B/R MLB Offseason 100: The Top 15 Corner Infielders Available for 2017
Now that everyone has said goodbye to the World Series and the 2016 Major League Baseball season, it's time to say hello to MLB's Hot Stove season.
'Tis the season when dozens of players pack their bags and get moving after signing on the dotted line or learning they've been traded. We're here to narrow down the top 100 players that could be moved before the 2017 season.
We'll get started with a look at the top 15 corner infielders who are entering the winter either as free agents or as trade targets according to the latest rumors and/or plausible speculation. The players are ranked based on how they fared in the following scoring system:
- Talent Outlook: Out of 70. This is where we look at how guys have performed recently and consider the outlook of their skills going forward. Think of 35 out of 70 as a league-average player and 70 out of 70 as a Mike Trout-like talent.
- Durability Outlook: Out of 20. This is where we probe track records and injury histories for a projection for how guys' bodies will hold up. Think of 10 out of 20 as signaling a toss-up as to whether guys will remain durable, with 20 out of 20 indicating no concerns whatsoever. To keep things fair, we'll allow a ceiling of 15 points for players in line for short-term commitments.
- Value Outlook: Out of 10. This is where we try to project what kind of contract or trade package it's going to take to acquire a guy and then determine if he'd be worth it. Think of five out of 10 as a fair deal, with zero being a megabust and 10 being a megasteal.
Just as a heads-up: Designated hitters are included in this particular list. And in the event of ties, the nod will be given to the player we'd rather sign or trade for.
Now that you know everything you need to know, it's time to take it away.
15. Steve Pearce, 1B/UTIL, Free Agent
Steve Pearce experienced a rough season in 2015 but got back to doing what he does best in 2016: crushing left-handed pitching. His 1.032 OPS against lefties made it two seasons out of three he's had an OPS over 1.000 against them. He also played everywhere except shortstop, center field and catcher.
With Pearce heading into his age-34 season, there's a worry about whether his production will regress again. As it is, there's more right-handed pitching in the league than left-handed pitching. By default, he doesn't get to use his best talent that often.
After playing in over 100 games in 2014, Pearce has played in under 100 games in each of the last two seasons. Some of that is his role being limited. It's also because he's battled both nagging and more serious injuries.
Obviously, this isn't such a great look for a guy who's in his mid-30s. Pearce's limited role will make it easier for him to stay on the field, but it's also no guarantee that he will.
Pearce found a $4.75 million deal coming off a down year last winter. He should do better than that in another one-year deal this winter.
But not too much better, given his limited usefulness. Say, $7 or $8 million. It's hard for money like that to go to waste in today's MLB, but Pearce would be hard-pressed to be a bargain at those rates.
14. Mike Napoli, 1B, Free Agent
Mike Napoli rebounded from a rough 2015 in a big way in 2016. He upped his OPS from .734 to .800 and clubbed a career-high 34 home runs. Just as important, he played in a career-high 150 games.
However, it can't be ignored that Napoli is now 35 years old. His power spike may be short-lived, which would force him to rely on other talents. To that end, his swing-and-miss habit regressed in 2016 after steps forward the prior two years. His poor defensive ratings could also be a sign of things to come.
Given that he had undergone a gnarly surgery to correct his sleep apnea the previous winter, it's no wonder Napoli had a down year in 2015. By that same token, perhaps it's no wonder he was fully recovered and productive this year.
Still, this is a guy in his mid-30s with lots of mileage on his body. Said body has also been prone to nagging injuries. It's best not to count on him playing in 150 games again.
Napoli is a candidate for the $17.2 million qualifying offer, but Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com is probably right in thinking he won't get one. That's a lot of money for an aging one-dimensional player.
If so, it will only be easier for Napoli to find a raise over the $7 million he made in 2016. Something like the two-year, $25 million deal Adam LaRoche signed in 2014 could be in order. Given all we've discussed, that would likely prove to be an overpay.
13. Pedro Alvarez, DH, Free Agent
After flaming out as an everyday position player in 2015, Pedro Alvarez quietly thrived in his new role as a part-time designated hitter in 2016. He put up an .826 OPS and hit 22 home runs in only 376 plate appearances. He had an .848 OPS and hit 21 of those 22 homers against right-handers.
