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)

The Mets are among six teams that help Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 19:  A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.

Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.

Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”

Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.

Video: Albert Pujols hits 569th career home run, tying Rafael Palmeiro

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 22:  Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 22, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.

Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.

Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.

Alex Gordon to miss three to four weeks with a fractured scaphoid bone

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 22:  Alex Gordon #4 and Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals collide going for a foul ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Royals 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.

Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.

Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.

The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.

Orioles trade reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 17:  Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning on May 17, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.

Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.

MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.

Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.

Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.