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)

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

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I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.