The Nationals are in a need of a new starting second baseman, this much we know is true. With Asdrubal Cabrera gone and Ryan Zimmerman moving to first base the Nats have a hole on their infield. Internally, the Nats could play presumed starting third baseman Anthony Rendon at second, but that still leaves a hole. They could also just start Danny Espinosa, but he’s another year away from his successful seasons of 2011 and 2012. Espinosa has an excellent glove and can crush lefties, but he’s not going produce a lot of value as a starter. With that in mind let’s turn over every rock to make a list of every possible second base candidate the Nats might be considering.
The Free Agents
- Asdrubal Cabrera – This might be the easiest things the Nationals could do, they have a relationship with Cabrera and he has indicated that he’s interested in returning. With the Yankees moving out of the shortstop market Cabrera could stay on the fairly paid side of the market and his 1.7 WAR would make him a solid contributor to an already stacked squad.
- Jed Lowrie – Lowrie saw his bat suffer a bit last season, posting a 93 wRC+. However, that was still well above the league average for second baseman of 88 wRC+. Plus Lowrie’s ability to play shortstop as well could provide a leverage bump in the Nats contract extension negotiations with Ian Desmond.
- Stephen Drew – Drew turned down the qualifying offer last offseason and it killed his season. With the draft pick loss tied to him Drew had to wait until nearly June to sign and never got it going putting up a 44 wRC+. But his career 93 wRC+ and Steamer projected 81 wRC+ could still be adequate for the Nats at a likely low cost.
- Rickie Weeks – Weeks fell off the face of the Earth in 2012 and he’s just drifted through space since occasionally swatting at a baseball when the regular starter is at too big of a platoon disadvantage. He’s striking out more and doesn’t hit for power as much, but he had a weirdly big 2014 stealing plate appearances here and there from Scooter Gennett. Unlikely, but we’re trying to cover all of our bases here.
- Emilio Bonifacio – Bonifacio will be a name familiar to long tenured Nats fans as he was a National in 2008 as he wound his way through his so far meandering career. He isn’t particularly adept with the bat, as evidenced by his career 80 wRC+. But he is a good baserunner and defender and has some flexibility on the field if the Nats decide they need a bigger upgrade later. Another unlikely candidate.
- Kelly Johnson – You may remember Johnson from his incredible tour around the AL East where he played for all five AL East teams in the span of just three seasons. Beyond that claim to fame, Johnson has had some moderate success with the bat at times and is projected for a 94 wRC+ in 2015 by Steamer. His ability to actually play second base is questionable with both DRS (-4 runs) and UZR (-8.1 runs) rating him as a negative for his career there.
- Everth Cabrera – Cabrera has non-tendered by the San Diego Padres and for good reason he put up a 65 wRC+ in 391 plate appearances and just 18 stolen bases in 26 attempts. But he is just a year removed from putting up a 114 wRC+ and producing 3.1 WAR at shortstop. He had trouble defensively, but if the Nats scouts see an easy fix for his 2014 issues he could be a turnaround candidate.
The Rumored to be Traded
- Howie Kendrick – This is the current king of second baseman trade rumors as Kendrick is in the last year of his contract, but is owed a well undervalue $9.5 million. Kendrick has been one of the best offensive second basemen over the last few years and rates well defensively too. Of course, all that means is that the Angels won’t part with him easily and there will be heavy competition for his services.
- Dee Gordon – Gordon is an intriguing name who just popped up in rumors yesterday. Gordon was given the chance to be a starter by the Dodgers and he did well, putting up a 101 wRC+, 64 stolen bases and 3.1 wins above replacement. Gordon doesn’t walk (4.8% BB% in 2014) and his offense is dependent on a high BABIP, but the 27 year old is first year arbitration eligible, giving the Nats a cheap long term asset.
- Brandon Phillips – The Reds have shown a willingness to deal Phillips and if it was still 2012 that might be an exciting prospect. As it is the 34 year old put up his worst wRC+ as a starter at 88 and is owed $39 million over the next three years. He still scores well with defensive ratings, so he could be a useful piece, but don’t expect a star.
