The elite guys in this category are not as plentiful spots like first and third base. Many of the middle tier second basemen provide virtually the same offensive output. If you’re unable to land one of the few elite guys at this position, waiting until later in the draft and going for a sleeper may be the best route.
- Chase Utley PHI- Utley has been the best second baseman in Major League Baseball since his first full season in 2005 when he had 105 RBIs. Last year he had career highs in walks and stolen bases while still hitting 31 homers.
- Robinson Cano NYY- Cano doesn’t get much attention with the presence of A-Rod, Tex, and Jeter in the same lineup, which is part of the reason he is so under-rated. After a down 2008, Cano bounced back to his usual form while scoring 103 times and hitting a career high 25 home runs. Yankee stadium boosts his power production and fantasy owners can take advantage of that.
- Ian Kinsler TEX- Kinsler did not play as well as most expected in 2009 but still had career highs in HR, RBIs, and stolen bases. The emergence of Julio Borbon in the leadoff spot will give Kinsler the chance to drive in even more runs. Kinsler is hindered because he has yet to put together a completely healthy season.
- In the running: Aaron Hill TOR, Brian Roberts BAL, Gordon Beckham CHW (Beckham will qualify for second base shortly after Opening Day)
- Orlando Hudson MIN- Many forget that Hudson was an All-Star for the Dodgers last season before injuries derailed his second half. Signing with the Twins enhanced his fantasy value as he will be hitting in front of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.
- Rickie Weeks MIL- Rickie carried the Brewers in the month of April last season. Before he got hurt, Weeks was on pace to absolutely shatter his career highs in home runs and RBIs.
- Martin Prado ATL- With Kelly Johnson now in Arizona, Martin Prado will get the full-time duty at second base in Atlanta. Prado has always been able to get onbase but last year he added gap power to his game.
- Freddy Sanchez SF- Many people still remember Sanchez for his NL batting title in 2006. He still hits for a fine average but has regressed in all aspects of run production every year since 2006.
- Alberto Callaspo KC- Callaspo is in a rough situation. His fantasy numbers were great last year but his dreadful defense has his starting spot in jeopardy. Callaspo could still be a good pick if he beats out Chris Getz during spring training, but, as of right now, that’s a big ‘if’.
- Skip Schumaker STL- The addition of Felipe Lopez will help the team win games but will also hurt the fantasy values of Skip Schumaker, David Freese, and Julio Lugo (if he had any to begin). Lopez will play all over but his best position is second base where he will get the starts against tough lefties. Schumaker is still a solid player, but the platoon situation is something to consider before your fantasy draft.
Rosters are starting to take shape as we inch closer to spring training. The trade market has been relatively quiet this off-season and the free agent market is dwindling. Some teams are rather comfortable with their rosters as they currently stand but many spots are still in question. Let’s take a look at the most important position battles for each American League team this spring:
Orioles- LF: The Orioles have put together a stellar offense that also has great depth on the bench. Besides left field, the lineup is set. Felix Pie is only 25 and finally realized some of his potential last season after a rough start to his career in Chicago. He provides great defense in left field and a left-handed bat for the bottom of the order. Nolan Reimold is two years older and made his debut last year. As a rookie, Reimold put up 15 homers and 45 RBIs in only 104 contests. They could form a platoon but Pie may be the early favorite to start more games.
Red Sox- IF: The Red Sox are completely set as far as hitters besides maybe another bench player. The bench is currently made of Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, Bill Hall, and Jeremy Hermida. One player who could still find his way onto the team is former starting third baseman, Mike Lowell. The Sox nearly traded Lowell to the Rangers earlier this off-season but his injuries kept the deal from being finalized. Adrian Beltre was signed to play third base. First base is already set with Kevin Youkilis. It seems like the only way for Boston to handle this is to trade Lowell for whatever they can get after he proves his health during spring training.
White Sox- BENCH: After shaking up the lineup earlier this winter, the batting order seems to be set. The White Sox have a veteran bench including Ramon Castro, Omar Vizquel, and Mark Kotsay. Whoever else is on the bench will have a tough time finding at bats. Jayson Nix has a shot at making the team as the primary right handed pinch hitter. Jayson, like his brother Laynce of the Cincinnati Reds, doesn’t hit for a high average but does provide raw power. Brent Lillibridge would give the team more versatility but has disappointed in all phases at the plate during his two years in the pros. Others who will get a look this spring include catcher Tyler Flowers, infielders Jason Botts and Freddie Bynum, and outfielders Brady Clark and Alejandro De Aza.