Alvarez's dominance against right-handed pitching is nothing new. Neither is his power, which comes from his huge raw pop and steady pull habit. As they eye him for a short-term deal, teams will focus on these things and downplay the reality that Alvarez doesn't bring much else to the table.
As you'd expect from a big-bodied player, Alvarez has struggled with lower-half aches and pains over the years. The most serious was a quad strain that put him on the DL for nearly two months in 2011.
However, Alvarez has mostly been healthy as a big leaguer. And now that he's settled into a role as a part-time DH, it will only be easier for him to stay healthy after he crosses the age-30 plateau in 2017.
After providing solid return on a $5.75 million investment by the Baltimore Orioles in 2016, Alvarez is due for a raise this winter. But while there have been some lucrative multiyear contracts handed out to DHs in recent winters, teams won't be quick to rain money on a platoon DH.
The best hope for Alvarez is something like the two-year, $17 million contract Kendrys Morales signed off a down year two winters ago. He could live up to that, but one doesn't imagine a player who's limited to hitting for power in a platoon role would exceed any expectations.
12. Mitch Moreland, 1B, Free Agent
Mitch Moreland is good for a couple of things. He handles right-handers well, OPS'ing .778 off them for his career. Power is his other main calling card, as he's cranked over 20 homers in three seasons out of four. And per both the metrics and the eye test, he's a quality defender at first base.
Moreland is only good against right-handers, however. His career OPS against southpaws is .673. He's also failed to post an OBP over .300 in three out of four seasons. And while his power is good, it's held back by his modest ability to get the ball airborne. Now that he's 31, that may only get worse.
Moreland has topped 145 games in two of the last four seasons but played in just 184 total games in the other two. He missed significant time with an ankle injury in 2014 and an elbow injury in 2015.
The bright side is that he otherwise hasn't been too beat up while playing primarily at first base. But between his age and his injury history, there's no guarantee he'll be healthy in a short-term deal.
Moreland is coming off a year in which he earned $5.7 million. He could have trouble matching that salary on the open market but shouldn't be dealt too big of a pay cut due to the general lack of talent on the market.
A possible comp for Moreland is John Jaso, who signed for $8 million over two years last winter. Moreland could find a similar contract and be similarly useful as the lefty part of a first base platoon.
11. Yunel Escobar, 3B, Trade
Source: Chris Cotillo of SB Nation
Yunel Escobar had a stretch where he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat. He hit .256 with a .668 OPS between 2012 and 2014. Now he's a .309 hitter with a .768 OPS over the last two seasons. He's always been a great contact hitter. What he's developed is a fantastic ability to aim the ball.
Getting base hits is all Escobar can do, however. He doesn't hit for power. He's not a good baserunner. He has three straight seasons of terrible defensive metrics behind him. A team that trades for him can expect to get a good table-setter in his age-34 season in 2017, but not much else.
The last injury Escobar suffered was a freak occurrence. He suffered a concussion when he fouled a bunt off his face in August. That sidelined him for a couple weeks.
Even apart from that, Escobar isn't one to stay in the lineup throughout an entire season. A steady string of aches and pains have limited to under 140 games in seven of his 10 seasons. And at his age, staying healthy won't get any easier.
The Los Angeles Angels hold a $7 million option for Escobar. Cotillo theorizes they could trade him before picking that up. If not, they could do it later.
The Angels would probably have it in mind to trade Escobar for a starter who could help repair a rotation that managed just a 4.60 ERA in 2016. As long as a team is only willing to give up a back-end type who's short on team control, there's a fair deal to be struck.
10. Chris Carter, 1B/DH, Trade/Free Agent
Chris Carter co-led the National League with 41 homers in 2016. And so it goes. Only five players have cleared the fence more often than him since 2013. He's made to hit home runs, combining tremendous raw power with an ability to get the ball in the air.
But home runs are all Carter provides. He has a good eye, but a strikeout habit and an aversion to BABIP undermine his on-base skill. He also doesn't run or field his position, consistently rating as a below-average defender. In the event his power declines after he crosses the age-30 threshold in 2017, he may only be useful in a platoon role against left-handed pitching.
There's always a concern about big guys breaking down physically, but the concern doesn't weigh as heavily with Carter as it does with other guys.