- Omar Infante – The Royals have reportedly been telling teams Infante is available, but his 2014 season should be a cause for concern. Infante spun the best year of his career in 2013 into a four year, $30 million deal with the Royals, where he promptly saw his production plummet. Infante had a 76 wRC+ and a negative UZR for the first time since 2010 and entering his age 33 season he finds himself on the wrong side of the age curve.
- Rougned Odor – Odor was tied to the Nationals yesterday as the Nationals and Rangers reportedly talked a Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister for Odor swap. It’s unclear if those talks are still ongoing, but Odor was able to put up a 90 wRC+ in 417 as a 20 year old rookie. It can’t be assumed that a player will continue to develop, but it is an encouraging sign that Odor could produce at such a young age. The years of cheap control are a plus as well.
- Jurickson Profar – Profar is the Rangers even more famous young middle infielder and at 21 he could have a bright future. His shoulder waylaid his coming out party in 2014, but his considerable talents still excite evaluators across the sport. With the continuing shoulder issues likely limiting him in spring training it is still a question whether Profar can contribute immediately in 2015 and where he fits into the Rangers’ plans.
- Elvis Andrus – This is the end of our sudden run on Rangers with the most MLB experienced of their middle infielders. A six year MLB veteran, Andrus will only be entering his age 26 season in 2015, but the results haven’t been as great as hoped. By wRC+, Andrus has yet to produce a league average season with the bat and his eight year, $120 million contract extension doesn’t begin until this year. That’s a big commitment to a player who might have seen his development stall.
- Ben Zobrist – As expected the Rays exercised Zobrist’s $7.5 million team option and one of the most underrated players in MLB became a top target for trade talks. Zobrist put up over 5.0 wins above replacement for the fourth straight season and can contribute with both his bat and glove. The Rays could hold on to Zobrist, but the departures of Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon could cause them to try to start over and sell off any short term assets.
- Brian Dozier – Dozier exploded on the scene in 2014, jacking 23 home runs and contributing 4.6 wins above replacement. Entering his age 28 season Dozier presents an interesting question for the Twins who went just 70-92 in 2014 and don’t appear to be ready to compete soon. With multiple years of control the Twins will likely elect to hold onto him, but they could try to flip him for even younger assets.
- Daniel Murphy – Murphy was one of the few bright spots on the Mets in 2014 putting up another solid about three wins above replacement season. The left hander is above average with the bat posting a career wRC+ of 108. However, with the signing of Michael Cuddyer the Mets seem more interested in trying to compete and it remains to be seen whether they would consider trading within the NL East.
- Starlin Castro – Castro seemed to be on a path to superstardom after back-to-back three win seasons in 2011 and 2012 at age 21 and 22. But after forgetting to take a left turn at Albuquerque Castro has found himself at a bit of a crossroads with the Cubs having a number of top shortstop prospects waiting in the wings. That competition could make Castro expendable.
- Brad Miller – Dave Cameron’s odd valuing of Miller aside, he is still a 25 year old shortstop who isn’t arbitration eligible until 2017, with a good glove and a career wRC+ of 95 in 746 plate appearances. That’s a pretty nifty piece.
- Dustin Ackley – While we’re speaking of overvalued Mariners Ackley is another interesting case. With Robinson Cano planted at second base the Mariners tried moving him to the outfield, but Ackley hasn’t hit well enough to be a corner outfielder. His 97 wRC+ in 2014 looks much better at second base and he has an excellent career DRS (24 runs) and UZR (12.9) runs there.
- Joe Panik – Panik became a fan favorite for the Giants, but that likely has more to do with him following Dan Uggla than his actual performance. The rookie put up a 107 wRC+, but that was fueled largely by an inflated BABIP of .343. His 14.1 percent infield fly ball rate and 1.86 ground ball to fly ball ratio spell trouble for a hitter who had a walk rate of just 5.6 percent. Panik could improve, but the Giants could also look to sell high.
- Aaron Hill – After being one of the best offensive second baseman in the Majors in 2012 and 2013, Hill saw a deep decline in his stats, putting up a 78 wRC+, -7.5 defensive runs above average and -0.7 wins above replacement. He’s also owed $24 million over the next two years, so while the Diamondbacks are likely eager to move him, they probably won’t find any takers.