Indians- C: The Indians have many spots that are not set heading into camp. First base, second base, and left field could potentially have competitions this spring. However, the most important battle this spring in Cleveland’s camp could be that for the job of starting catcher. Lou Marson was brought in when the Indians traded Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. Carlos Santana is another candidate. Santana is one of the game’s top prospects and his switch-hitting skills profile similar to those of former Cleveland catcher, Victor Martinez. Lou Marson has already played at the top level but Santana has a higher ceiling. Mike Redmond was signed to mentor both prospects and help a young pitching staff.
Tigers- LF: The Tigers seem to be set with rookie Austin Jackson in center field. The left field competition will include front runners Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn along with rookie Wilkin Ramirez. Raburn, who can play all over the field, has had the most success including a strong showing in 2009. The Tigers have also been linked to Johnny Damon this off-season. He would be a nice upgrade at the top of their order because none of the in-house options are ideal for the two spot in the lineup.
Royals- 2B/SS: The Royals have two huge battles this spring and both need to be mentioned here. Alberto Callaspo was a great find last year and spent most of the year around the top of the lineup. He is a very well-rounded hitter with good pop and a good eye. His defense was very poor, however, and that prompted the Royals to acquire Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen trade. Getz is a good defender with more speed than Callaspo. Early in the off-season it didn’t seem to be a log-jam as Callaspo could slide into the DH spot but the Rick Ankiel acquisition moves Jose Guillen to DH. The Royals will have to decide between defense and offense when it comes to their second baseman. The shortstop battle will be just as competitive this year. Yuniesky Betancourt was brought in via trade last summer. That deal left many questioning the front office because Betancourt has been declining in every facet of the game and is under contract through 2011. Mike Aviles was possibly the team MVP in 2008 before injuries derailed his 2009 campaign. The loser of the shortstop competition could very well be traded this spring.
Angels- C: The Angels’ starting catcher will probably be Mike Napoli but expect Jeff Mathis to give him a run for his money. Napoli has more power but his numbers did not go up with the increase in playing time he had last year. Napoli also struggled in the post-season. Mathis is a career .200 hitter but still gets plenty of playing time under Mike Scioscia. Mathis’ great post-season may give him a boost in confidence heading into spring training.
Twins- 3B: The Twins entered the off-season with holes at second, short, and third. Orlando Hudson will play second and J.J. Hardy was traded for to play short. Nick Punto is the favorite to play third given his great defense and the presence of many other prominent bats to pick up his slack at the plate. If Ron Gardenhire needs another bat, however, Brendan Harris could get some playing time. Others who will get a chance to audition at third base this spring are Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, and Danny Valencia.
Yankees- BENCH: Like many other AL teams, the Yankees’ defense is set. New York’s All-Star lineup is amazing, as usual, but every team needs depth. Juan Miranda is a first baseman that has been blocked by Mark Teixeira after solid play throughout the minors. He will fight for a bench spot with the big league team as a left-handed pinch hitter. Marcus Thames will also compete for a pinch hitting role but he is right-handed. Rule 5 Draftee Jamie Hoffman has a slim chance at making the team as a reserve outfielder and may need an injury to either a starter or to Brett Gardner in order to make the roster. Mike Rivera will compete with Francisco Cervelli for the chance to backup Jorge Posada.
Athletics- LF/RF: Coco Crisp is the only outfielder that is a lock for a starting position in Oakland’s outfield. Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney are the early favorites to start in left field and right field, respectively. Davis finally got consistent playing time and was able to produce runs in many clutch plate appearances last season. Sweeney is best known for plus defense but since arriving in Oakland he also has a .349 OBP. Sweeney still lacks power and speed. Travis Buck enters spring training with a chip on his shoulder after the club brought in Gabe Gross, Michael Taylor, and re-signed Jack Cust. Michael Taylor is one of the top prospect in baseball and many think he is ready for a full-time role in Oakland.
