Free Agency Preview: Second base

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orlando hudson.jpgFree Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
This is part three in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. Here are the second basemen.
Orlando Hudson (Dodgers) – Up until early September, expectations were that the Dodgers would make a push to re-sign Hudson this winter. But the All-Star suddenly lost his job to Ronnie Belliard down the stretch and didn’t start any of his team’s nine postseason games. Now he’s sure to exit Los Angeles and his chances of landing the big multiyear deal he craves have diminished.
Besides the Dodgers, the Mets, Cubs and Diamondbacks are the teams most likely to target second basemen in free agency. The Twins, Tigers, Marlins and Mariners could also dip their toes into the market.
Hudson has stated his preference for playing in New York several times in the past, and the Mets would have a spot for him if they could find a taker for Luis Castillo’s contract first. Hudson is overrated defensively at this point of his career and he’s had trouble staying healthy, but he’d still be a decent enough investment on a short-term deal. Prediction: Mets – two years, $14 million
Placido Polanco (Tigers) – Between Hudson and Polanco, both of this year’s Gold Glove second basemen are available in free agency. Polanco is the game’s steadiest defender at second base, having committed just 10 errors over the last three seasons. He still has pretty good range as well, though now that he’s 34, it remains to be seen how much longer than will last. His OPS has dropped from a career-best 846 in 2007 to 768 in 2008 to 727 last season. Like Hudson, he only makes a lot of sense on a two-year deal. Prediction: Dodgers – two years, $12 million
Felipe Lopez (Brewers) – Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley and Luis Castillo were the only second basemen to best Lopez’s .383 OBP last season. The disastrous 2 1/2-year run in Washington may still have some skeptical, but Lopez has been a terrific second baseman since the Nationals let him go. He’s no longer a basestealer, but he still has well above average range and he’s proven quite durable. Also, he’s just 29 years old, giving him a significant advantage over the rest of the free agents here. He’s likely looking at a two-year deal at a nice raise from the $3.5 million he made last season. Prediction: Cubs – two years, $11 million
Adam Kennedy (Athletics) – After back-to-back poor seasons in St. Louis, no one was interested in giving Kennedy a chance to contend for a starting job as a free agent last winter. Fortunately, he caught a break when the A’s needed infielders to cover for their injuries and he saved his career by hitting .289/.348/.410 with 20 steals in 129 games. Kennedy could always re-sign with the A’s now, but he wouldn’t be guaranteed a starting job with Eric Chavez perhaps on the way back. Odds are that someone else will give him a chance to play second. Prediction: Diamondbacks – one year, $2 million
Other free agents: Juan Uribe (Giants), Jamey Carroll (Indians), Ronnie Belliard (Dodgers), Jerry Hairston Jr. (Yankees), Alex Cora (Mets), Mark Loretta (Dodgers), Edgar Gonzalez (Padres), Josh Barfield (Indians), Danny Richar (Reds), Nick Green (Red Sox), Miguel Cairo (Phillies), Alex Cintron (Nationals), Mark Bellhorn (Rockies), Tony Graffanino (Indians), Pete Orr (Nationals)
Uribe probably isn’t a starting shortstop these days, but he hit like a legitimate second baseman last season, coming in at .289/.329/.495 in 398 at-bats for the Giants. San Francisco wants him back as a utilityman. … Carroll finished with identical .355 OBPs in his two seasons in Cleveland. It’s just too bad he’s no longer anything more than an emergency option at shortstop. … Belliard has been underrated practically forever, so it was nice to see him get a chance to shine with the Dodgers at the end of the year. There should be some team out there willing to pencil him for 300 at-bats between second, third and first.
Trade candidates: Brandon Phillips (Reds), Jose Lopez (Mariners), Dan Uggla (Marlins), Alberto Callaspo (Royals), Kelly Johnson (Braves), Mike Fontenot (Cubs), Kevin Frandsen (Giants), Joaquin Arias (Rangers), Aaron Miles (Cubs), Hernan Iribarren (Brewers), Elliot Johnson (Rays), Brian Bixler (Pirates)
The Reds should be able to reduce payroll without moving Phillips, but if they don’t see him in their long-term plans, now is the time to make the move. He’ll be a lot more attractive this winter than he will be in 2011, when his salary jumps from $6.75 million to $11 million. … Lopez collected 25 homers and 96 RBI as a 25-year-old last season, but he doesn’t get on base and his best position is probably third base. If the Mariners see a chance to sell high, they’ll probably go for it. … I just addressed the Uggla situation on Friday.
Callaspo broke through with a .300/.356/.457 season in 2009 and he’s going to make the minimum for another year, so it’s surprising that the Royals seemingly have him up for bids. However, his defense at second base does leave a lot to be desired. … Frandsen and the Giants both seem fed up with one another, and there’s little chance that the 27-year-old will last the winter in the organization. He’ll be a decent fallback option for a team with a question mark at second base.

