B/R MLB Offseason 100: The Top 15 Middle Infielders Available for 2017
We have 15 middle infielders who are either free agents or trade targets pulled from rumors and/or plausible speculation. They're 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.
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. Alexei Ramirez, SS, Free Agent
He was an All-Star in 2014, but recent times have not been kind to Alexei Ramirez. His offensive output has plunged to cringeworthy levels in the last two seasons. And while they could be an aberration, his terrible defensive ratings from 2016 could also be his 35 years catching up to him.
One positive is that Ramirez at least managed a .769 OPS against left-handers in 2016. That's in keeping with a positive history in that department. And while he shouldn't be an everyday shortstop anymore, he could easily be converted to a part-time shortstop and second baseman in a short deal.
Ramirez's talent is on its last legs, but his literal legs and everything else are just fine. He played in 145 games in 2016, marking the eighth straight season he's played in at least that many games.
Assuming he's transitioned into a part-time role in a one-year deal in 2017, staying on the field will become even easier for him.
Ramirez wasn't a good investment at $3 million in 2016, so he'll probably have to take even more of a pay cut in a major league contract this winter. He may even have to settle for a minor league contract.
Either way, he'll come with virtually zero risk.
14. Stephen Drew, SS, Free Agent
After two lost seasons in 2014 and 2015, Stephen Drew reemerged with an .864 OPS in 2016. He also held it down at shortstop, third base and second base. As such, he'll get a few looks as a guy who can make an impact as a platoon player in 2017.
Rightfully so. The 33-year-old was crushing the ball in 2016, posting a career-high 41.4 hard-hit percentage. Taking only 17 plate appearances against left-handers helped. Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports also pointed to a change in Drew's approach that worked wonders. If he has more of the same in him for 2017, he'll be a solid bargain buy.
Drew has taken a beating in his career. The worst of it was the gruesome ankle injury that he suffered on a slide into home in 2011. Further injuries since 2013 have helped limit him to 410 total games.
Odds are his next contact will only require him to stay healthy for one year. But given his history, even that may be a challenge.
Drew made good on a $3 million contract in 2016, so he's probably looking at a pay raise this offseason. Nothing too crazy, though. It's hard to imagine him going too far over the $5 million threshold.
His health would determine whether he lives up to that. But if he were to stay healthy and pick up where he left off in 2016, he would once again be a nice find.
13. Daniel Descalso, 2B, Free Agent
Any team that gives Daniel Descalso a call will mainly be interested in his versatility. He can play all four infield positions and can venture into the outfield in a pinch. He's not a great defender at any one position, but it's good enough that he can play anywhere without embarrassing himself.
Descalso has been a below-average hitter his whole career, but it does stand out that his career-best .773 OPS from 2016 wasn't heavily influenced by Coors Field. He had a .765 OPS on the road. In light of his career-high line-drive rate and solid 29.3 hard-hit percentage, that could be worth reading into.
With 99 games played in 2016, Descalso fell just one game short of playing in at least 100 games for a sixth straight season. That speaks to how he's been able to keep himself on the field.
Of course, being a part-time player helps. He's well-preserved for a 30-year-old and should stay on the field in a short deal.
The Colorado Rockies picked up Descalso on a two-year, $3.6 million deal two winters ago. That ended up having a solid-enough payoff that he can probably get a raise on this winter's market. Say, $3-4 million on a one-year deal or $6-8 million on a two-year deal.
He wouldn't be a steal at those rates, but he could be a good investment simply by being himself.
12. Kelly Johnson, 2B, Free Agent
Kelly Johnson got off to a slow start with the Atlanta Braves in 2016, but then he looked more like himself in putting up a .787 OPS with nine homers in 82 games with the New York Mets. And while he mainly played second base, he also filled in at third base, first base and left field.
More of the same should be in the cards for 2017. Johnson, 34, isn't a great defender, but the fact that he can play anywhere is valuable. He's not a great platoon hitter, either, posting merely average numbers against right-handers. What matters, though, is that he can still pop the occasional homer.
Johnson has been around for a while now, but his relegation to a platoon role in recent seasons has helped keep him healthy. He's played in over 100 games in each of the last four seasons.
With 2017 set to be his age-35 season, there is some built-in doubt about whether Johnson can keep this up. Not too much, though.
Johnson's last two free-agent deals have been for $1.5 million and $2 million. So, let's take a wild guess and say he'll sign for $2.5 million this winter. It probably won't be for much more than that, anyway, which means it'll be nigh impossible for him to be a bust.
11. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Trade
Source: Jason Martinez of MLB Trade Rumors
Brandon Phillips is past his prime. His once above-average power is now safely below average, and his 35-year-old legs look their age on the bases and on defense. There's also a real chance that his weak defensive ratings in 2016 are no mere blips on the radar.
But let's give Phillips some credit. He's keeping his OPS around league average. That has to do with how he's remaining an outstanding contact hitter with an eye on all fields. And even if he's no longer elite on defense, he's still a capable defender. He's no longer a star, but he should be no worse than an average regular in the final year of his contract in 2017.
Phillips' body has aged well. He's suffered various aches and pains along the way but has played in over 140 games in all but one year since 2006.
His age makes it fair to question how much longer this can continue. But with his contract up after 2017, it doesn't need to continue much longer.
Phillips' age and diminished talent equate to little value on the trade market. Things are further complicated by his contract, which includes a $14 million salary for 2017 and partial no-trade protection that he could again use to try to negotiate an extension.
As such, even trying to take on Phillips' contract while sending little to Cincinnati in return figures to be a headache for any suitors for the veteran second baseman.
10. Chase Utley, 2B, Free Agent
Chase Utley says he wants to keep playing. That's fine, but the borderline future Hall of Famer certainly isn't the player he once was. He's OPS'd just .679 over the last two seasons and, per the metrics, is far from the game-changing defender he was in his prime.
There's still a role for the 37-year-old to play, though. His defense is no longer great, but it's still adequate. And if he were to be confined to a platoon role against right-handed pitching, everything in his track record suggests he would stand out as an above-average hitter.
The fact that Utley is still playing is a small miracle. He's taxed his body to the extreme with his aggressive style of play and has racked up numerous aches and pains along the way. His knees, in particular, seemed destined to end his career not too long ago.
And yet, he played in 138 games in his age-37 season and in 155 games as recently as 2014. This doesn't mean he's been made whole again, but it's a positive sign he could hold up in a short deal.
The Los Angeles Dodgers re-signed Utley for just $7 million last year. He provided good return on that investment. That plus the weak crop of free agents on this year's market could mean a bump to $10 million or more even if a team plans on using him in a part-time role.
Utley likely wouldn't turn a deal like that into a bargain, but it wouldn't be money down the drain.
9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS, Trade
Source: Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald
Adeiny Hechavarria's defensive potential has become reality in the last two seasons. He's gone from having below-average metrics to well above-average metrics. According to Inside Edge data, this past season in particular saw him become good at making both the easy plays and the difficult plays.
However, Hechavarria owns just a .627 career OPS. He's a throwback to middle infielders from the old school. He's a good contact hitter but struggles to make good contact. He's also not much of a baserunner. Odds are he'll continue being a glove-only player in his last two years before free agency.
Hechavarria played in a career-high 155 games in 2016. In so doing, he avoided the elbow and hamstring issues that had plagued him in recent seasons.
Those could still reappear, but it shouldn't be considered a major concern either way. Even with those issues, Hechavarria still averaged 141 games per season between 2013 and 2015.
Jackson reported Hechavarria will be on the table as the Miami Marlins look to fill out a starting rotation that was thin even before the tragic death of Jose Fernandez. He's not going to get them an ace on his own, but he could be dangled for a mediocre mid-rotation arm or a solid back-end arm.
If a team has pitching to spare and is in need of some defense to finish an otherwise complete roster, then sure. If not, Hechavarria's not worth the trouble.
8. Jose Iglesias, SS, Trade
Source: Buster Olney of ESPN.com
Jose Iglesias entered 2016 as a .287 career hitter, but the .255 average and .306 OBP he posted this year are truer reflections of his offensive talent. Although he's an excellent contact hitter, he makes a ton of soft contact and doesn't pad his OBP with walks.
On the other side of the ball, there's good and bad. Iglesias has elite defensive tools in his quick feet, quick hands and strong arm. His metrics have been all over the place, though. That's a good reflection of his inconsistency on defense. He's thus less Andrelton Simmons and more Adeiny Hechavarria.
Iglesias needs to prove himself in this department as well. He missed all of 2014 with bad shins and has been limited to 257 games over the last two seasons by further trouble with his legs.
The bright side: Iglesias is still only 26. Good health may finally find him in his final two years before free agency.