- Cliff Pennington – Again, in this exercise we’re trying to name every possible candidate. Pennington is a glove-only guy who can play both middle infield positions and can occasionally hit a baseball. He’s better suited to be a utility infielder than a regular.
- DJ LeMahieu – LeMahieu has been the on-and-off starter for the Rockies at second base and while he can field well his career wRC+ of 69 might be above his true talent level. Entering his age 26 season LeMahieu is likely down to his last chance to make an impact.
- Josh Rutledge – Another troubled young Rockies middle infielder, Rutledge has seen work at both second base and shortstop. After an intriguing cup of coffee in 2012 when he put up a 91 wRC+ while flashing some power, Rutledge has struggled to assert himself on some terrible Rockies teams. Like LeMahieu his age could get him another chance, but so far the results haven’t warranted it.
- Ian Kinsler – Kinsler doesn’t put up huge offensive numbers, with a career wRC+ of 110, but paired with an excellent glove and great baserunning he is still one of the best second baseman in MLB. It seems unlikely that the Tigers trade him just a year after acquiring him, but Tigers GM Dombrowski hasn’t shied away from unexpected moves.
- Chase Utley – Utley is getting up there in age, but he’s still putting up good numbers as he had a 106 wRC+ and 4.1 WAR in 2014. Utley has said before that he’s not interested in waiving his 10 and 5 no trade rights, however with the Phillies being a raging dumpster fire he could reconsider that position.
- Jason Kipnis – Kipnis seemed to be a star in the making after batting for a 129 wRC+ in 2013, but he then took a big step back in 2014 with an 86 wRC+. It seems unlikely that the Indians would give up on him after just a single bad year, but Kipnis no longer appears to be a certainty.
- Kolten Wong – Wong had a tumultuous first season with the Cardinals but ended it with a 90 wRC+ and 2.0 WAR. That’s good enough for the Cardinals to still expect a bright future for their former top prospect.
- Scooter Gennett – Another young NL Central starting second baseman, Gennett took the Brewers job from Rickie Weeks and hit his way to a 104 wRC+ and 1.8 WAR. That’s not good enough to make Gennett untouchable, but at 24 it could bode a bright future for him and the Brewers.
- Mookie Betts – Betts had a brief stay with the Red Sox this year where he had a 130 wRC+ in 213 plate appearances, which did nothing for tempering expectations for the 22 year old. But with Pedroia entrenched at 2B and newly signed Hanley Ramirez taking up a spot in left field Betts doesn’t seem to have a place in Boston.
- Luis Sardinas – Just another Rangers middle infielder Sardinas has to work to pass Andrus, Profar and Odor on the depth chart. His first cup of coffee in 2014 wasn’t a rousing success, but his glove and arm are rated highly and he still has time to develop a better bat. Not a likely candidate to contribute immediately, but could still be in play.
- Addison Russell – Acquired by the Cubs from the A’s in July in exchange for Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija Russell is considered to be one of the best prospects in baseball. But it’s a crowded middle infield in Chicago with Castro at short and the two well-rated prospects below as well. The Cubs likely don’t flip Russell so soon, but they do have the depth to deal from if they decide to look for more immediate gains.
- Arismendy Alcantara – Alcantara isn’t the prospect that Russell or Baez is, but he already has 300 major league plate appearances under his belt. He had just a 70 wRC+, but he showed some nice power for a middle infielder. Of the Cubs middle infield logjam, Alcantara is the most likely one to be dealt.
- Javier Baez – Baez entered 2014 expected to be a midseason call-up, but some issues in AAA held him back and he only was able to get 229 plate appearances. Baez struck out in an astonishing 41.5 percent of those plate appearances, but he has still been tapped as the likely starting second baseman for the Cubs in 2015.
- Jung-Ho Kang – The star Korean shortstop was just posted and he’s already drawing interest. Kang showed prodigious power in Korea but there are still big questions as to how that would translate to MLB. He is a candidate to start immediately with whichever team he signs with.
