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Nov 11

Free Agent Fun with Comps: the Second Basemen

emilioBonifacioEmilio Bonifacio in 2013 with Toronto

This is part 3 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Read part 1 and part 2.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I discuss the second basemen.

SECOND BASEMEN

There’s a reason the Seattle Mariners signed Robinson Cano to a 10-year 240 million dollar contract last season. Even at the age of 31, he was an impact player at a position where value is usually fairly tepid. Entering last season, Cano had already accumulated five seasons of 5+ bWAR (an arbitrary cutoff, but one I used to distinguish the All Star level and borderline), which was tied for third all time. He now has six, tied for second with the likes of Chase Utley, Roberto Alomar, and Ryne Sandberg.

You pay for those guys. Why I bring that up is that you won’t see a player like that this year. Not even close. Rafael Furcal was a three time All Star and legitimately spectacular when he was a shortstop with the Braves…about a decade ago. He still had two Hall of Fame players in his top three for comps though.

That’s nice.

There are a few players such as Emilio Bonifacio and Rickie Weeks who are relatively young enough (will be 30 and 32 in the upcoming season) that you take a flyer on, especially Bonifacio who is likely the one candidate amongst this group to provide real value over the life of any deal signed beyond one year.

All players listed below are sorted by career bWAR

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Rafael Furcal 37 Al Dark Pee Wee Reese Dark
Mark Ellis 38 Marco Scutaro Mike Bordick Ellis
Kelly Johnson 33 Bill Hall Robby Thompson Johnson
Rickie Weeks 32 Damion Easley Robby Thompson Easley
Ramon Santiago 35 Alvaro Espinoza Alvaro Espinoza Santiago
Emilio Bonifacio 30 Alan Bannister Alan Bannister Bonifacio
Jonathan Herrera 30 Juan Bonilla Alex Arias Bonilla
Ed Lucas 33 Jack Saltzgaver Pete Orr Saltzgaver
Josh Wilson 34 Eddie Pellagrini Augie Ojeda Wilson
Brandon Hicks 29
Chris Valaika 29

Second Basemen by Comps

1.  Rafael Furcal – Furcal missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery and missed a total of 153 games in 2014 because of a hamstring strain. In the nine games he did play for Miami he was about what you’d expect someone not playing in nearly two years would be. Since entering his 30s, he’s missed 601 games in total, or about 53% of the possible games played over those seven seasons. He’s not the shortstop he was back in the day when he was terrorizing the NL East for the Braves, and the last time he actually stole a base was in 2012, so maybe he still has speed, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

At 37 Al Dark put up borderline All Star numbers for the Chicago Cubs and was slightly better than replacement level for the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Braves in 1960. I don’t think Furcal comes close to the 3.5 bWAR Dark put up in those two seasons. I wish he would, though. I miss the Furcal that terrorized the Mets in those days.

2.  Mark Ellis – Ellis entered the season on the DL with tendonitis in his knee and was on the DL again prior to season’s end with an oblique strain. Why is this important? Because he’ll be 38 next year and these are injuries that aren’t really fluke ones. They happen because the body is aging and muscles and ligaments aren’t as spry as they were in youth. When he did play, he hit just .180/.253/.213 and had an OPS+ of 32. I don’t think Ellis is as bad as all that going forward, and he still can field his position. Don’t ask him to be your starter, and I think a team will do just fine.

Marco Scutaro is Ellis’ closest comp, which makes any assessment trickier. Last season, at 38, Scutaro missed all but five games for the World Champion (obligatory) Giants because of chronic lower back issues. Ellis will provide enough value off of the bench to surpass Scutaro going forward.

Aging sucks.

3.  Kelly Johnson – Toronto and Tampa were the only two teams Johnson didn’t start for in the AL East last season, and he was somehow traded intra-division twice (from the Yankees to the Red Sox, then from the Sox to the Orioles). Only in New York did he play above replacement level, though he did log some meaningful innings at third for the O’s after Chris Davis was suspended. That he didn’t do too much in those games shouldn’t surprise anyone since he’s about two years removed from being productive. Does he still have any power left? He won’t hit for a high average, but he still has a decent glove.   He’ll be just 33 entering ’15, so he’s a good bet to rebound and hit 12-15 homers.

Bill Hall was out of baseball after the age of 32. Johnson should top that.

4.  Rickie Weeks – Weeks is the other former All Star in this group, making it to the game in 2011. Although Weeks has had a fine career, hitting 20+ homers three straight years from 2010-12 and hitting double digits six times, doesn’t it seem like he’s always been more potential than reality? He’s had some solid seasons, reaching over three bWAR twice in his career, but it seemed like he should do so much more. Given the opportunity, Weeks can absolutely crush a batting practice fastball:

From 32 on Damion Easley was often injured, never played a full season and played just well enough to stay employed on the  veteran minimum. I don’t think Weeks is done as a player, but I still don’t see him exceeding Easley’s later year accomplishments, especially if he’s leaving hitter friendly Miller Park.

