Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Market at Second Base

I think we've beaten it to death here-- well maybe not here since I don't write anywhere nearly as much as I used to, but you get the idea-- that the Jays really need to find upgrades at catcher, 2B and in the rotation.

I'm sure we've all examined the catching market ad nauseum, pointing out McCann, Ruiz, Suzuki, and others as possible targets for the Jays behind the plate. There was probably a joke made at some point about Angels' catchers Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta, since the Jays seem to acquire every Angel catcher ever, but that's apparently real life now.  The pitching market has also been looked at, at least a bit, pointing towards free agents Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza as potential targets, as well as Brett Anderson from a trade standpoint.

We've had some quick looks at 2B, but we, or certainly I, feel most comfortable with internal options at 2B, so I think I've thought and discussed that one the least.  I don't think Ryan Goins starting the year at 2B is the end of the world, especially if it allows AA to go ahead and devote his energy to upgrading behind the plate and in the rotation.  Maicer Izturis or Munenori Kawasaki can hop in and cover if needed, so it's not a guaranteed flop if Goins regresses both offensively and defensively; I can see offensively, but he's pretty good in the field, which should be lots going forward in terms of value, given replacement level at 2B these days.

At least that's where I was.  Over the last few weeks, there have been a few more names pop up, to the point where the 2B market is pretty flush if teams want it to be.  There's obviously free agent Robinson Cano at the top of the pile, but let's be realistic about that one.  Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts make up a pretty top-heavy list of 2B free agents, but all of those guys are probably upgrades over -2.1 WAR or whatever the Jays did at 2B this season.

 Howie Kendrick's name has popped up as a guy that the Angels were planning on shopping, though I feel as though they're looking for starting pitching in exchange.  Still, Kendrick isn't a bad option, depending on the cost (plus there could be a package deal for Conger or Iannetta).  He's way above average offensively for a 2B, and plays a pretty reasonable defensive 2B as well.  He's set to make just shy of $20MM over the next two seasons as he enters his age-31 season, so I doubt he'll be all that cheap in terms of trade chips.

Cuban free agent Alexander Guerrero just signed in LA with the Dodgers, which probably makes Mark Ellis available.  Ellis will either be a free agent, or will have his contract option ($5.75MM) exercised, but I don't think he's a starter in LA anymore, unless Juan Uribe gets sent packing and one of Ellis, Guerrero or Hanley Ramirez moves to 3B.  When you consider the fact that Uribe put up a 5-win season in '13, he'll probably stick.  I figure the Dodgers will exercise Ellis' option (1 year, $5.75MM) and then move him for a relative pittance at some point in the offseason.

Ellis' contract and skill-set makes him a decent option for the Jays-- he rates as a league-average-or-so 2B, which is good for $5.75MM.  He's not going to cost a ton to acquire in terms of prospects or relievers or cash or whatever, and as a fairly cheap, 1-year deal, there is practically no risk involved.  Steamer projects Ellis for 2.2 WAR in '14, with a 91 wRC+ and above average defense.  At ~$6MM per WAR, that's a bargain.

The other new option that's shown up recently is Brandon Phillips.  Phillips is owed $50MM through 2017, and is entering his age-33 season.  That's probably a bad contract, or is at least market value with risk, so the Reds would have to eat some of the salary in order to get something nice in return, but they're probably motivated to do so, as it would allow them to try and re-sign Shin Soo Choo, find a cheap replacement at 2B, and/or maybe get another starting pitcher.

I think ultimately, Ellis is the safest option, given both price and term.  He won't cost impact prospects and will give comparable production to Kendrick for half the money, let alone the opportunity cost (i.e. what they trade to get him).  The 1-year deal that Ellis has allows AA to reconsider his options next offseason as well.  Kendrick might be a bit more likely, however, given that the Angels would like to move him, and that they have two guys behind the plate that might make reasonable trade assets, filling two holes with one deal.

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