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)

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.