Non-tender candidates: Kelly Johnson (Braves), Mike Fontenot (Cubs), Esteban German (Rangers), Joe Inglett (Blue Jays), Jarret Hoffpauir (Blue Jays), Tug Hulett (Royals), Mike McCoy (Blue Jays)
Johnson won’t be back with the Braves, and now it’s just a question of whether Atlanta will get something for him or if the club will have to non-tender him because of his likely $3 million-$3.5 million salary. Some of the teams that aren’t sure whether they’ll pursue second basemen — Minnesota and Detroit come to mind — would be smart to get into the mix if he becomes a free agent. … Fontenot’s OPS slipped from a remarkable 909 in 243 at-bats in 2008 to 677 in 377 at-bats last season, and he turned out to be the final player to qualify for super-two arbitration. The Cubs are expected to go in a different direction at second.
2010-11 free agents: Mark Ellis (Athletics)*, Akinori Iwamura (Pirates), Maicer Izturis (Angels), Omar Infante (Braves)*, Kaz Matsui (Astros), David Eckstein (Padres), Aaron Miles (Cubs)
2011 options: Ellis – $6 million ($500,000 buyout), Infante – $2.5 million ($250,000 buyout)
2011-12 free agents: Robinson Cano (Yankees)*, Aaron Hill (Blue Jays)*, Brandon Phillips (Reds)*, Jose Lopez (Mariners), Dan Uggla (Marlins), Rickie Weeks (Brewers), Kelly Johnson (Braves), Freddy Sanchez (Giants), Clint Barmes (Rockies), Luis Castillo (Mets), Esteban German (Rangers)
2012 options: Cano – $14 million ($2 million buyout), Hill – $26 million club option for 2012-14 (if exercised after 2010), Phillips – $12 million ($1 million buyout)

It’s May 4 and Daniel Murphy is still out-hitting Bryce Harper

Washington Nationals' Daniel Murphy hits an RBI single during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy flirted with the cycle in Wednesday afternoon’s 13-2 drubbing of the Royals, as he went 4-for-5 with a pair of singles, a two-run double, and a solo home run. That brings his triple-slash line on the season up to .398/.449/.663. Comparatively, teammate Bryce Harper — the defending NL MVP and arguably the best player in baseball — is currently hitting .266/.372/.649.

Murphy has always been an above-average hitter, but this level of hitting is something else. Of course, he flashed it in the post-season last year when he homered in six consecutive games, helping the Mets advance past the Dodgers in the NLDS and sweep the Cubs in the NLCS.

The Nats signed Murphy to a three-year, $37.5 million contract in January. If Neil Walker, acquired from the Pirates to replace Murphy, wasn’t hitting so well, the Mets would probably be jealous. Walker is hitting .296/.330/.582 with nine home runs and 19 RBI.

Video: Jon Lester tosses his glove to get the out

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
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It’s always fun when this happens. Cubs starter Jon Lester snagged a grounder hit back up the middle by Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli in the bottom of the second inning. The only problem was that the ball got stuck in the webbing of his glove. Rather than fight to pry the ball out, Lester just lobbed his glove over to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to get the first out of the inning.

