Jed Lowrie has been worth four or five wins over each of the last two seasons. It’s hard to put WAR into context sometimes, so maybe this will help: Only 28 players in baseball accomplished this feat, and you’ve heard of most of them. They’re perennial All-Stars like Christian Yelich, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, and they’re also lesser-known contributors like Whit Merrifield, Aaron Hicks, and Lowrie, but they’re all in a small club of players who were extremely valuable to their teams in both 2017 and 2018.
Just about every team in baseball is unwilling to spend money so that they can start Jed Lowrie at second base.
That’s not to say that Lowrie won’t have a starting job in 2019, because he’s versatile enough to play third or even short, and there will absolutely be a team that will pay for that versatility. So let’s go in a different direction.
DJ LeMahieu has been worth at least two WAR in each of the last four seasons, which is something that only four other second basemen can claim: Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano, Matt Carpenter, and Ian Kinsler. LeMahieu is a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover, and while you should take his Coors Field-aided numbers with a grain of salt (he’s probably not going to hit .348 again, sorry), he’s very good at helping baseball teams win more games than they would without him. An elite defender at second who can hit, even just a little bit, is a rare creature.
DJ LeMahieu is a free agent second baseman, and he might not start at second base next year.
If the Nationals sign or trade for anyone who isn’t LeMahieu, that’s a very real possibility. I’ll show my work below.
This is all before we get to other second basemen. Asdrubal Cabrera hit 23 home runs last year. Brian Dozier hit 21, but he also hit 34 the season before that. In 2016, he became the first Twins player to hit more than 40 homers since Harmon Killebrew. Josh Harrison is a two-time All-Star who finished ninth in the MVP voting at one point, and last year was the first time in five years that the Pirates didn’t get substantial value out of him.
Forget about Logan Forsythe, Wilmer Flores, or Neil Walker. They’re fighting for scraps.
Which is all to say that it sure stinks to be a free agent second baseman in 2019. Kinsler was the lucky one, scooping up an early deal and relaxing for the rest of the winter. The rest of them — especially the ones who aren’t Lowrie, Cabrera, or Harrison and are limited to second — are hosed. To figure out why, let’s sort every team in baseball into categories. What’s their situation at second base?
Well, first you have the ...
Teams that are absolutely set
Sources within the Houston organization have confirmed to me that they are “fine” with Jose Altuve being their starting second baseman. I will update this story as more information comes in.
There are other teams in a similar position. The Braves have Ozzie Albies, who is young, underpaid, and an absolute delight. The White Sox re-engineered the entire direction of their franchise just to get players like Yoan Moncada.
Other teams that have no reason to run out and get a new second baseman include ...
- Diamondbacks (Ketel Marte)
- Cubs (Ben Zobrist)
- Reds (Scooter Gennett)
- Royals (Whit Merrifield)
- Dodgers (Max Muncy)
- Marlins (Starlin Castro)
- Yankees (Gleyber Torres)
- Phillies (Cesar Hernandez)
- Pirates (Adam Frazier)
- Rays (Joey Wendle)
- Rangers (Rougned Odor)
That’s 14 teams — nearly half. But we’re not done because we also have the ...
Teams that have already decided on their new second baseman
These are the teams that had all sorts of options and chose already. The Brewers could get someone like LeMahieu to play over Cory Spangenberg still — and they probably should — but they might use their limited payroll room to patch another hole. The Twins got Jonathan Schoop on a similar high-upside show-me deal. The A’s were one of the teams in on most of the second basemen, but they opted to trade for Jurickson Profar instead. The Padres signed Ian Kinsler, the only pure second baseman to sign so far.
The Mets have Robinson Cano now, which will never not be weird.
Those teams looked at the Lowrie and LeMahieu displays in the store and moved on. We’re up to 19 teams now, which ostensibly leaves 11 openings for all of the remaining second basemen. Except we’re forgetting the ...
Teams that would rather evaluate their internal options instead of spending money on incremental upgrades
Bad teams can be in this category. The Orioles might start Steve Wilkerson. They can get a better second baseman using money, but why would they? They’ll want to see what they have on hand, and Wilkerson is pretty cheap. Most made-up players are. The Orioles wouldn’t crack 70 wins with, say, Jed Lowrie, so there’s a huge why-bother mentality at play.
This also applies to the Tigers and Niko Goodrum, who showed just enough to make them think they might have something. They could pay $10 million or more to Jed Lowrie and get better, but they could also keep that money and get a better draft pick. So it goes in the age of tanking.
This idea sort of applies to the Giants and Joe Panik — why ditch a young, cheap, former All-Star for an incremental upgrade when there are so many other priorities? — as well as the Blue Jays with Devon Travis and the Mariners with Dee Gordon.
While I could absolutely see the Orioles signing someone like Asdrubal Cabrera just to avoid the abject misery of 110 losses, it would be much easier for them to stand pat.
Good teams are in this category, too. Jason Kipnis might be a better hitter than he’s been lately (and still has enough defensive value to help his team if not), and Kolten Wong, who is not only enigmatic, but is also backed up by Jedd Gyorko in event of emergency. I’m fairly sure that neither the Indians or Cardinals are interested in paying a veteran $5 million or more, even though either Lowrie or LeMahieu would make them incrementally better.
We’re up to 26 teams now, and there are still the ...
Teams that are justified in going young and cheap
The Rockies are the ones losing LeMahieu, and their starting second baseman will likely be Garrett Hampson, or as I like to call him “Player That One Guy In Your Fantasy League Will Draft Three Rounds Earlier Than Expected.” And that’s fine. Hampson’s minor-league profile sure makes him seem like LeMahieu v. 1.1, so you can’t fault the Rockies for preferring him over an expensive veteran.
Similarly, the Angels liked what they saw from David Fletcher, so they might want to spend their resources elsewhere. This brings us to 28 teams.
Teams I can’t figure out
Dustin Pedroia is the projected starter for the Red Sox, and I can’t figure out if that will last. I’m not even sure if it’s a good or bad idea. Would it make sense for them to at least sign a lefty bat or switch-hitter just in case? Or would it be a slight against one of the more popular franchise players of the last few decades?
Maybe the Red Sox want a second baseman, but it’s hard to see them paying substantial money to LeMahieu just to bench the Laser Show. If anything, they’ll get a complementary player, no more.
Which leaves us with ....
The only team in baseball that absolutely, unambiguously needs a starting second baseman
The Nationals. That’s it. They’re the only team in the market for a starting second baseman. They have the opening. Their window is open. They wouldn’t be blocking anyone by signing a veteran. They aren’t curious about evaluating a younger player.
Or, in meme terms:
Now, I’ve done these sorts of rundowns before, and here’s what will probably happen: A team like the Angels will say, “Eh, maybe we should just sign LeMahieu and figure out what to do with David Fletcher later.” The Brewers might jump back into the mix when the prices drop low enough. The Giants might pick up a right-handed complement to Joe Panik. Et cetera, et cetera. Lowrie will be signed as a third baseman or super-utility player, as will Harrison. LeMahieu will be starting at second for someone. Most of these players won’t be without significant roles.
But some of them will. This is the logical conclusion of a second-base surplus in the era of veteranophobia, when teams aren’t willing to spend money on incremental upgrades. It’s been murder on the entire free agent market, but no one is more hosed than the poor second baseman. Players who’ve made the All-Star Game since 2016 might be unemployed in March and tacitly hoping one of their peers tears an ACL. It’s more than a little nutty, but that’s the state of MLB’s offseasons now.
It kinda stinks.