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November 11, 2010

So You Need

Middle Infielders

by Marc Normandin

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Between shortstop and second base there are just two players available through free agency who will be under the age of 30 in 2011. Those two players, Anderson Hernandez (28) and Scott Moore (27), only have youth on their side. If a team is looking for production up the middle, it will have to pay for someone who is past his peak. That doesn't mean the team will get its money's worth, though, it will get someone who can do an impersonation of a regular second baseman or shortstop because there are a plethora of useful utility infielder-type options. To be a bit more blunt, the chance that a general manager could wish for and receive a quality shortstop from Santa Claus is nearly even with their chance of signing one.

Second Basemen

David Eckstein will be 36 years old in 2011, and though he can still provide help with his glove, the bat may not be there anymore.  Though 2010 began as a strong season for him, he was a mess from June onward, as what little power he had vanished, his plate patience disappeared and he began to strike out often (well, often for him, anyway). Part of that was due to a calf injury that landed him on the disabled list, but part of it was due to his age. Middle infielders don't exactly age gracefully, as the pages of baseball history can tell you, and it's not like Eckstein can afford to lose much of his game before he crosses the line between acceptable and retired. He can be inexpensive insurance up the middle, but that may be it at this point.

Jerry Hairston Jr.'s .250 TAv wasn't great, but his glove helped the Padres stay in playoff contention throughout the summer at both shortstop and second base. He could be excused for the a poor performance at the plate even if he had not fielded well, though, as Hairston played with what were believed to be shin splints for much of the season, and turned out to be a fractured tibia instead. His translated line of .269/.325/.396 isn't bad for a utility infielder, or even a starting shortstop, especially considering he is still a capable fielder and will be playing with two legs rather than one in 2011. The price tag was low with the Padres ($2.125 million), and a similar deal would be a steal for whoever claims him given the state of both the free agent class and middle infielders in general.

Bill Hall is another utility infielder (who is also capable of playing in the outfield), and compared to the rest of the field, he's still a pup at age 31. In 382 plate appearances, Hall registered 2.1 WARP on the strength of a .272 TAv and solid defense at multiple positions. He is a bit stretched as a starter due to struggles against right-handers (though he had a reverse split in 2010 where lefties were the problem) but there is plenty of value in his versatility. After making over $8.5 million in 2010, Hall is due for a pay cut, but he's perfect for a team with a strong lineup looking to upgrade its bench with someone capable of 300 quality plate appearances and good defensive play.

Orlando Hudson may be the only true second baseman worth discussing on the free agent market. His .267 TAv was right around the league average—though his unadjusted line looks poor as Target Field favored pitchers and his translated line is a much more attractive .285/.358/.400. Hudson's glove was also a positive, he combined the two strengths for 3.6 WARP despite just 126 games played due to a strained wrist. He will be 33 in 2011, which isn't that young in second basemen terms, meaning he will most likely be signed to a one- or two-year deal on the cheap (Hudson made just $5 million in 2010) by a club looking for a stopgap.

Shortstops

There is a part of me that wishes I could just copy and paste the Hairston blurb and yesterday's Miguel Tejada one here, because that is how thin the options are at short. That isn't any fun, though, so here goes: let's tackle these options one-by-one, because being a masochist is cool.

Derek Jeter may be a problem due to his defense over the next few years, but he is a problem reserved for the Yankees only. No other team is even going to bother contacting Jeter as he works out his Lifetime Achievement Deal with the Bombers, so let's scratch him from the available options. That leaves us with a collection of players we have already discussed in this series (Juan Uribe, the aforementioned Hairston and Tejada) and a collection of players who will find jobs in 2011 simply due to shortstop having as much depth as most of Michael Bay's plots.

Geoff Blum will be 38, and is a better fit as a backup infielder. From 1999-2010, Blum amassed all of 7.3 WARP, meaning he isn't much better than replacement level, and certainly isn't any more productive than that at this late stage in his career.

Orlando Cabrera had been useful despite a bat that retired after the 2007 season thanks to his glove, but he seems to have lost a step in the field. His injury that allowed Paul Janish to step into the mix on a daily basis was actually a best-case-scenario situation for the Reds in 2010. The fact Cabrera remains a Type B free agent despite his last few seasons says more about the state of the position than it does Orlando Cabrera.

The last time Bobby Crosby was better than replacement level at the plate was 2005, and as a 31-year-old who is a question mark on both sides of the ball, he won't be anyone's idea of a solution at short. Arizona barely used him after acquiring him from the Pirates, not that his .189 TAv convinced them that he should see more action.

Adam Everett's career TAv is .229, which is .001 below the replacement-level threshold. He isn’t the fielder he used to be, either, which explains why the Tigers were able to cut him loose after just 89 plate appearances in 2010. No one signed Everett even to stick him in the minor leagues for insurance. However, his agent has said there is interest, so maybe a minor-league deal with a non-roster invitation is in the works.

Cesar Izturis is one of the worst hitters in baseball—his .204 TAv of 2010 is actually his second-lowest showing over a full season in his career—but he can field. The problem is he can't field well enough to be better than replacement level, and he cost the Orioles at least a win over replacement in 2010.  Izturis is better suited as a late-inning defensive replacement as he doesn't hit enough to handle a starting role.

Julio Lugo was dreadful enough in 2010 that Izturis ended up with more at-bats with the Orioles. Lugo has 17.6 career WARP over 11 seasons, and a grand total of 1.5 of that has come over the last four seasons combined thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness. While Boston can celebrate that it is finally free from the responsibility of paying him, that sinking feeling will be transferred to whoever acquires him next.

World Series MVP Edgar Renteria's retirement plan was a curious thing, as he's certainly no star anymore, but he is a much better option than nearly every shortstop available. Deciding to come back was a good decision, as he will find work. If teams pick someone else over him, they may be making a mistake. He is not a great defender, and he is not a great hitter, either, but he performs neither task poorly, which is more than you can say for most of the available shortstops. Renteria should mostly play against lefties, but he won't embarrass himself against right-handers. He may not be an average shortstop anymore, but he has the best shot of anyone profiled specifically underneath the heading of "Shortstop" of helping someone.

Related Content:  Shortstop,  The Who

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