Lester has had issues throwing baseballs to first base, so maybe it was a good thing the ball got stuck in his glove.

Lester did this last year, too, by the way.

Alex Rodriguez lands on the 15-day DL with a strained hamstring

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez follows through on a single to right off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Shawn Tolleson in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. The Yankees lost 3-2. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez strained his right hamstring running out a ground ball in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Orioles. The club announced it has placed him on the 15-day disabled list and recalled pitcher James Pazos from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Rodriguez lands on DL hitting .194/.275/.444 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 80 plate appearances.

Dustin Ackley replaced Rodriguez in Tuesday’s game, but the Yankees will likely cycle a handful of players in and out of the DH spot while Rodriguez heals.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday evening’s action

Philadelphia Phillies' Aaron Nola pitches to a Milwaukee Brewers batter during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, April 22, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)
AP Photo/Tom Lynn
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We were treated to a handful of games this afternoon but we still have eight night games left. Let’s talk about the Phillies.

I wrote this preview of the Phillies just before the season started, predicting them to win only 65 games, which would mark only a marginal improvement over their 63-win season last year. In my defense, I wasn’t alone, as almost every expert as well as the projections had them finishing under 70 wins. And yet, here they are 27 games into the season with 16 wins. That’s on pace for a 96-win season. What the heck.

Aaron Nola pitched seven shutout innings against the Cardinals in a 1-0 victory on Tuesday, marking the Phillies’ sixth shutout of the year, the best mark in the majors. Even as the Phillies prepared to draft him, Nola was described as “major league ready” but no one expected him to be quite this dominant. In his first 19 major league starts, Nola has a 3.37 ERA with a 112/26 K/BB ratio over 117 2/3 innings. This year, not only has Nola been extremely stingy with the walks, but he’s been missing bats at an elite level. He’s only 22 years old.

Nola is joined in the rotation by Vincent Velasquez, the pitcher who highlighted the return from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade. The right-hander made headlines in April with a 16-strikeout performance against the Padres and currently stands with a 1.44 ERA with a 39/10 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings. Unlike Nola, Velasquez was billed as a future ace or a dominant eighth- or ninth-inning guy.

Then there’s Jerad Eickhoff, who came over in the Cole Hamels trade last year. Though he has a ho-hum 4.15 ERA, Eickhoff is occasionally dominant as evidenced by his 32/5 K/BB ratio over 30 1/3 innings. He has a pretty curve. Look at it. Eickhoff probably won’t be an ace, but he wasn’t considered to be a future mainstay in the rotation when the Hamels trade went through. All he’s done so far is exceed expectations. Nola-Velasquez-Eickhoff makes for an outstanding start to a long-term starting rotation.

The offensive tools aren’t quite where the pitching is yet for the Phillies, as third baseman Maikel Franco has wavered between looking like Mike Schmidt and looking completely lost at the plate. He has only five hits (zero home runs) in his last 37 plate appearances. Shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford isn’t there yet, nor is outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and outfielder Cornelius Randolph. There’s certainly a lot of hope on the horizon.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Phillies fan, but wearing rose-colored glasses isn’t a crime of which I’ve been often accused over the years. It has been one headache after another being a Phillies fan between 2012-15. The front office under former GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. was stubborn and out of touch. Now, under new president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, the team has a goal and is seeing it through. No, the Phillies won’t win 96 games this year — they probably won’t even win 80 — but they’re certainly further along than a lot of us gave them credit for being.

The Phillies play game three of a four-game set in St. Louis tonight at 8:15 PM EDT. Lefty Adam Morgan will oppose the Cardinals’ Mike Leake.

The rest of Wednesday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Anibal Sanchez) @ Cleveland Indians (Corey Kluber), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (CC Sabathia) @ Baltimore Orioles (Tyler Wilson), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Rubby De La Rosa) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Fernandez), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Alex Wood) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Drew Smyly), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ Chicago White Sox (Carlos Rodon), 8:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Phil Hughes) @ Houston Astros (Mike Fiers), 8:10 PM EDT