Mariners- C: Most of Seattle’s lineup will be different from opening day 2009 (catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, and left field). Catcher is the leading question mark entering 2010. Adam Moore is the catcher of the future but the Mariners see now as their best chance to take the division from the Angels. Will they let Moore grow in the midst of a pennant chase? Josh Bard is a veteran that was invited to camp with a chance to make the roster. Bard had two fairly good seasons in 2006 and 2007 but struggled at the plate last year in 90 games. Moore and Bard will battle Eliezer Alfonzo and Rob Johnson for playing time this year but the Mariners should not expect too much offense from this spot in 2010.
Rays- C: In 2008 Dioner Navarro was an All-Star catcher for the American League Champions. In 2009 Dioner Navarro lost playing time and saw his OBP drop from .349 to .261 while the Rays missed the playoffs. Navarro is still young but the Rays project to again be one of best teams in baseball and need production from the entire lineup to keep pace with Boston and New York. Kelly Shoppach was brought in to compete with Navarro. He is another young catcher who experienced a drop-off in production last year. The Rays hope the competition between the two will spark better play in 2010.
Rangers- 1B: The Rangers will again have a good offense with players like Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, and so on. One spot that isn’t so great is first base. Chris Davis played well as a rookie in 2008 but his ability to get onbase completely fell off the chart last year. The Rangers have their eyes set on the playoffs and tried to acquire Mike Lowell as insurance for first base. Lowell’s nagging injuries didn’t allow the deal to be completed. Justin Smoak is a switch-hitting prospect but is still very young. The Rangers may still look to free agency for a hitter like Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, or, longtime Ranger, Hank Blalock.
Blue Jays- LF: The Blue Jays are in rebuilding mode and are looking to stopgaps to fill in all over the field. Utility-man Jose Bautista may end up being the stopgap in left field. He has the ability to hit for power but will not have a high average. Bautista is the favorite but Jeremey Reed is another option along with speedster Joey Gathright. The Jays had a potential five tool left fielder in Michael Taylor but traded him for corner infield prospect, Brett Wallace. Free agents Johnny Damon and Willy Taveras could be brought in to play left and provide top-of-the-order experience as well.
A year ago, Ken Griffey Jr. and Omar Vizquel were preparing for the role of mentor and part-time player with their new clubs. For two decades, these icons had been obvious starters given their exceptional talents and respected presence on the diamond. Griffey and Vizquel were staples in center field and at shortstop, respectively, as they had defined their positions with Gold Glove after Gold Glove. But with age and injuries taking a toll on these great baseball players, a new role provided them a chance to stay in the game as mentors for a couple of promising teams.
Junior took a DH role back where it all began in Seattle while Vizquel went to Texas as a utility infielder. Though they did not start as many games, their presence was still known in the field and at the plate. Each helped transform their teams back into winners and next season looks bright for the Mariners and Rangers. Early this off-season, Griffey re-signed with the M’s with a similar role in-store and Vizquel signed a one year deal with the White Sox to provide the same intangibles and versatility he did in Texas.
As the off-season has progressed, many of these former All-Stars are finding themselves in the same position as Griffey and Vizquel. This evening it was reported that Jim Thome and the Minnesota Twins have agreed to a one year deal worth $1.5M. Besides a huge paycut, Thome’s playing time will decrease too. He will have to earn at-bats from Jason Kubel at DH but will be their primary pinch hitter off the bench.
There are still a few other prominent players in search of those elusive at-bats. Carlos Delgado is rehabbing in hopes of landing the first base job with the New York Mets. Gary Sheffield’s market has been quiet this year though he still produced in 268 at-bats in 2009. Randy Winn is still capable of playing solid defense in all three outfield spots and showed great durability in 149 games last season. Another solid outfielder, Jermaine Dye, played in 140 games and hit 27 home runs. Despite great power numbers, Dye’s performance declined in the second half.
It’s an especially tough time for these aging stars given the fairly common youth movements happening across the Majors. With time running out in this winter’s Hot Stove League, where do you see these players ending up? And will any of these guys arrive at Opening Day with starting jobs?
My predictions of a free agent pitcher each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Tim Redding could reunite with his former team as a swing-man after failing in NY.
