As the regular season winds to a close, we’ll continue our position-by-position look at the upcoming free agent class. We’ve already covered catchers, first basemen and third basemen in greater detail, and we’ll slide over to second base this evening.
There’ll certainly be some overlap between second and third base, with plenty of utility options capable of handling either position who’ll be available. It’s also possible we see a team sign a shortstop with little or no second base experience to fill the position. Second is a less demanding spot to handle defensively, and teams with established in-house shortstops could certainly make a run at one of the top free agent shortstops on the market (Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story or Javier Báez) and move them to the keystone as a way of injecting an impact bat into the lineup. (The Mets, already rostering Francisco Lindor, have mostly deployed Báez at second after acquiring him from the Cubs at the deadline). For our purposes, however, we’ll treat that group as shortstops and cover them in-depth later in this series.
Marcus Semien already made that switch last offseason, when the Blue Jays signed the former A’s shortstop and moved him to second in deference to Bo Bichette. It’s plausible Semien moves back to shortstop in free agency this time around, but we’ll include him as a second baseman in this exercise, since 140 of his 154 starts this year have come at second base.
Semien, unsurprisingly, tops the class:
Marcus Semien (31 years old next April): Semien settled for a one-year “prove it” deal with Toronto last winter after a disappointing showing in last year’s shortened season. The hope was he’d replicate his huge 2019 campaign — one in which he finished in third place in AL MVP balloting — before re-entering free agency in search of a big multi-year deal. He’s done exactly that.
Semien leads MLB with 697 plate appearances, and he’s hitting a whopping .268/.339/.543. He’s popped 43 home runs, the fourth-highest total in the league, and stolen fifteen bags. Semien has completely regained his peak offensive form, and he’s taken to his new position with ease. Both Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average have pegged Semien as a plus defender at second base, and it seems likely teams would be comfortable installing him everyday at either middle infield position moving forward. Semien’s age will keep him from landing the length or total guarantee of the market’s younger stars, but he’s wrapping up his second elite season in the past three years and leads all position players in FanGraphs WAR since the start of 2019. There’s no longer any doubt Semien’s an elite player, and a five or six-year deal that easily eclipses $100M shouldn’t elude him this time around. He’s a lock to receive and reject a qualifying offer.
Chris Taylor (31): Taylor’s a true super-utility type who has started games everywhere but first base and catcher this season. The bulk of his playing time has come in center field and at second base, and a club in need of keystone help could plug him in there more regularly moving forward.
Taylor has been a bit unheralded on a Dodgers’ roster loaded with superstars, but he’s been a consistently above-average hitter with passable defensive marks around the diamond. He strikes out a fair amount, but he also hits for power, walks and consistently runs high batting averages on balls in play. His bat has cooled off in the second half after a scorching start to the season. Still, Taylor’s track record and versatility make him a likely qualifying offer recipient and candidate to land a strong three or four-year contract. MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald recently broke down Taylor’s impending free agency at greater length.
Eduardo Escobar (33): Escobar has spent the bulk of his time at third base this year, but he’s also logged 140 plate appearances as a second baseman. Teams could consider him an everyday option at either position, but his early-career days as a shortstop seem mostly to be behind him.
Escobar has had a nice season split between the D-Backs and Brewers. He owns a .249/.312/.465 line with 28 home runs and has popped 20-plus long balls in each of the last four full seasons. Escobar’s abbreviated 2020 campaign was a disaster, but that looks to be an outlier now that he’s posted his more typical production this year. He doesn’t draw too many walks, but Escobar’s a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate who’s a below-average but passable defender at a couple infield positions.
Potential Regulars/High-End Role Players
Josh Harrison (34): Harrison initially looked to be tailing off as he entered his 30’s, but he’s played quite well two years running. Over 545 plate appearances between the Nationals and A’s, he owns a .285/.347/.409 line with a tiny 13.4% strikeout rate. He’s earned Oakland’s regular second base job down the stretch and might have earned himself an everyday role elsewhere this offseason. Harrison doesn’t walk or hit for much power. But he puts the ball in play, can cover multiple positions and would bring a respected veteran presence to a clubhouse.
Jed Lowrie (37): Lowrie bounced back from a pair of lost seasons with the Mets to stay mostly healthy this year with the A’s. The veteran had an exactly league average .245/.318/.398 line in 512 plate appearances, split almost evenly between second base and designated hitter. His days as a regular look to be behind him, but Lowrie still gives teams a solid at-bat when healthy.
Donovan Solano (34): A light-hitting defensive specialist during his early days with the Marlins, Solano bounced around the minors for a few seasons before making it back to the bigs with the Giants in 2019. He’s been surprisingly productive ever since, posting three straight above-average hitting seasons by measure of wRC+. There’s a lot going against Solano; he doesn’t walk much or hit for power, and he’s been limited to almost exclusively playing second base. That makes him something of an imperfect roster fit, but he’s done nothing but hit over the past few years. He makes a lot of contact and owns the league’s third-highest line drive rate (minimum 500 plate appearances) going back to 2019. Teams will be wary of a player who is so reliant on ball-in-play results for his production, but Solano at least looks like a high-end role player who’ll give you good at-bats off the bench — particularly if leveraged against left-handed pitching (.325/.364/.472 in 306 PA against southpaws with the Giants).
Utility Types Who Can Handle The Middle Infield
Ehire Adrianza (32): Adrianza’s a capable glove-first utilityman. He’s worked in a reserve capacity for essentially his entire career, posting decent strikeout and walk numbers with little power.