5.  Ramon Santiago – To put this season’s list of free agents into perspective, Santiago tied for first in bWAR with 0.6. In 75 games as a utility infielder for the Reds, Santiago hit .246/.343/.324 with an OPS+ of 91. As a utility infielder, he provides value and will be cheap to sign. Ask the Nationals if it’s nice to have decent, low cost utility infielders hanging around for when the starters go broken.

I always liked Alvaro Espinosa when I was a kid even if he did play for the Yankees, but at the age of 35 he was through. Santiago will surpass Espinosa’s -0.6 bWAR at that age, but don’t get charitable and give him a second year.

6.  Emilio Bonifacio – That Bonifacio logged more time in centerfield last season than he did at second doesn’t matter for this list. He can play second, spending the majority of his time there prior to 2014, and if you ask him to play out of position you sometimes come across scary things like this. He will likely never reach that 2.7 bWAR he achieved in 2011 with the Marlins (where he hit an obscene .372 on BABIP and stole 40 bases), but he’s a legitimate threat to swipe a bag. I wouldn’t bet on him turning into a patient hitter either. He’s actually regressing in that department, decreasing from a career high of walks in 9.1% of his plate appearances in 2011 to just 6.1% of the time this past year. He hits well enough that he’s not a wasted at bat (just don’t ask the Braves, though, where he sort of became a strikeout machine with 36 K’s in 118 official at-bats). He is handy with the glove, and he offers the most upside of any in this group.

At 30, Bannister enjoyed one of his finest seasons, accumulating 1.2 bWAR while hitting .267/.347/.353. Because of injuries and, well, not being all that good that about totaled Bannister’s entire ledger until he retired in 1985.

Bonifacio should eke past that total next year.

JonathanHerrera7.  Jonathan Herrera – What do a lot of these guys have in common? They are largely utility fielders at this point, bouncing around the infield whenever needed. Herrera logged innings at second, short, and third for Boston last season, recording an OPS+ of 69 in his 42 games in Beantown. His offense declined after leaving Coors Field if you don’t take park effects into consideration, but for 1.3 million he played okay. He’ll field his position, make the occasional start, and luck into a walk from time to time.

Juan Bonilla played 23 games for the Yankees when he was 31, and that was the end of his career. As far as I know, he isn’t related to Bobby Bonilla, which is worth extra points on top of the 0 bWAR he earned in 1987. I think Herrera will hang around, settle in comfortably at replacement level or below, but for this exercise, Bonilla wins.

8.  Ed Lucas – Would it shock you to learn that Lucas spent time all over the infield for the Marlins last season? No. Okay, then. Lucas isn’t going to wow you with his on-base skills, but if he gets on second, watch out. That stolen base was his only one of the season, but it came against Cole Hamels so it’s worth 10. I mean that. Bad things happening to Hamels on the diamond  is like a gigantic thumbs up, karmically speaking.

Lucas’ closest comp is Jack Saltzgaver. His greatest claim to baseball was playing on three Yankees World Championship teams in 1932, 1936-37. I’m guessing those teams won because of guys like Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, et al. Tony Lazzeri was the starting second baseman. It was tough being a bench player for the Yanks, but Saltzgaver still wore pinstripes.

Saltzgaver wins this one because he probably told better stories.

9.  Josh Wilson – Things got so bad for the Texas Rangers last season that Josh Wilson’s 0.4 bWAR in 24 games ranked seventh for their infielders (the Rangers sort of employed a throw spaghetti against the wall strategy for their roster, by the way) and made him four times more valuable than Rougned Odor who played the majority of the innings at second. Wilson has spent the majority of his career bouncing around the minors while making stops in the Majors to provide a good glove without much offense. He also went to the same  high school (Mount Lebanon HS) as former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, which I found to be cool.

Eddie Pellagrini had something of a breakout year at the age of 35, which was sandwiched between two sub replacement seasons. Wilson will surpass the -0.8 accumulated by Pellagrini over those three years, but it will be entirely with his glove. The trick will be finding a roster spot. When he plays he’s a net positive.

10.  Brandon Hicks – There’s really no reason to believe that Hicks can actually hit at the Major League level. He has a bit of power, totaling eight home runs for the Giants in 71 games last season while hitting .162/.280/.319, but the Giants had a better hitter in their pitching staff (Madison Bumgarner, who apparently does everything well). Hicks 72 OPS+ still makes him an offensive juggernaut in this group, however. He still earned a ring for his time prior to being designated for assignment.

He’ll sign a minor league contract somewhere, make brief visits to the Majors to fill in from time to time (like say when you’re starter misses time with back pain) and will play at replacement level, which is the definition or something.

11.  Chris Valaika – The last in our list, both alphabetically and by career bWAR, is Valaika who is another career minor leaguer who can play multiple positions reasonably well. When given a chance he won’t hit all that much, but he’s one of those guys teams have at Triple-A ready to fill in when needed.

Running count of players appearing most in similarity lists:

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B

Similar Players by Count

Next, I discuss the shortstops.

Emilio Bonifacio and Jonathan Herrera photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

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