Royals: Joe Beimel to be their lefty out of the bullpen.
Pirates: Kevin Gregg who will compete with Joel Hanrahan for the closer job.
Orioles: Erik Bedard can comeback to Baltimore and help a push for the Wild Card.
Indians: D.J. Carrasco will be the fifth man in their young rotation after performing well out of the White Sox’ bullpen.
Mets: Joel Piniero to help solidify their rotation because their makeover won’t be complete without a couple more starters.
Diamondbacks: Will Ohman to give the D-Backs another lefty to throw against the left-handed sluggers of the NL West (Helton, Gonzalez, Ethier, Loney, etc.).
Padres: Seth McClung who may get a chance to start.
Astros: Rich Hill as a low-risk/high-reward lefty; they don’t have much to spend after a couple questionable commitments this off-season.
Blue Jays: Pedro Martinez to mentor the very young rotation and be a trade chip at the deadline.
Athletics: John Bale as a veteran lefty out of the pen.
Cincinnati: Luis Vizcaino on an inexpensive deal; not much money left after they reportedly signed Aroldis Chapman this morning.
White Sox: Noah Lowry to rehab at AAA and provide depth for the strong rotation.
Brewers: Mark Mulder to meet up with a couple former coaches and try to stay healthy.
Cubs: Kiko Calero as a veteran righty in the pen though they need a starter badly as well.
Rays: Brendan Donnelly to come out of a bullpen that doesn’t have much depth.
Mariners: Ron Mahay to join the team’s renovation as their top bullpen lefty.
Tigers: Justin Speier who can help a good but young relief corps.
Braves: Ken Takahashi to compete for a spot in the bullpen.
Twins: Doug Davis would fit in well with the Twins as their 3 starter.
Marlins: Guillermo Mota will return to Florida for his second tour as a durable righty.
Rangers: Jon Garland who can be a reliable guy in the rotation that already has a couple injury prone starters.
Giants: Braden Looper will head back to the bullpen where he has had his most success.
Cardinals: Joe Nelson has been a solid reliever the past few years and the Cards don’t have much to spend.
Rockies: Jose Contreras pitched well last year in 7 games for Colorado.
Red Sox: Horacio Ramirez to provide lefty depth in the bullpen but will begin the season in AAA.
Dodgers: Chien-Ming Wang who will have to get healthy in a hurry because the Dodgers desperately need starters.
Angels: Chan Ho Park to be a middle reliever.
Phillies: Brian Shouse to replace retiree Scott Eyre as the second lefty in the pen.
Yankees: Mark Prior to continue his lengthy rehab process.
My predictions of a free agent hitter each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Chad Tracy to pinch hit and get some defense at 1st base for Adam Dunn.
Royals: Vladimir Guerrero to DH; maybe play some right to keep Jose Guillen rested. (I would say Scott Podsednik but it appears he is about to sign with them anyway.)
Pirates: Rick Ankiel to play right field and hit 4th/5th.
Orioles: Hank Blalock to play first base though Baltimore may use Garrett Atkins there.
Indians: Jose Molina to mentor the team’s young catching prospects.
Mets: Bengie Molina who will start at catcher.
Diamondbacks: Randy Winn to play left field and mentor their young outfielders.
Padres: Brad Ausmus to backup Nick Hundley at catcher.
Astros: Jerry Hairston Jr. to start the season at short until Manzella is ready
Blue Jays: Endy Chavez is a great defender in the outfield.
A’s: Khalil Greene to possibly get some innings at short and third.
Reds: Miguel Tejada to start at shortstop and hit 2nd.
White Sox: Ryan Church to be insurance for oft-injured outfielders Andruw Jones and Carlos Quentin.
Brewers: Fernando Tatis to provide some pop off the bench from the right side.
Cubs: Orlando Hudson to play second base and hit 2nd.
Rays: Marcus Thames who can hit for power and start if Joyce/Perez need time at AAA.
Mariners: Xavier Nady has power and can split innings at first with Casey Kotchman.
Tigers: Alfredo Amezaga to spend time in center and at second while prospects learn.
Braves: Jeremy Reed who won’t cost to much and can play all three OF spots.
