think that he could reward a team that takes a chance on him. I would definitely sign him to a minor league contract and would give a great amount of thought about giving him the veterans min major league deal. Izturis has been a solid player over his career and would be a great buy low candidate if he gets healthy. If healthy, he could become a surprising contributor for a major league team.

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