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Hot Stove Preview: Top Free Agent Second Basemen Available

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We continue our trek through the best available free agents on a position-by-position basis. The next up: Second Basemen. If you think some of the other positions are thin, boy howdy, get a load of second base.

Neil Walker

The Mets gave him a $17.2 million qualifying offer. Given that he’s coming off of back surgery, one suspects that he’ll strongly consider taking it. Not that he’d have no market in the normal course. It’s just that teams may be loathe to give up a draft pick for a guy coming off of an injury who, as it is, plays mediocre second base. Walker is certainly solid — he’s been an above-average hitter, often well above average, for basically his entire career– but there are questions about him entering the offseason and there will be a high price to pay for a guy whose best years in terms of both health and production may very well be behind him. Any long term deal Walker does sign is likely to pay him far less per annum than the qualifying offer, so it will an interesting decision for him to be sure. Of course, the Mets and Walker could just agree to tear up the qualifying offer and put a two or three-year deal on the table that could serve both sides’ interests.

Sean Rodriguez

More of a super utility guy, but we have to put him someplace. He’ll be in demand after a year in which he hit .270/.349/.510 with 18 homers in 300 at-bats while starting games at six different positions. That was a bit of a fluke, batting wise, but even if he cuts the gains he realized over his career numbers in half, he’s a quite valuable commodity. It’s just an open question as to whether anyone envisions him as playing at a set position as opposed to being a rover like he was in 2016.

Jose Miguel Fernandez

Fernandez left Cuba in late 2015 and he spent more than two years not playing baseball at all, really. He’s now playing in the Dominican Winter League, hitting for good contact but possessing no power. There’s also a risk that he’s more of a third baseman than a second basemen — he’s been playing third in the Dominican Republic — but he’s an intriguing gamble.

Chase Utley

The old man keeps on keeping on. He works hard, is in shape and was so great in his prime that even his decline plays well, but it likely won’t play well for too much longer. He’s a platoon guy now, who should only play against righties. Obviously a great clubhouse guy, and someone will probably value that. That he’s one of the top 3-4 available second baseman is pretty telling as to how thin this position is.

Steve Pearce

I included him in our first base rundown because, to be honest, he probably belongs there more than anyplace else. Still, he has played a decent amount of second base and could appear there for someone in 2017. He hit well in Tampa Bay — .309/.388/.520 in 204 at-bats — but declined sharply once he returned to Baltimore. Who knows what to expect from him next year? At the worst he’s a good platoon guy to face lefties and a utility option.

Stephen Drew

A shortstop for almost all of his career before the Yankees made him a second baseman for a season and then the Nationals moved him around a lot as a backup/utility guy. He had his best offensive season, rate stat wise, in his career (125 OPS+) but he only had 165 plate appearances. Like so many here, he may be best utilized as a utilityman.

Kelly Johnson

He was miserable with the Braves but .268/.328/.459 in 183 AB after being traded back to New York. The way his career has gone he’ll sign with Atlanta and then be traded back to New York again. He played 52 games at second base last year but can handle corners too.

Others available: Gordon Beckham, Andres Blanco, Emmanuel Burriss, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Descalso, Johnny Giavotella, Grant Green, Tyler Ladendorf, Jimmy Paredes, Eric Sogard, Ruben Tejada, Jemile Weeks

Report: Some MLB teams using outside labs for COVID-19 testing

MLB COVID-19 testing
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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Zach Buchanan report that the Diamondbacks are one of several teams that have used labs other than the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Utah to process COVID-19 testing. MLB has encountered delays with its testing, despite promising 24-hour turnaround time, so teams have tried other avenues — with the league’s endorsement — in order to get faster results.

The SMRTL had processed performance-enhancing drug screenings for MLB. The league converted it to process COVID-19 tests amid concerns that having a season and all of the testing that would be required throughout would take away testing resources from the general public. That some teams are utilizing labs other than the SMRTL suggests the league, indeed, is usurping those resources.

In prospect Seth Beer’s case, he tested positive for COVID-19. He needed to test negative twice consecutively to be cleared to return to play. Beer went to a third-party site in the Phoenix area. He received his second negative test and was cleared to return on July 9.

The Diamondbacks said that the labs they have used have assured them that they are not taking away tests from the public. That seems like a claim MLB and the D-Backs should demonstrably prove. Per Rosenthal and Buchahan, the D-Backs have gone to an outside lab about 20 times, which accounts for less than one percent of COVID-19 tests taken by players and staff. Still, those are 20 tests that could have been used by the general public. And if the D-Backs and a handful of other teams already are using outside labs, then the rest of the league likely already is or soon will be doing the same. In the end, there will be a lot more than 20 tests taken at outside labs by MLB players and staff. Considering that “Tier 1” players will be tested every other day throughout the season, the total of third-party tests taken — if things continue the way they are now — could easily reach into the thousands by the end of October.

We all want baseball back, but the players, coaches, and all other staff are no more important than cashiers, teachers, and delivery drivers, so they shouldn’t have more access to COVID-19 testing simply by virtue of being associated with Major League Baseball and all of its influence and financial muscle. It would be unethical for MLB to be cutting in line ahead of other people who need testing just as much as if not more than the players.