Beginning this Saturday, baseball’s free agents will be eligible to sign with any team they want.
We’re in the process of breaking down the best available free agents by position, with some special attention paid to the top guys at each spot. We’ve already done starting pitchers, relief pitchers, outfielders, and corner infielders. Now let’s do middle infielders.
No doubt the focus here will be on Manny Machado. Despite his postseason antics, teams will still be plenty interested in him, even if they say otherwise. Teams expected to seriously be in the running for Machado’s services include the Phillies, Cubs, Yankees, Marlins, and of course the Dodgers. Machado turns 27 years old in July. Any team that signs him will be getting three or four of his prime years, which makes him incredibly valuable as a free agent. It would not be surprising if Machado were able to procure a contract nearing or exceeding $300 million, though the rather slow-moving free agent market in recent years might hamper that dream.
Daniel Murphy is the next-most attractive free agent middle infielder. Given that he’s 33 years old, he isn’t going to get a deal any longer than three or four years, but teams will otherwise covet his bat. Though 2018 was disappointing based on how productive he was the two years prior, a .790 OPS is more than adequate at second base where the average OPS is .712. If the Phillies miss out on Manny Machado, Murphy could be a fallback option (assuming César Hernández is traded). The Cubs, Indians, and Dodgers should also be expected to be involved.
Asdrúbal Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Brian Dozier, Jed Lowrie, Logan Forsythe, and Neil Walker make up the next tier of middle infielders. They can all hit but have subpar defense to varying degrees. They’re also relatively old and some have some varying issue with injuries. These guys are likely to get two- or three-year deals.
The fourth tier of players includes Daniel Descalso, Freddy Galvis, José Iglesias, and DJ LeMahieu. Some may balk at me putting LeMahieu in this tier, but outside of his 2016 season in which he won the batting title, he has been a subpar offensive second baseman when accounting for the way Coors Field inflates offense. He has a career adjusted OPS of 92 (100 is average) and came in at 88 in 2018. LeMahieu has severe home/road splits having played his entire career to date with the Rockies, batting .330/.387/.448 at Coors Field and .264/.311/.362 elsewhere. Every front office knows how to look up and interpret home/road splits, so it would be surprising if any team looked past them.
Everybody else is on the bottom tier. These players are typically glove-only types or veterans who haven’t been able to stay healthy or on a major league roster for long periods of time. A lot of these players will end up settling for minor league deals with spring training invites.