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MLB Free Agency: The Positions with the Best Value

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MLB Free Agency: The Positions with the Best Value
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While the preeminent free agents of the MLB offseason remain unsigned, the deals we've seen so far—almost all for complementary-type players—should still likely affect the market at their respective positions. Here's a look at how those markets are shaping up.

 

Starting pitchers

The rumor mill hasn't churned out much of note about the top tier of free-agent starting pitchers, but a few secondary types have signed on already and a few more remain on the market.

To me, the completed deals look slightly team-friendly, which bodes well for teams that are wading in those waters or even the next tier down.

- Giants sign Tim Hudson for two years, $24M
- Dodgers sign Dan Haren for one year, $10M
- Padres sign Josh Johnson for one year, $8M

If we assume that one win above replacement is worth about $6M, then none of these pitchers will have to do too much to earn their respective keeps.

The Giants are paying Hudson to be a two-WAR pitcher this year and next, a hurdle he cleared in 2012 and was on pace to clear again in 2013 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Haren was worth 1.8 WAR in 2012 and 1.5 in 2013, so the Dodgers are wisely paying him on par with that production, but if you buy his second-half resurgence, he could end up outproducing his paycheck by a win or more. Johnson, ironically, got the least lucrative of these deals but has the highest upside; he just needs to stay healthy.

Bartolo Colon could sign for something in Haren's neighborhood, and Scott Feldman, Phil Hughes and Scott Baker are guys who will draw interest and probably sign for even cheaper deals than Johnson's.

 

Outfielders

Interestingly, teams appear more willing to overspend in years for outfielders than pitchers so far this offseason, at least for the second-tier types.

Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus, David Murphy and Ryan Sweeney have all signed two-year pacts. We can also throw utility man Skip Schumaker in there, although he plays the infield as well. What three of them—DeJesus, Murphy and Sweeney—have in common is that they're left-handed-hitting platoon candidates.

On the one hand, it just feels like an overpay when you're committing two years to a guy like DeJesus or Murphy; their production isn't that scarce, and there seem to be a couple of them available every offseason. On the other, if you're mostly playing them in a way that only accentuates their strengths, you don't feel like you're asking too much of them.

With the exception of Byrd, each is paid like a one-win player—or less. In that light, these deals seem pretty reasonable, especially since some of these guys have had two- and three-win seasons in their careers.

The other outfielder of note to sign this offseason is Chris Young, whom the Mets got for one year and $7.25M. Young is coming off two disappointing/injury-plagued seasons, so it stands to reason he had to settle for one year. But considering he's only entering his age-30 season and was a 4.5-fWAR player as recently as 2011, he also has the highest upside.

If you were looking for a cheap-ish but useful outfielder this offseason, that ship has pretty much sailed. All that remains in that class is Nate McLouth, who might be able get a deal comparable to Murphy's as the left-handed-hitting half of a platoon. Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Morse are also still out there and should draw interest, probably on modest one-year deals, perhaps even minor-league deals.

Meanwhile, the pricier guys like Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson are still available. Beltran wants three years, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, and despite his age, he's wise to push for it considering the market has yielded two years for platoon guys and glove-first types. Likewise, Granderson will probably seek four years.

 

Second basemen

The premier free agent of this year's class, of course, is Robinson Cano. We still don't know exactly how much he'll sign for, but he'll likely become just the fifth free agent in MLB history to break the $200M barrier. That should price him out of most teams' budgets, but it shouldn't influence the market very much for other second basemen. In other words, Cano's market is its own beast.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

However, there are still a couple decent keystoners available who shouldn't command franchise-altering contracts or anything close to it. They seem to be drawing only modest interest so far, which could serve to keep their price tags palatable for most teams.

Omar Infante isn't the most exciting player on the market, but he's actually well above average, at least judging by wins above replacement. Fangraphs pegs him for 10.3 WAR over the past four years, which is good for ninth-best among MLB second basemen in that span.

Most of Infante's value is derived from his defense. He's very good with the glove and can play multiple positions; I wonder if some team will even consider moving him back to shortstop, which he played earlier in his career. Offensively, he's a career .279/.319/.402 hitter, which is a little bit better than last year's league average for second basemen: .257/.316/.376.

Perhaps it's because Infante is a glove-first player with modest power that he seems a bit overlooked, but I think he could end up being a really good value at something like three years and $24M. Entering his age-32 season, the clock is ticking on his career, but he could earn back the value of a deal like this by the middle or end of the second year.

As with Infante, Mark Ellis is an aging, defense-first second baseman who continues to be well liked by advanced metrics. Ellis, 36, churned out 1.8 WAR in 480 plate appearances with the Dodgers last season, hitting an underwhelming .270/.323/.351 but fielding his position well.

Ellis probably shouldn't be an everyday second baseman at this point in his career—maybe on a bad team—but he was a 2.7-fWAR player as recently as 2012 and, again, was more than passable last season. Considering he'll probably only sign for one year and a couple million bucks, he could earn his salary and then some as a backup if he plays good defense and gets on base at a respectable rate if pressed into regular playing time.

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