He didn't become an everyday player until his age-26 season. His body has also been preserved by DH and first base duty. Thus, his clean injury history and average of 146 games played over the last four seasons.
With a projected a salary raise from a $2.5 million to $8.1 million, Heyman isn't the only one wondering whether Carter will be non-tendered. Even if he's not, the Milwaukee Brewers figure to shop him to teams that are looking for affordable power.
If Carter is non-tendered, he could possibly be signed for less than $8.1 million on a one-year deal. If he's traded, the Brewers could replicate the Mark Trumbo trade and target organizational depth. Either way, he should have an affordable price tag that reflects his limited set of skills.
9. Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Trade/Free Agent
Source: Mike Berardino of TwinCities.com
Trevor Plouffe has been a perfectly serviceable player. Since 2012, his OPS has hovered between the low and mid .700s. He's had two years (2012 and 2015) in which he topped 20 home runs. And since 2013, his defensive ratings have been mostly good.
However, what the future holds for Plouffe is unclear. He hasn't had any standout skills in his prime, and his prime may already be over now that his age-31 season is on deck. His best role may be in a platoon gig where he can make good use of his career .809 OPS against left-handed pitching.
Plouffe's durability is another reason he could be ticketed for a platoon role. He played in 152 games in 2015, but injuries have limited him to an average of 124 games in the last five seasons.
The bright side is that he's played in only 723 games, which is not that many for a guy his age. But what he lacks in mileage, he makes up for in dings and dents. This is something for suitors to be wary of even with only short-term commitments being in the cards for Plouffe.
Plouffe is another one for the "non-tender or trade?" pile. He's projected for $8.2 million after making $7.25 million in 2015, a rather larger expense for a Minnesota Twins team that doesn't need him.
If Plouffe is non-tendered, he could probably be picked up on a deal worth less than his expected arbitration payout. If he's traded, he could come at a discount after a rough 2015 season. Even if he only does it in a platoon role, he could have a chance to provide a good return on a small investment.
8. Kendrys Morales, DH, Free Agent
Kendrys Morales watched his OPS drop from .847 in 2015 to .795 in 2016. All the more alarming is how this happened in his age-33 season. Prospective suitors are going to wonder whether this particular designated hitter won't be much of a hitter in his next deal.
In support of that idea, the spike in Morales' strikeout rate is worth worrying about. Otherwise, that's about it. It shouldn't be lost in the shuffle that Morales hit 30 home runs in 2016. He backed those up with a career-high 41.1 hard-hit percentage. Even if he is diminished, he's still dangerous.
Nobody will soon forget the time Morales broke his leg when he jumped onto home plate back in 2010. That injury cost him two years of action.
What everyone should also realize, though, is that Morales has played in over 150 games in three of the last four seasons. The one exception in 2014 had nothing to do with injury. His age comes with some built-in doubts about his durability, but the worst is probably behind him.
This winter's weak free-agent class should convince Morales not to take his $11 million mutual option for 2017. And given that it could require cutting him a $17.2 million check, the Kansas City Royals presumably won't make him a qualifying offer.
Morales could look to target the four-year contracts signed by Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez after the 2014 season. Since he's not as good as them, however, something closer to the three-year, $30 million contract signed by Billy Butler is more likely. Either way, Morales is an aging DH who won't come cheap.
7. Victor Martinez, DH, Trade
Source: Buster Olney of ESPN.com
Victor Martinez was arguably the best hitter in baseball when he hit .335 with a .974 OPS two years ago, but the 37-year-old has looked his age the last two seasons. He OPS'd .667 in an injury-marred 2015 and only rebounded to a solid but unspectacular .826 OPS in 2016.
Even still, V-Mart might be the best full-time DH in baseball now that David Ortiz is gone. And if nothing else, he proved in 2016 that his left knee issues from the prior year aren't a permanent drain on his production. He had an .832 OPS when batting lefty that he backed up with a much-improved hard-hit rate. If that continues, he'll still be a consistent hitter with good power to offer.
It's not just Martinez's left knee, which has undergone two major surgeries since 2012, that raises concerns. He's an older player who's played in over 1,700 career games. That's a lot of mileage.
Getting to serve as a DH helps preserve Martinez. So does the fact that he doesn't push himself on the basepaths. But in the final two years of his contract, a team should not take good health for granted.
