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This year’s crop of middle infielders features a lot of productive hitters, but also some questions and intrigue as well. Here is my breakdown of this year’s free agent second baseman and shortstops.
1. Ben Zobrist (34): 126 games/.276/.359/.450/13 hr/1.2 WAR
Zobrist has been one of my personal favorite players ever since I starting following the MLB. I loved his versatility in the field and his knack for hitting the ball anywhere on the diamond. Zobrist has a career on-base percentage of .355 and even bettered that last year even in his tenth season. Zobrist seems like a player who will age well, and in addition to his World Series championship, Zobrist will get a big pay day this offseason. The contract may also be a little more reasonable because of his age. I think based on his production at the plate and his maneuverability on defense, it will make him a steal for a team looking to add a quality hitter to their lineup.
Expected Contract: 3 years, $52 million
Contract I would give: 4 years, $62 million
2. Howie Kendrick (32): 117 games/.295/.336/.409/9 hr/1.1 WAR
For only being an all star once in his career, Howie Kendrick has been one of the most consistent second baseman in the major leagues during his 10 year tenure in the league. Kendrick has a career batting average .293. He has a short, compact swing, and it shows with his consistent numbers that he has put up throughout his career. While he does not give you much in the power department, Kendrick is a prototypical second batter in the order. He gets on base often for other power hitters to drive him in. Kendrick has never been a potent base stealer, but he is not a liability on the bases as well. While I do think that a team will overpay because that’s just what happens in the free agent market, I believe that Kendrick is one of the safest players that a team could sign this offseason.
Expected Contract: 5 years, $62.5 million
Contract I would give: 4 years, $48 million
3. Daniel Murphy (30): 130 games/.281/.322/.449/14 hr/1.4 WAR
Murphy was having the greatest postseason in the history of the MLB, until he laid an egg in the World Series. You can’t blame Murphy for the timing of his slump though. It’s hard to keep hitting home runs in every game that you play. While everyone will remember Murphy’s sensational postseason performance, he had a very solid year during the regular season as well. Murphy has been a good hitter during his career in the MLB, hitting to a .288 batting average in his career. He has never hit over 14 home runs in a season though, which made his postseason outburst that much more astonishing. Scouts have pointed to his change in batting stance and his approach when the ball his coming to the plate. Below you can see the changes in his swing from 2014 to 2015.
Courtesy of mlb.com
You can see that Murphy’s swing and stance are slightly altered from 2014 to 2015, but not big enough of a change to see a true rise in his value. I think that even though Murphy has been a solid player this year and in years prior, he will be overvalued by a team banking on his playoff dominance being an actual turning of the corner. I think he is a good hitter, but not worth the contract that he is going to receive. I see Murphy hitting .270, with 15 home runs next season.
Expected Contract: 4 years, $65 million
Contract I would give:4 years, $40 million
4. Stephen Drew (33): 131 games/.201/.271/.381/17 hr/0.4 WAR
The Yankees were counting on Stephen Drew being a solid starting second baseman going into the 2015 season, however Drew did not do much to show that he is an everyday player. Drew has a long upper cut swing where he establishes his power, see the 17 home runs. But he strikes out at a high rate and doesn’t offer much else besides his home run power. I think that at the most Drew gives a team some pop off the bench and he should be paid like that. I expect Drew to get a major league offer, but a minor league deal for him is not out of the question.
5. Chase Utley (37): 107 games/.212/.286/.343/8 hr/0.0 WAR
The former all-star had a rough season in 2015. In addition to being hurt, he saw a team that he built into contender truly fall apart as well. He also saw a drop off in his stat line. He has been such a valuable player in the past because of his combination off power and average. Utley used to have one of the quickest bats to the ball in the major leagues, but last season I saw a serious drop off in his hitting ability. I expect that he can still serve a role as a pinch hitter on a National League contender, but his time of being a starting second baseman in the MLB is over.
- Ian Desmond (30): 156 games/.233/.290/.384/19 hr/2.0 WAR
Desmond was one of the better shortstops in the game in 2014. Going into his contract year this past season, many experts believed Desmond was in line to be one of the highest paid shortstops in the MLB. What’s separated Desmond in the past is his power for his position. Shortstop has evolved to be a position that doesn’t bring a lot of home run ability to the lineup, but Desmond hit 20 or more home runs from 2012-2014. But even though he was able to hit 19 bombs in 2015, his average greatly dropped. Desmond started the year in a big slump and didn’t start to turn it around until after the all-star break. This helped him regain his value for free agency. I think that Desmond is not as bad as his numbers in 2015 suggest, but he also wouldn’t have been as good as he would have been paid if he hit his normal .265 with 25 home runs. I still think that a team spends big dollars on him because of his power potential, but I somewhat think that this season showed some of the shortstop’s weaknesses, which would hold me back from investing big money into him. He is one of the riskiest players in free agency in this year.
Expected Contract: 6 years, $92 million
Contract I would give: 4 years, $44 million
2. Asdrubal Cabrera (30): 143 games/.265/.315/.430/15 hr/1.7 WAR
Cabrera had been a staple with the Indians during most of his career, making highlight reel plays and swinging a good bat. Cabrera has never been great with the bat though, as he only has hit over .280 once in a season. He had a down year in 2014, then he signed with Tampa Bay last offseason and he had solid season. Cabrera is still very good with the glove and he can hold his own enough at the plate to be a solid contributor in a lineup. I don’t expect him to hit over 20 homers, but he should be good for .260 with around 15 bombs for next season. I think he is one of the safer players on the market and he would be a great option for a team needy of a shortstop that doesn’t want to spend on a player like Desmond.
Expected Contract: 2 years, $18 million
Contract I would give: 2 years, $18 million
3. Alexei Ramirez (34): 154 games/.249/.285/.357/10 hr/1.0 WAR
The White Sox did not accept Ramirez’s option for the 2015 season after a sub-par year. The 34-year-old shortstop has been a staple of consistency in the major leagues during his career. Ramirez was an all-star in 2014 and had a number of good seasons during his eight years in the league. Last year was a completely different story for Ramirez though. He got on base at the lowest rate in his career and his defense was just average. I believe that age may have caught up to Ramirez in 2015. However, I still think that he can be a low end starting option for a contender in need of a shortstop, but I wouldn’t pay a lot of money to have him in my lineup. Ramirez is due for a slight bounce back because his numbers, especially his average, has been so consistent over his career, but I think that last season was the beginning of his decline.
Expected Contract: 1 year, $7 million
Contract I would give: 1 year, $4.5 million
4. Jimmy Rollins (37): 144 games/.224/.285/.358/13 hr/-0.1 WAR
Rollins struggled in his his 16th year in the MLB. He was supposed to be the starting shortstop for the Dodgers, but was ultimately replaced by star prospect Corey Seager. Rollins’ bat looked much slower and he overall just didn’t show the athleticism that Philadelphia fans grew to love him for. He didn’t steal 20 bases in a season for the first time since 2010 as well. Father time is undefeated, but I think Rollins may have one more year left. Rollins can still offer some pop off the bench and can be a leader on a team contending for a title, but much like his teammate Chase Utley, he far from the surefire middle of the order hitter he once was.
5. Cliff Pennington (31): 105 games/.210/.298/.281/3 hr/0.1 WAR
Cliff Pennington’s sole reason for being on a major league roster is his defense. He is very good with the glove and can play multiple positions around the field. He does not have the tools to hit at the major league level, but being a steady utility man who can play any position well, Pennington should be on a major league bench, even though he really gives you nothing in the hitting department.