Jose Reyes and the Miami Marlins have agreed on a six-year, $106 million deal, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. His arrival means Hanley Ramirez will move to third base for the Marlins, who will begin play in a new ballpark next spring with a new look and a new cast.
If rumors of the team's continued interest in Albert Pujols are true, things could get really interesting in Little Havana very soon. For now, though, they will have to content themselves with fielding arguably the best left side of the infield anywhere in baseball. Speaking of which, without making any assumptions about free-agent landing spots, here are power rankings of all 30 teams' infield situations at the open of the winter meetings.
Jose Altuve is awesome. He's tiny, but he has speed and great bat speed. Ultimately, though, he's a fringe regular, and he's the bright spot on the Astros infield. With apologies to Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson, there is zero promising talent here, especially now that ex-GM Ed Wade's pledges to pursue Clint Barmes have gone for naught.
With Casey Blake's career careening to an end due to injuries, the Dodgers got aggressive (if one can call it that) early this winter. Mark Ellis is on board as starting second baseman. Adam Kennedy can back him up. Prospect Dee Gordon will get the primary reps at shortstop, while James Loney seems to somehow still be on track to start.
Juan Uribe will play 35 games at third base before succumbing to injury again, and by July, Kennedy could be back at first base. He played there for Seattle last year and for Washington the year before. The common thread? Losing records.
His hit tool will clearly never translate well into an MLB lineup, but the one redeeming nugget from the rookie year of Tsuyoshi Nishioka was that it looked like he could handle shortstop.
The Twins feel differently. They want him to split time with Alexi Casilla at second base, and have given over the starting shortstop gig to 37-year-old Jamey Carroll. Carroll doesn't play that much shortstop, but fine.
The real problem is at the corners. The shine came off Danny Valencia's apple in a big way in 2011, and Justin Morneau looks like he will never again be Justin Morneau. At least Ryan Doumit and Joe Mauer can capably fill first base when a concussed fog overwhelms Morneau and keeps him from the lineup.
A pair of multi-year deals seem wasted on Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett. Both are fine players, but have had their best seasons, and their optimum roles are not available on the Padres' roster. First base is a mystery: Will Anthony Rizzo be ready this time? Will Kyle Blanks ever get something figured out? Who is Jesus Guzman, really?
The bright spot here is third base, where Chase Headley turned in a neat .374 OBP in 2011. For some reason, the Padres are eager to shed themselves of that asset. Hence their placement here.
Promise the good health of Brian Roberts, and perhaps there's upward mobility here. Realistically, though, there are holes all over the place in Baltimore. J.J. Hardy gets $22 million and change over the next three years whether his .310 OBP improves or not. One of Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds is going to have to actually field ground balls at third base again soon, and Robert Andino is thoroughly middling.
When the banishment of Mark Ellis to Colorado causes infield collapse, a wrong turn has been made. Jemile Weeks is an able, athletic replacement for Ellis at second base, but shortstop Cliff Pennington was not the same in 2011. Third base and first base are essentially vacant gigs to be won, but right now, the A's are too cash-strapped and tight-fisted to change their organization with any impact signing. Going forward for now, the A's will rely once more on Daric Barton.
From Ronny Cedeno to Clint Barmes is a big step up. Presumably, more help is coming, either in the form of re-signing Derrek Lee or in going out to grab a similar second- or third-tier first baseman. Carlos Pena is probably out of range, though, and neither Lee nor Casey Kotchman nor James Loney or Adam LaRoche can turn anything around in the Steel City.
One thing seems clear: The 2012 season will ride on the success or failure of Pedro Alvarez at third base. He had to mature and become the hitter people thought he could be, and do it fast. It might be now or never, and it's most likely never.
The Giants should have been in on Jose Reyes. Instead, they hung back, presumably hoping to scoop up a Barmes type later on in free agency. In the meantime, they'll explore starting Brandon Belt at first base next year, but the good odds are that Pablo Sandoval and that first baseman (be it Belt or Aubrey Huff) will get no help again.
Second baseman Freddy Sanchez is still under contract, but his fragility makes him a liability. The Giants have a gaping black hole at shortstop.
Dropping Yuniesky Betancourt's option was a good move, but it raised more questions than it answered. The Brewers need a shortstop and an upgrade at third base over Casey McGehee. Apparently, they're still holding a candle for Prince Fielder to return, but if Mat Gamel were a placekicker, the team would still have him kicking into the net and preparing to go.
Rickie Weeks is a fine player, but he was never meant to carry this infield unit.
Dustin Ackley is already a hit. The question is whether the Mariners are ever going to develop anyone else to bat alongside him. Justin Smoak could conceivably recover from his miserable year, and Brendan Ryan adds defensive value, but there are serious flaws with everyone in this group. Kyle Seager could be the Opening Day third baseman, and he's second-division. Evaluating talent in Seattle can be Hell; the park distorts all sense of numerical scale and mechanical method.