Matt Duffy (31): Duffy has had a decent season bouncing around the diamond for the Cubs. He makes contact, uses the whole field and hits a solid number of line drives. Duffy had to settle for a minor league pact after not appearing in the majors last season, but his .275/.346/.370 line over 295 plate appearances could be enough to land a guaranteed big league job this time around.
Alcides Escobar (35): Escobar hadn’t played in the majors for three years before being called upon by a Nationals team dealing with a series of injuries. He’s held up surprisingly well upon being thrust into an everyday role, hitting .281/.329/.390 over 321 plate appearances and covering both middle infield positions. Escobar’s offense is still entirely dependent on hitting for a high batting average and he’s probably miscast as an everyday player, at least for teams with contending aspirations. But Escobar looks to have done enough to land a guaranteed big league deal this winter, something that seemed improbable just a few months back.
Leury García (31): García has had a nice few seasons on the South Side of Chicago. He’s a switch-hitting utilityman who can cover any non-catcher position on the diamond. Garcia doesn’t hit for power or draw many walks, but he makes a fair amount of contact and has been right around league average offensively over the past couple seasons.
Marwin González (33): González hit just .201/.281/.285 before the Red Sox cut him loose. He’s popped three homers in 28 plate appearances since re-signing with Houston, but he only owns a .250 OBP in his second stint as an Astro so far. That’s two consecutive miserable seasons for González, who followed up an outstanding 2017 campaign with back-to-back league average seasons before dropping off substantially since the start of 2020.
Jordy Mercer (35): Mercer missed a good chunk of the year due to injury after earning a season-opening roster spot with the Nats in Spring Training. The former Pirates’ shortstop hit for a decent average and bounced around the diamond, but his overall .262/.319/.346 line might not be enough to earn a major league deal.
Chris Owings (30): Owings posted huge numbers in 50 plate appearances with the Rockies this year but missed the majority of the campaign due to thumb injuries. The former Diamondback runs well and can play anywhere except catcher, but he’s a .243/.288/.372 career hitter despite playing almost exclusively in offense-friendly home ballparks.
Joe Panik (31): Panik looks to be in minor league deal range thanks to a .203/.263/.281 line split between the Blue Jays and Marlins this season. The left-handed hitter was a strong regular early in his career with the Giants, combining elite bat-to-ball skills, patience and defense at second base. But his impact on contact has evaporated in recent seasons, so while he still tough to strike out, Panik has posted well below-average numbers in four consecutive years.
Eric Sogard (35): Sogard hasn’t latched on elsewhere since being released by the Cubs in July. He stumbled to a .249/.283/.314 showing over 180 plate appearances with the North Siders, and that was marginally better than his work the year prior in Milwaukee. Sogard’s a quality defensive second baseman who has shown some signs of life at the plate in the past, but he’s squarely in minor league deal territory after back-to-back very poor seasons.
Jonathan Villar (31): Villar has had a nice season with the Mets, bouncing back from a disappointing 2020 to hit .249/.323/.420. That’s slightly above-average hitting, and the former stolen base champ continues to provide additional value on the basepaths. Villar’s not a great defender anywhere but he’s capable of playing throughout the infield and has a bit of outfield experience. It’s possible he’s done enough this year to earn an everyday job somewhere, although it seems likelier first-division clubs would see him as a high-end insurance option off the bench.
Players With 2022 Options
César Hernández, White Sox, $6MM club option (no buyout): Generally a high-contact, low-impact hitter, Hernández has bizarrely morphed into a low-OBP power bat this year. The switch-hitter has easily set career marks in home runs (21) and ISO (.155) but it’s come with personal lows in batting average (.228) and on-base percentage (.304). Hernández still works the count and makes a lot of contact, and it doesn’t seem as if he’s completely revamped his approach. He’s just not hitting as many line drives as he usually does, resulting in a career-worst .262 batting average on balls in play.
Exercising a $6MM option on Hernández wouldn’t be outlandish. He’s a generally steady player who combines league average offense with solid glove work (although advanced metrics are split on his defense this season). But his bottom line production — .228/.304/.383, 89 wRC+ — is his worst in six seasons, and he’s had a dreadful couple months in Chicago followed a solid start to the season with Cleveland. Those factors could lead the ChiSox to let him go, particularly since his contract with the Indians didn’t contain any sort of buyout provision, but Hernández wouldn’t have much of a problem finding a job elsewhere in that instance.
Wilmer Flores, Giants, $3.5MM club option ($250K buyout): Flores has roughly the equivalent of one full season’s worth of playing time since signing with San Francisco over the 2019-20 offseason. He’s hitting .262/.325/.472 in that time, showing power and quality bat-to-ball skills. Flores can play multiple positions and has a long history of mashing left-handed pitching. For a high-payroll club, the $3.5MM option looks like an easy yes.
Jurickson Profar, Padres, can opt out of remaining two years and $14MM: Profar surprisingly landed a three-year, $21MM guarantee from the Padres last winter on the heels of a strong 2020 showing. He hasn’t managed to follow-up on that success, though, hitting just .227/.331/.324 through 401 plate appearances. It’s hard to envision Profar opting out after this season, particularly since his contract allows him to opt out at the end of next year too. Most likely, the 29-year-old returns to San Diego in hopes of a bounceback. If that happens, he can forgo the final guaranteed year of his deal and test free agency next winter.
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals, $18.5MM club option ($2MM buyout): Carpenter’s option is a lock to be bought out. A bit of a late-bloomer, Carpenter found his stride in his late-20’s and kicked off a seven-year run from 2012-18 as one of the game’s better offensive players. His work at the plate has fallen substantially since then, particularly over the past two seasons. With a .178/.314/.297 line since the start of 2020, Carpenter might be looking at minor league offers this winter. The 35-year-old is planning on giving it another go though.