- Yoan Moncada – The 19 year old Cuban star has draw intense interest due to the mysterious circumstances surrounding his defection. His raw talent has scouts drooling but he would likely still need some time in the minors. Moncada will also be subject to MLB’s International Bonus Pool rules, which could limit interest from some teams.
- Jose Fernandez – No, not that Fernandez. This Fernandez is another Cuban second baseman who reportedly defected, but recent news on him has been scant. He’s not quite the talent Moncada is, but he’s also much closer to being Major League ready. If Fernandez does pop up in the States he will be a regular free agent.
- Hector Olivera – Another top Cuban, Olivera is bit on the older side as he’s already 29. Injuries have reportedly plagued Olivera in recent years which has dimmed his star. Olivera will be a free agent and could start immediately.
- Andy Ibanez – Yet another Cuban defector, Ibanez doesn’t have the raw talents of his compatriots, but he’s still a highly rated prospect. At 21, Ibanez would be subject to the International Bonus Pool and would likely start in the minors.
The Never Gonna Happen, But Anything’s Possibles
- Robinson Cano – Cano is the best second baseman in baseball, posting his fifth straight 5.0+ WAR season in 2014. But his 10 year, $240 million contract is virtually untradeable and the Mariners wouldn’t move the first major free agent they finally tricked into signing with them.
- Dustin Pedroia – Pedroia has been a stalwart for the Red Sox and has been one of the best second baseman in baseball during that time. While he saw his numbers slip a bit at the plate in 2014 (99 wRC+), there is no way the Red Sox part with their franchise player.
- Jose Altuve – Altuve was one of the best players in MLB in 2014 on a truly terrible Astros squad putting up 5.1 wins above replacement and winning the AL batting title. At 25 Altuve is still young and has three years, $10.5 million left on his contract and two club options for $6 million and $6.5 million. It would shocking to see the Astros give that up.
- Neil Walker- Walker isn’t usually considered among the best of the best, but he put up a 130 wRC+ and 3.7 WAR last year. Walker blasted 23 home runs and won’t be a free agent until 2017. The Pirates could trade him, but I haven’t heard a peep of a rumor about Walker.
The Third Basemen
- Adrian Beltre – Beltre is the still the best third baseman in the game and should be a likely Hall of Famer. With just one year, $18 million and a vesting option for one year, $16 million left on his contract Beltre could be an attractive trade target if the Rangers decide to sell. But so far all signs have indicated that there failures in 2014 have not discouraged their moves toward contending.
- Chase Headley – A free agent Headley could be one of the bargains of the offseason. He derives a lot of his value from an excellent glove at the hot corner, but Headley is a slightly above league average hitter as well. If the money is right he could be a good fit.
- Trevor Plouffe – He hasn’t been in many rumors, but Plouffe is in a similar position with the Twins as Dozier is. Plouffe had the best year of his career with a 112 wRC+ and 3.5 WAR, but he also turned 28 in June. If the Twins see their contention target as longer term they could decide to move Plouffe for younger assets.
- Nolan Arenado – Arenado is a superb defensive third baseman, an above average hitter and is just 23 which makes him a desirable trade target on an awful team like the Rockies. There have been some whispers about Arenado’s trade availability, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.
- Martin Prado – Prado can actually play second base too, but has spent the majority of his time over the last two seasons at third. He’s not as good as he was earlier in his career, but Prado is still a slightly above average hitter with a good glove. As the market rate for wins explodes, the two years and $22 million are a bargain, but the Yankees likely won’t want to flip him.
- Juan Francisco – Possibly the most creative solution on this list. Francisco is a big platoon bat who can crush right-handed pitching to the tune of a 113 wRC+ for his career, but he cannot face lefties against which he has a 14 career wRC+. Paired with Espinosa’s career 121 wRC+ versus lefties and Rendon’s ability to play second or third the Nats could platoon Francisco and Espinosa at two different positions on the infield. A bit unorthodox, but it could produce big results for a low cost.
So there it is, 50 possibilities for who the Nationals could bring in to fill their starting second baseman role. If Mike Rizzo manages to get someone who is not on this list I will both be shocked and impressed. Unless it’s Dan Uggla, then I will be checking for pods around Nats Park.