The Detroit Tigers will be selling low on Iglesias if they trade him. There's no chance of them replicating what the Atlanta Braves got in the Simmons trade—which featured top prospect Sean Newcomb—last winter. Iglesias can probably only fetch low-level prospects or perhaps a promising reclamation project.
Given that Iglesias' bat isn't strong and his glove is a mixed bag, I'm not sure he could be a steal at either price. Nonetheless, buying low on him now is a good idea.
7. Neil Walker, 2B, Free Agent
Neil Walker has been a consistently above-average hitter, posting an OPS no lower than .740 since 2010. He combines a quality approach with good power, which in 2016 led to 23 homers and a .476 slugging percentage. These things were backed by one of his best-ever hard-hit rates.
However, Walker's age (31) and recent back surgery cloud the future of his power. There's a good chance it could regress and render his bat less dangerous. Per the metrics, he's already a below-average defender on the other side of the ball. This is a case of a good player with an iffy future.
Walker's back surgery isn't the only concern. His past contains a fairly expansive collection of other health woes. It's because of those that he's averaged just 133 games per season since 2012.
Heading into his age-31 season, Walker isn't at a point where he's easily able to put these woes in the past and keep them there. His durability is another question mark for the future.
According to Adam Rubin of ESPN.com, the New York Mets are planning on extending the $17.2 million qualifying offer to Walker. He's likely to reject that and try his luck on the open market despite ties to draft-pick compensation.
Walker's goal is sure to be something like the four-year, $56 million contract Ben Zobrist got last year. His back surgery may force him to settle for a three-year version of that deal, possibly with an option. That wouldn't be bad for a healthy Walker. But, about that...
6. Zack Cozart, SS, Trade
Source: Jason Martinez of MLB Trade Rumors
Zack Cozart boasts outstanding defensive metrics, accounting for 54 defensive runs saved and a 42.2 ultimate zone rating. And because his defensive prowess is based as much (or more) on his technique as his athleticism, he should keep it up in his age-31 season in 2017 before becoming a free agent.
Cozart doesn't have as much to offer on offense, but he does have more to offer now than he used to. His OPS has hung around the league average the last two seasons. This has involved him chasing more power, posting lower ground-ball rates and higher hard-contact rates.
And now for the bad news. A season-ending knee injury in 2015 and further knee trouble in 2016 have limited Cozart to just 174 games over the last two seasons.
This is not the best sign for a guy heading into his age-31 season. Cozart may only require a one-year commitment, but his health for this one year should be considered up in the air.
The Cincinnati Reds' rebuild has already gutted most of the team's veteran resources, but Martinez is right on in thinking that Cozart's a remaining resource that could be moved.
He would be one of the lesser options on a trade market that will have some good middle infield options. Further, his recent injury woes likely limit his value to lesser prospects. Health permitting, trading for him could yield a solid bargain.
5. Derek Dietrich, 2B, Trade
Source: Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald
Derek Dietrich is a "second baseman" only because that's where he's played the most in his major league career. He also plays third base, first base and a bit of left field. At a time when versatility is all the rage, this alone should earn him some looks on the trade market.
On the other side of the ball, one's eye is drawn to the .800 OPS Dietrich has put up over the last two seasons. That's come courtesy of his ability to hit right-handed pitching. At worst, he can be a good bench player for a team over the next four seasons. At best, he can be a good semi-everyday player.
Dietrich was sidelined for a couple of months by a wrist injury back in 2014. Otherwise, it's not because of the injury bug that he's maxed out at 128 games in a season.
That plus the fact he's only 27 years old makes him a good bet to stay on the field in his final four years before free agency.
The Marlins don't have a starting role for Dietrich, so Jackson's report that he's among the players they're willing to move for starting pitching makes sense.
For any interested suitors, this is a classic case of a player who could blossom if given more regular playing time. That's worth surrendering what would presumably be something less than a front-line starter in a trade.
4. Dee Gordon, 2B, Trade
Source: Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald
Who's the real Dee Gordon? The breakout star from 2014 and 2015, or the guy who struggled before and after an 80-game PED suspension in 2016? We'll find out no matter where the 28-year-old lands this winter. But teams thinking about buying low on him have the right idea.
If nothing else, Gordon is still fast and, per the metrics, a good defender. He also remains an outstanding contact hitter who sprays ground balls to all fields—a good combination for a speedy player. Teams are rolling the dice on him bouncing back and earning the money he's owed between now and 2020.