Twins: Orlando Cabrera fit right in last year and he’ll be back to play second base this time.
Marlins: Gabe Gross to provide a lefty bat off the bench.
Rangers: Russell Branyan who will have to sign another cheap, one year deal.
Giants: Yorvit Torrealba to share catching duties with Buster Posey like Torrealba did with Iannetta in Colorado.
Cardinals: Matt Stairs to pinch hit.
Rockies: Jason Giambi will re-sign after a fun run in Colorado last year.
Red Sox: Rocco Baldelli to backup the outfield because I believe they will trade Jeremy Hermida.
Dodgers: Felipe Lopez to play second base and thrive in that lineup.
Angels: Melvin Mora who will get time at third and left.
Phillies: Paul Bako to play catcher at AAA and wait for an opportunity like he got last year with the Phillies.
Yankees: Reed Johnson to split time with Brett Gardner in left.
On the eve of Matt Holliday signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, I would like to take a look at the other end of the free agent spectrum. Here are three players who hope the hot stove league simmers long enough for them to cash in too.
Melvin Mora 3B: Melvin is a more interesting candidate than most people would think. Playing in Baltimore didn’t bring him a ton of publicity but he’s put up good numbers in his ten year career. Mora has hovered around a .275 AVG and .340 OBP since 2003 while driving in 104 runs twice in that span. His power dropped bigtime in 2009 but he has dedicated himself to conditioning this off-season in order to have more defensive versatility. I see him going to the Angels as a 3B/LF option as they have never seemed too keen on giving Brandon Wood a whole season at third.
Hank Blalock 1B: Hank Blalock was once a highly touted third baseman for Texas until a string of injuries interrupted his career for parts of the 2007-2009 seasons. His progress was stunted but his pure talent came through this year as he hammered 25 homeruns as a first baseman and DH. He lost his third base job to Michael Young but his body may be healthy enough to get some more innings over there next year. He will be signed as a first baseman primarily with Baltimore being the best fit because he could DH now and then as well.
Braden Looper SP: In the spring of 2007 Cardinals manager Tony LaRusa decided to move Braden Looper into the rotation because the club needed another starter. He started 30 games and won half of his decisions. The move worked alright for the Cardinals but it wasn’t the best move for Braden Looper. That made him think he was a starter and the Milwaukee Brewers agreed by giving him a 2 year deal. Looper’s straight fastball and pitching machine motion led to a league worst 39 homers allowed in 2009. An idea for Looper this winter: Go back to the bullpen! Out of the pen he was extremely durable (8 consecutive years with at least 60 appearances) and rather effective (only one of those years with an ERA over 3.94). He will stay in the NL and sign with the San Francisco Giants as a middle reliever.
Are there better fits for these players? Who else will be flying under the radar as the hot stove moves on?
The multi-year deals have not been flying around like off-seasons of past. Think players like Carlos Silva or Gil Meche would walk away with 4-5 year deals this winter? Now that we’ve entered 2010 teams will be looking for this year’s low-risk/high-reward one year deals. But some guys are worthy of longer commitments. Here are the top dozen players with the best chance of getting a 2+ year deal and a possible destination.
C- Bengie Molina: 2 years, New York Mets
1B- Russell Branyan: 2 years, Texas Rangers
1B- Adam LaRoche: 2 years, Seattle Mariners
2B- Orlando Hudson: 2 years, Chicago Cubs
2B- Felipe Lopez: 2 years, Los Angeles Dodgers
SS- Orlando Cabrera: 2 years, Minnesota Twins
SS/3B- Miguel Tejada: 2 years, Cincinnati Reds
3B- Adrian Beltre: 3 years, Boston Red Sox
LF- Johnny Damon: 2 years, San Francisco Giants
LF- Matt Holliday: 6 years, St. Louis Cardinals
SP- Aroldis Chapman: 5 years, Florida Marlins
SP- Joel Piniero: 3 years, New York Mets
Some remaining free agents who are on the fringe include Rick Ankiel, Vladimir Guerrero, Doug Davis, Jarrod Washburn and Jose Valverde. Marlon Byrd’s backloaded contract with the Cubs may set precedent for quite a few of these players who want that extra year guaranteed.