The Dan Uggla contract already looks like a bad decision, and that's the infield spot at which the Braves have the most certitude. With Chipper Jones coming nigh upon that great baseball sunset and Alex Gonzalez all but gone via free agency, Atlanta is looking at starting prospect Tyler Pastornicky st short and praying for Jones' continued good health.
Freddie Freeman is a question unto himself. He seems a fine, if unspectacular, fielder at first base, and he did manage a park-adjusted OPS 18 percent better than league average. He cranked 21 homers and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting.
But Freeman's ceiling doesn't seem to be far above his head. He might not ever be much more than an average glove man and .780-.800 OPS player, and if not, then the Braves are stuck in neutral.
It's remarkable to note that the Diamondbacks ended up coming within an inning of the NLCS in 2011, mostly because they did so without their second-best player.
Stephen Drew is the sort of player too many people look past. He's a great glove at short, but generally not a flashy one. He runs the bases efficiently and has power, but mostly shoots the gaps and has never stolen more than 10 bases. Drew is young yet, and a budding star on the left side of the Arizona infield.
Alongside him work Aaron Hill and Ryan Roberts, who emerged in significant ways in 2011. It all comes down to Paul Goldschmidt, and whether his power can maintain its high level as the league gets to know him.
Forget Gold Gloves and who's the best right now: Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best fielders ever. He's also a top-notch hitter who should be a perennial top-five MVP candidate from now to eternity. Todd Helton's production is fading badly and the other two positions are unimpressive, but the Rockies are pressing to address them, and they have a great building block in the meantime.
Brett Lawrie is an exciting young hitter, though probably not a third baseman in the long term. Yunel Escobar is a terrific defender, on the other hand, and also adds on-base skills at the top of the batting order from the shortstop position.
That's the good news. The upside for the left side of the infield is awesome. On the other side, though, the Blue Jays would trot out Mike McCoy and Adam Lind if the season began tomorrow. They're trying to get better there; Kelly Johnson could well be back. Prince Fielder is also in play.
Even without Reyes, all is not lost in New York. David Wright had a sub-standard season in 2011, but only insofar as he has set for himself a very high standard. He's not a good third baseman defensively, but he still has offensive value, and that could be augmented by further recovery from the back problems that plagued him last year.
Injuries also stole Ike Davis from the Mets very early last season, but this guy still looks like a potential impact player. He's only a small step up from Freddie Freeman, but he's a step up both offensively and defensively, and that makes him a useful player at first.
The middle is a muddle for the moment. Ruben Tejada will take over for Reyes, and though he's not well-regarded as a top prospect anymore, he did post a .360 OBP and fielded the position fine on an interim basis when Reyes was injured last year. Presumably, Daniel Murphy will move back to second base upon Davis's return, making for an unlikely but not insufficient middle infield. Murphy is underrated.
The Cubs are by no means out on Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, but since they're not contenders in 2012 anyway, they may not want to got that big. The worst-case scenario for them at that spot should be Carlos Pena or Derrek Lee, which is no great loss.
The middle infield is set, and should be good. Darwin Barney has done what Darwin Barney will do, but he's a fine stopgap option. Ideally, he and Starlin Castro would flip sides of second base, where each would be a better fit defensively, but for now, the plan is to leave Castro at shortstop and Barney at second base.
Third base is the big question, but the names that have crept into the discussion over the last week (most notably Chase Headley) reek of Theo Epstein savvy. The Cubs aren't good, but their problems are with pitching, not infielders.
Ryan Zimmerman finally seems to have figured out the injury issues that trailed him through this season, which should allow him to reach his All-Star potential fast. Meanwhile, Danny Espinosa (who could play shortstop) is becoming one of the more well-rounded second baseman in the NL. He can hit a little, run a little and easily field his position, making him a long-term asset.
Ian Desmond probably is not one. He might be trade bait this winter, but even if he is, the Nationals have the depth to absorb the loss. Steve Lombardozzi is a future second baseman, though not a great one. Meanwhile, Mike Morse and Adam LaRoche are both ready to go at first base. Assuming Morse will move back to left field to accommodate LaRoche's return, there's still the option of making a move if injury or poor performance demands it.
Asdrubal Cabrera's glove is overrated, but the dude can hit, especially for a shortstop. Alongside him will stand Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, two very engaging 2011 rookies who make this unit a strong one. They even have Jack Hannahan for some defense-first depth.
They do not, yet, have a tried and true first baseman. Matt LaPorta is a sort of default option to man the position, but not an inspired one. Cleveland might have interest in the second tier of available first basemen this winter, though on the other hand, they may want LaPorta as a part-timer in order to keep the spot open when Carlos Santana needs a day off from catching.
Joey Votto alone makes this unit strong. Brandon Phillips and Scott Rolen, with their combination of sensational defense and above-average bats, make it even better. Shortstop is the weak link in the chain at the moment, but the team believes in prospect Zack Cosart. Given their track record for spotting infield talent, there' little point in arguing.
