Second Base Rumors Around The Braves Hot Stove

The Brandon Phillips trade rumors I wrote about late Saturday and my belief that it’s not worth it, beg the question “if we do have to replace Dan Uggla as I believe is absolutely certain, who plays second base?”  This post looks at the external options that are either free agents or have been talked about even in passing as a trade candidate.

Second Base Free Agents

MLB Trade Rumors has a list of 15 free agents who play second base in some fashion. Some are too old like say Jamey Carroll (sorry Jamey), one is too expensive – sorry no Robinson Can just so you know -  and most of the rest are really utility men who have played some second but don’t have an everyday bat. Ben Zobrist is on the list but the Rays aren’t silly enough to pass on his cheap club option.  Here are the rest who might fit for the Braves in reverse order of choice.

  1. Brian Roberts (36) – Roberts is one of those guys whose story begins, “if he could just stay healthy…” His comebacks have ended in injury since 2010 and the Orioles will let him go somewhere and see if his luck will change. When healthy Roberts can hit – his slash since 2006 is .279/.352/.419/.771 – and plays a sound second base. The question is can he stay healthy.
  2. Mark Ellis (37) – $5.75MM club option with a $1MM buyout – Ellis is interesting. He’s getting down the line in years too but his bat has held pretty steady. He had a career year in 2005 hitting over .300 and slugging .477. Since that time he’s been what everyone would expect of a second baseman with a slash of 261/.323/.382/.706 while averaging 118 hits, 36 walks and only 70 strikeouts a year. As those who watched the division and championship series will have noticed has been above average. UZR likes him as does DRS. He’s been a 2.9 rWAR (2.3 fWAR) player in that time  What the Dodgers will do is hard to predict. This morning it’s reported that they signed SS Alexander Guerrero a Cuban defector who’s 27 and has some pop. Most scouts say he’ll end up at second base but whether he can make the jump to the majors quickly is an open question.  Ells could provide a safety net in case he can’t. His option isn’t expensive so they could keep him around but they do have other options that would allow them to let him go.
  3. Omar Infante (32) – Braves fans know and love Omar infante. It would be irony of the highest order if they brought him back to replace the man he was traded for. Jim Bowden wrote about the Tigers upcoming off season options today (insider required) and said this about Infante.

“. . .his versatility combined with the fact that he hit .318/.345/.450 this year will make him a valuable commodity. What the Tigers do at second base will dictate Infante’s future.”

The Tigers are going to try to improve second base which, given Infante’s numbers and his sound defense, seems like a bad idea when they have more holes to fill. They don’t have much to trade with their payroll getting a little tight around the collar after they pay their arbitration eligible guys they’ll probably try to sign Infante again. Omar likes Atlanta and if the Braves made him an offer he could well return.

Given a choice I’d opt for Infante. He knows Atlanta and played well there and has the kind of bat the Braves are missing at the moment. Of second basemen with at least 450 at bats he was fifth in wRC+ (117) and sixth in fWAR with a 3.1 (rWAR 2.4). I don’t hold much faith in defensive metrics but watching him play I’d say he was above average at second and a solid if not flashy player.  Fangraphs defensive ranks show him seventh in defense just behind Ellis and Kendrick.  Ellis is the more dependable of the remaining two. If Roberts could stay healthy he’d move up a notch but if Roberts could stay healthy he wouldn’t be on this list. . Someone is going to ask about Kelly Johnson. While he would give us the four Johnson advantage and add a KJ to out BJ, CJ and EJ, Kelly is not an everyday player.

Trades

Aside from Phillips here are the names I’ve heard or seen discussed as tradable

  1. Daniel Murphy and Eric Young are lumped together because while we hear them discussed in trades the Mets clearly love both players. Murphy’s defense isn’t sterling and holds his rWAR down to just under 2. But his bat is solid and dependable – 286/.319/.415/.733 this year – and he’s hit in all three top of the order slots well. Murphy’s defense is such that the Mets want to move him to first base and slide EY Jr. in at second but although his bat is good it doesn’t project as a first baseman’s bat.  They have others who they consider first base options and to fill a void they might well trade Murphy. If don’t they have another issue, they love EY Jr. leading off and his speed on the bases; his glove is better too though not much better. If Murphy stays EY has to play left field and his bat doesn’t project to a corner outfield bat. They may trade either or neither
  2. Gordon Beckham was Baseball America’s #20 prospect in 2009 and so far that’s been his best year at the plate. He rebounded well this year striking out less and producing a 267/.322/.372/.694 slash in 408 PA. The White Sox might look to move him if they don’t move Alexei Ramirez as they Leury Garcia and Marcus Semien waiting in the wings.
  3. Howie Kendrick is solid hitter and an above average glove. He’s a consistent player from a sound organization and makes $9.3M for the next 2 years. The Dodgers are looking to Kendrick as well but today’s signing seems to have eliminated them. The Tigers also lack trade chips that the Angels would want and while the Reds might be a player it’s unclear where they are headed.

The trade choice is pretty clear, Kendrick’s by far the best option.  Kendrick would certainly enhance our lineup. He’s a productive hitter – 116 wRC+, 2.7fWAR (3.3 rWAR) – and ranks marginally above Infante defensively on aforementioned Fangraphs list. He has six teams on his no-trade list this year but as a Jacksonville Florida native a job nearer home would likely be welcome.

Why would they trade him?As reported by MLBTR Kendrick was available at the trade deadline because the Angels are in dire need of pitching and that hasn’t changed. From their point of view replacing Kendrick would be easier than than creating a starter. Kendrick is two years away from a big contract and now is the time to move him if they can get what they want. They expect (hope, pray) that the two sluggers will find their form so they could go with a lesser bat and their need for pitching is paramount.

What would we offer? According to Ken Rosenthal the Angels proposed a deadline deal that included Dodger Zach Lee. The talks went “right down to the deadline” before flaming out. So it’s pretty clear they want a top prospect – Lee entered the season as the team’s fifth-best prospect and #78 on Baseball America’s list. We don’t have anyone in the minors at Lee’s level but I expect that a Kris Medlen or Alex Wood for Kendrick swap would work. Medlen was a 3.3 rWar pitcher last year. two years younger and just entering his first arbitration year giving them payroll flexibility. I wouldn’t give up more than Meds and would go to my room and cry after but it does make sense. Wood approximates Lee and has major league chops established. Again I would hate doing it but an even up swap (or including a lower tier pitcher to pad it) would be good business.  After Kendrick Beckham makes the most sense.

The White Sox would obviously want pitching or Christian Bethancourt. They can’t have Bethancourt or a top pitching prospect like Lucas Sims for a player like Beckham but if it was a couple of lower tier pitchers or possibly Tyler Pastornicky + Juan Jaime might work. Beckham has a good glove and can play SS and third  in a pinch but isn’t an  All Star kind of player that brings a big return. Finally I’d talk to the Mets and see what they are doing but I’m not sure they know so I have no idea how that would go.

That’s a Wrap

If you’re looking for a definitive answer there isn’t one particularly this soon after the season.  If I could just say give me him, I’d take Kendrick followed by Infante, Beckham and Roberts. I wouldn’t however go overboard on any of them however as I expect Tommy La Stella to arrive NLT the middle of next year. I’ll wrap this series up tomorrow with a look at La Stella and others we have who might get a shot at the job.

 

Tags: Atlanta Braves FanSided Hot Stove

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