State of play: AL middle infielders

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Which AL teams will be looking for upgrades to their middle infields this winter?

Shortstop and second base are always two of the thinnest positions in baseball, both in terms of available talent and physical stature of the players. With several strong options available this winter, some teams may be looking to make big upgrades up the middle. The Oakland Athletics got the ball rolling by signing utility man Nick Punto on Wednesday, which means they now have an extra infielder to spare.

Here is a look at the middle-infield landscape in the American League:

Team 2B SS Util Comments
Baltimore Orioles Ryan Flaherty J.J. Hardy Jonathan Schoop Hardy is fresh off of a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. Longtime Oriole Brian Roberts is a free agent after playing in just 192 games over the last four seasons combined, and Alexi Casilla's option was declined.
Boston Red Sox Dustin Pedroia Xander Bogaerts Open 2013 shortstop Stephen Drew is free agent, but Bogaerts is a top prospect. Brock Holt is only other middle infielder on 40-man roster.
Chicago White Sox Gordon Beckham Alexei Ramirez Marcus Semien 2013 utility man Jeff Keppinger provided -2.0 bWAR; Beckham has posted a 670 OPS over the last four seasons combined. Upgrades would be welcomed.
Cleveland Indians Jason Kipnis Asdrubal Cabrera Mike Aviles Cabrera has been subject of trade rumors for years; could 21-year old Jose Ramirez be an option in 2015?
Detroit Tigers Open Jose Iglesias Open 2013 second baseman Omar Infante, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and utility man Ramon Santiago are all free agents.
Houston Astros Jose Altuve Jonathan Villar Maybe you, if you own a glove Altuve is signed through 2019 and is unlikely to be traded. Houston shortstops combined for 624 OPS in 2013. Team seems willing to try anybody with a pulse to see what works, including Jake Elmore and Marwin Gonzalez.
Kansas City Royals Emilio Bonifacio Alcides Escobar Jamey Carroll? Bonifacio impressed last year after midseason acquisition, but Escobar and Chris Getz sported sub-600 OPS's. Midseason acquisition Carroll has an affordable club option for 2014, but second base could use an upgrade.
Los Angeles Angels Howie Kendrick Erick Aybar Andrew Romine Set in the middle infield, with Grant Green's intriguing bat also available as backup at second base.
Minnesota Twins Brian Dozier Pedro Florimon Eduardo Escobar If Brian Dozier hits 18 homers but no one is looking, do they still make a sound? Well, he did last year. Twins have bigger needs to fill than shortstop; Florimon has an excellent glove.
New York Yankees Open Derek Jeter Eduardo Nunez 2013 second baseman Robinson Cano is free agent, but could be re-signed. Jeter is primed for a comeback in 2014.
Oakland Athletics Eric Sogard Jed Lowrie Nick Punto Alberto Callaspo likely to be the odd man out with addition of Punto, since he has $5 million salary and solid trade value; could be an option for another team at third base.
Seattle Mariners Nick Franklin Brad Miller Carlos Triunfel Franklin and Miller were quietly solid middle infield combo (4.3 bWAR combined), pushing Dustin Ackley to center field.
Tampa Bay Rays Ben Zobrist Yunel Escobar Sean Rodriguez Rays picked up options for both Zobrist and Escobar; they're set in middle infield
Texas Rangers Ian Kinsler Elvis Andrus Jurickson Profar An embarrasment of riches. Team will almost surely trade one player, or consider position switch for Kinsler.
Toronto Blue Jays Ryan Goins Jose Reyes Maicer Izturis Reyes is a star when healthy, but Izturis was a disaster in 2013 (still signed for two more seasons). Goins displayed excellent glove in limited playing time.

A (non-comprehensive) list of top free agents at each position:

Second base

- Robinson Cano
- Omar Infante
- Brian Roberts
- Mark Ellis
- Willie Bloomquist
- Skip Schumaker
- Ramon Santiago
- Kelly Johnson (played primarily LF in 2013)

Shortstop

- Stephen Drew
- Jhonny Peralta
- Brendan Ryan
- Willie Bloomquist
- Clint Barmes
- Cesar Izturis
- Alex Gonzalez (the one who's still playing baseball)
- John McDonald (played for four teams in 2013 and recorded eight total hits)
- Rafael Furcal (missed all of 2013 with injury)

Also, Willie Bloomquist is a free agent. Looking at you, Royals.

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