Gordon has twice suffered serious thumb injuries on slides, in 2012 and 2015. That's something for suitors to be wary of, as he's not going to stop running the bases just to keep himself healthy.
Gordon otherwise doesn't offer too much to worry about. He's still relatively youthful, and it's important that he's kept his legs healthy throughout his career. He should stay healthy in the final four (or five, if his option is picked up) years of his contract.
According to Jackson, the Marlins would prefer not to make Gordon part of their search for starting pitching. That's understandable given what he would mean for them if he bounces back.
Then there's the matter of his trade value. Between what happened in 2016 and the $46.7 million remaining on his contract, Gordon's value is in a tough place. If a team can convince the pitching-needy Marlins to give him up for something less than an ace, a Gordon trade could be a steal.
3. Brian Dozier, 2B, Trade
Source: Joel Sherman of the New York Post
It will be hard for Brian Dozier to keep up the trend after launching 42 home runs in 2016, but he's increased his home run total each season he's been in the majors. To boot, he's also a capable baserunner and defender.
With his age-30 season on deck, there is some concern as to whether Dozier will decline in the last two years of his contract. But he is well-preserved, as he didn't become an everyday major leaguer until his age-26 season. And if nothing else, his power is built to last. He excels at getting the ball in the air, pulling it and hitting it hard.
Here's another reason to believe Dozier can age well: He hasn't been hurt yet, playing in at least 147 games in each of the last four seasons.
The only worry is if Dozier's style of play could open the injury floodgates. He does like to go all-out on defense and on the basepaths. But in the scheme of things, this is a minor worry.
Sherman is the latest to speculate about the Minnesota Twins trading their star second baseman but not the first. Even Dozier seems aware that he's a great piece of trade bait for a team that's trying to take the next step toward contention.
Thing is, the Twins probably wouldn't be interested in unproven prospects. They're in a position to add to a young core that's already in place. Any team that wants Dozier should be prepared to part with major league or major league-ready talent. Two years of Dozier won't come cheap.
2. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Trade
Source: Buster Olney of ESPN.com
Ian Kinsler is 34 but seems to be ageless. He's been underrated his whole career and is now coming off a 2016 season in which he OPS'd .831 with 28 home runs while, per the metrics, playing characteristically terrific defense at second base.
The power spike Kinsler experienced in 2016 should raise questions, but it's actually believable. His swing is made to get the ball in the air to his pull side, and he earned his power with a career-best hard-hit percentage. And even if his power does regress, he'll still have enough talents to continue producing in the final two years of his contract (including his 2018 option).
As further proof that he might actually be ageless, Kinsler has gotten more durable as he's gotten older. He's averaged 153 games per season since 2011.
With Kinsler headed for his age-35 season with over 1,500 career games in his past, there's a limit to how much his track record of durability can be trusted. It does bode well, though.
Olney reported Kinsler is one of many stars the Detroit Tigers could move this winter. Given that he's still really good and owed a maximum of $23 million over the next two seasons, he might be the only guy they can move for real young talent.
Even then, Kinsler would be a good get for any team that pays Detroit's price. He would only need to continue being one of baseball's best second basemen for two more years.
1. Alex Bregman, SS, Trade
Source: Joel Sherman of the New York Post
After OPS'ing .986 with 20 home runs in the minors, Alex Bregman was one of baseball's elite prospects by the time he got called to Houston in 2016. He then shook off a slow start to post a .791 OPS with eight homers in 49 games. Defensive runs saved claims he played a good third base, too.
Bregman is a shortstop by trade, however. And a real offensive threat at the position, to boot. He showed a good approach and was among the elites at keeping the ball off the ground with pop to all fields. The 22-year-old should develop into a front-line talent in the six years he has left until free agency.
A hamstring injury in September derailed Bregman's rookie breakout. This after a hamstring injury had landed him on the minor league disabled list back in April.
This is a small worry where Bregman's future is concerned, though. He isn't even two years removed from being the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, and he should be better prepared for the 162-game grind after his first full season in the pros this year.
Sherman merely wondered if the Astros could shop Bregman this winter, with the idea being that he could be used to land an ace. He's a valuable piece of property but superfluous in Houston next to Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Cuban import Yulieski Gurriel.
The Astros would surely only part with their young, cost-controlled infielder for a young, cost-controlled ace. Such a deal would be risky, but Bregman's youth and upside could indeed make it a good deal in the long run.