Yonder Alonso is the X-factor here. He can spend another season pinch-hitting and moonlighting in left field and at third base, but that seems a waste of his skills. If the Reds are uncomfortable dealing Joey Votto, they should make Alonso part of a trade package to strengthen other areas of the roster.
Paul Konerko is critical to the White Sox's infield unit. He's a great slugger, though a poor fielder. He fits comfortably in the middle of the batting order and leads the team by example.
The best-kept secret in baseball, though, is Alexei Ramirez. A slick-fielding shortstop and great base runner, Ramirez had about his worst-case season at the plate in 2011 and was still worth 4.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs. He's a star, and paired with Konerko, he makes for a good infield core. If Gordon Beckham ever figures it out, or if Brent Morel can manage enough marginal offensive value to make his glove play, the White Sox are in business on the dirt.
Eric Hosmer has game-changing potential at first base, an upside he only flashed in a still-strong rookie season at a tender age. Mike Moustakas has similar upside but a longer way to go. Johnny Giovatella should be ready to take over second base this season, pairing with Alcides Escobar to form a strong defensive middle infield.
Any youth movement requires the depth to spell young players who slump and to bring those players along slowly. To that end, the Royals have Chris Getz and Yamalco Navarro in the fold.
Howie Kendrick had his long-awaited breakout in 2011. Erick Aybar remains a solid defense-first shortstop, and took a major step forward offensively in 2011. Mark Trumbo's OBP counts against them, but his power about balances that out. Counting on Kendry Morales might not be wise given his problems recovering from a major knee injury, but we know he can hit. Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis lend this unit unrivaled depth.
The tantalizing possibility is that they might get even stronger. Aramis Ramirez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols all would fit on the roster, though of course not together. Adding one of them would make the Angels an infield juggernaut.
The White Sox floated near the top of the list on the strength of two star players, but the Rays rise even higher thanks to two superstars along their infield. Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist have combined for over 40 WAR the past three seasons, according to FanGraphs. That's wild.
Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac certainly aren't special talents at shortstop, but they can handle it, and the Rays have two shortstop prospects close to the big leagues in Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee. One will surely actualize their skills.
That only leaves first base. It won't be pretty, but the team will get Casey Kotchman back, or re-sign Johnny Damon and stick him there, or somehow fill the gap well enough not to cancel the greatness of the rest of the corps.
They have an elite slugger at first base in Miguel Cabrera. They have a well-rounded talent at shortstop in Jhonny Peralta. They have Ramon Santiago back to lend defensive stability to the squad. They have Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn for depth, and they seem to be exploring acquiring a third baseman like Aramis Ramirez to make it all come together. The Tigers are positioned well to make another run at the AL Central crown in 2012.
Defense is not a problem here. Chase Utley and Placido Polanco are as good as glove men get at their respective positions, and Wilson Valdez (who sits atop the depth chart at shortstop for the moment) is slick, too.
Offense might be more of a concern. Ryan Howard is out for some indeterminate period, probably until at least mid-April. Utley and Polanco are past their offensive prime years. If the team brings back Jimmy Rollins, great, but in the meantime, they have added Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome to their bench alongside John Mayberry. It's a very strong infield, but to become elite, they need to lock up Rollins.
Call me crazy, but I think Albert Pujols is going home to St. Louis. Even if he leaves, though, the Cards are covered, as they have Lance Berkman sewn up for 2012 and can easily shift him in to first base.
World Series MVP David Freese is in place at third base, and should keep up the slugging he began in the postseason next spring. Shortstop and second base remain unsettled positions, but especially if Pujols leaves, the team should be aggressive enough to fill those holes with good players.
Thanks to the Reyes signing, the Marlins now boast the league's best left-side infield. Hanley Ramirez may not be thrilled with a move to third base, but it's good for him. He can be a slugging star there, and gains defensive value with the shift.
The dynamos on the left side are met by Slow (Gaby Sanchez) and Steady (Omar Infante) on the right side. There's nothing special going on there, but both players are solid-average regulars, and they certainly do not weigh down the Fish.
Ninety years later, the Yankees have nearly built the $100-million infield. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira made $78.5 million in 2011. Fortunately for the Yankees, Teixeira and Cano remain elite players at their positions. Eduardo Nunez provides depth for that unit, not that they usually need very much.
Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre form as formidable a second and third base pairing as Longoria and Zobrist, but Elvis Andrus is a better shortstop than anyone in Tampa Bay. Add Mitch Moreland and the occasional moonlighting efforts of Michael Young and Mike Napoli at first base, and you have a top-notch unit. If Pujols or Fielder come to Texas, things get downright scary for everyone else in baseball.
Health is a skill, as they say, but I'm ill at-ease to assume injury for anyone. If Kevin Youkilis stays healthy, this is the best infield in baseball, so give Boston the benefit of the doubt. Dustin Pedroia's combination of skills (he has all of them) and Adrian Gonzalez's insane pure hitting ability make this the strongest right side of any infield in the game, without an argument.
Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie have shortstop covered, however unimpressively, and Jose Iglesias and Will Middlebrooks provide high-profile minor-league insurance against injury.