Olney claims the Tigers are willing to trade anyone and would "probably love to move" Martinez in particular. But as a full-time DH with $36 million remaining on his contract, his trade value is limited by default. It could be even more limited by this winter's market, which is loaded with DH types.
As such, a team might be able to get Martinez by agreeing to pick up his contract and giving little back in return. Even with his question marks, that would create the potential for him to become a bargain.
6. Luis Valbuena, 3B, Free Agent
Luis Valbuena put himself on the map in 2013 and has been productive ever since. He's OPS'd .761 with 66 home runs while playing defense that, per the metrics, has mostly wavered between good and not terrible. And since he's a late bloomer, his fast-approaching 31st birthday isn't too big a concern.
If there's a fear, it that's Valbuena's near future may look like his 2015 season, when he put up just a .310 OBP. He sells out for power by pulling everything and trying to crush every ball he hits, which can be a dangerous mix. If his OBP falls again, his power and defense will only be so valuable.
Valbuena had been relatively dependable between 2013 and 2015, but he's now coming off a year in which he played in only 90 games before having season-ending surgery on his hamstring.
Teams will be right to be wary of Valbuena's durability in pursuing him this winter. Hamstrings are tricky. And while he may be well preserved for a guy his age, he's not young either.
Valbuena would have been in line for a multiyear deal if he hadn't gotten hurt. Now he's in line for a one-year pillow contract that he can use to re-establish his value for next winter.
After he earned $6.13 million in 2016, such a contract could land in the $10 million range. Despite reservations about his health, that could be a solid deal for a guy who's been underrated the last couple of years.
5. Todd Frazier, 3B, Trade
Todd Frazier is one of the more well-rounded third basemen in baseball. The 40 homers he hit in 2016 marked the third time in as many years he's set a new career high. He also stole double-digit bases for the third straight season. And while he rated poorly in 2016, the metrics tend to like his defense.
But playing off that last point, Frazier struggles with consistency. The 30-year-old's power and athleticism are all well and good, but he has swing-and-miss and pull tendencies that lead to OBP struggles. On defense, Inside Edge data confirms he has trouble with the easy plays. Any team that trades for his walk year can bank on getting a talented but flawed player.
Frazier has had no trouble staying on the field, playing in at least 150 games in each of the last four seasons. He's had some aches and pains but nothing serious.
Frazier's age and all-out style are reasons to believe his past durability isn't necessarily a guarantee of durability in his age-31 season in 2017. But in the grand scheme of reasons to be worried, these are minor.
After the Chicago White Sox finished no higher than fourth in the AL Central between 2013 and 2016, Sherman may be right that they're blowing it up this winter. Frazier will be a big trade piece if they do, as few free agents can match his all-around game.
However, that means there could be a bidding war that drives up his price tag. He's also projected to earn $13.5 million in arbitration in 2017. He's unlikely to be a steal.
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Free Agent
Behold one of the best power hitters in baseball. Only Chris Davis (197) has hit more home runs than Edwin Encarnacion (193) since 2012. Only Giancarlo Stanton and David Ortiz topped him in isolated power. And while he may be headed for his age-34 season, his power is showing no signs of decline.
There are some things to be wary of, though. Encarnacion is a bat-only player, contributing little on defense or on the bases. And with strikeouts and shifts starting to slow him down, his bat may devolve into a power-only tool. His next five years likely won't be as good as his last five years.
Encarnacion played in 160 games in 2016, making it four seasons out of five in which he's topped 140 games. A strained quad sidelined him for a while in 2014, but he's been mostly healthy since.
At his age, there's not a 100 percent guarantee that Encarnacion will keep this up. But it bodes well that action in the field hasn't worn him out. He's spent the last five years rotating between first base and designated hitter. Short of full-time DH duty, that's as good a way as any to preserve a player.
Encarnacion is going to get and (presumably) reject a $17.2 million qualifying offer. That will tie him to draft-pick compensation, but that shouldn't hold him back too much in the open market.
He'll look to match or beat the deals Martinez and Cruz got two winters ago. That would call for a contract of at least four years worth somewhere between $15 and $20 million per year. That plus the lost draft pick would be a heavy price for a guy who may not match his recent production.
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Trade
Source: Buster Olney of ESPN.com
You know him. You love him. He's Miguel Cabrera. He hit "only" .316 in 2016 but still leads all active players with a .321 career average. Seemingly fully healthy for the first time since 2013, he also revived his power in hitting 38 home runs with a .563 slugging percentage.
As always, the caveat with Cabrera is that he's a bat-only player. And with his age-34 season on deck, his excellent 2016 shouldn't erase concerns about the inevitability of his decline. His power is still likely to be the first thing to go. As it is, it's curious that he drastically improved his HR/FB ratio from 15.8 in 2015 to 22.1 in 2016 without drastically improving his hard-hit rate (40.1 to 41.1).
It doesn't get as much attention for obvious reasons, but Cabrera's durability is as big a hallmark of his career as his production. Since 2004, he's averaged 155 games per season!
All those games have taken their toll, though. Cabrera underwent core muscle surgery after 2013 and missed significant action with a leg injury last year. Those issues seemed to be the start of his physical decline. In that sense, this is another area where what happened in 2016 shouldn't be taken as a promise that all is well.
It seems unthinkable that the Tigers would move Cabrera, but the time is right to do so. The hard part will be finding a taker for his contract, which still owes him $212 million over the next seven years.
If Cabrera is moved, chances are it would be in a bad contract swap that would save the Tigers money rather than in a deal that would bring them oodles of young talent. While that would be preferable for his new team, it would still be on the hook to pay a lot of money to an aging star.
2. Joey Votto, 1B, Trade
The best pure hitter in baseball? Probably this guy right here. Joey Votto leads all active players with a career .425 OBP. And just when he seemed to be hitting a wall early in 2016, he took off and ultimately hit .326 with a .434 OBP while keeping his power at strong levels.
In other departments, Votto looks his age. The 33-year-old is not the baserunner he once was. While it could prove to be a one-year thing, the poor defensive metrics he posted in 2016 are worth worrying about. The bright side where his future is concerned, however, is that his value comes as much from his smarts as his physical talents. He should be a long-term OBP merchant.
Votto ran into leg trouble that limited him to 111 games in 2012 and more leg trouble that limited him to 62 games in 2014. This isn't a good look on an aging player.
In seasons when he hasn't been hurt, however, Votto has been a lock for 150-plus games. There's also the reality that first base is the best position to preserve an aging player. And this is assuming he doesn't move to the American League, where he could live out his remaining days as a DH.
Heyman's article specifically cites the Toronto Blue Jays as a possible suitor for Votto, but they wouldn't be the only interested party if the Cincinnati Reds put him out there this winter.
Votto's contract, which owes him at least $179 million over the next seven seasons, puts the Reds in the same boat the Tigers are in with Cabrera. They're likely only moving Votto in a bad contract swap. A suitor would rather do that than give up young talent for Votto, but there would be the same problem as Cabrera: paying a lot of money for an aging star.
1. Justin Turner, 3B, Free Agent
All Justin Turner did in his three years in Los Angeles was put together an .856 OPS with 50 home runs, topping out at a career-high 27 in 2016. He's not one-dimensional either. He went to L.A. as a utility guy and, per the metrics, evolved into an above-average defensive third baseman.
With Turner coming off his age-31 season, it's natural to question how long he can keep up his offensive awakening. It does appear legit, however. He's spent the last few seasons making more hard contact than he did earlier in his career and hasn't sacrificed his contact habit to do it. Even if age does chip away at his skills, he'll go from a great player to a quality one.
There are red flags on Turner's record. The most recent is the leg trouble that limited him to 126 games in 2015 and made it four seasons in a row with a trip to the disabled list.
Still, this is a guy who's only played in 704 major league games. Injuries have played a part in that, but it's mostly due to him not earning regular playing time until the Dodgers picked him up. He's relatively well-preserved for a guy his age.
Turner will reject an obligatory $17.2 million qualifying offer, tying himself to draft pick compensation on the open market. Nonetheless, he'll be an obvious standout in a weak free-agent class.
He'll seek at least Chase Headley money ($52 million over four years) and could try to parlay his leverage into something more like Adrian Beltre money ($80 million over five years). One way or another, it'll be fair to worry about a late bloomer with such a big contract to live up to.