Minor League Free Agent Market: Infielders
Earlier this month, Baseball America listed 43 minor free agents — more have joined since then. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the infielders currently available.
My, how things can change. After blasting 41 homeruns in his first two big-league seasons, the Blue Jays opted to stick with Arencibia and trade away prospect Travis d’Arnaud. Two years later, Arencibia is fighting to stay in MLB while d’Arnaud appears to be a core player behind the plate for the Mets. Did Toronto make the wrong decision? Not really, not considering that they were in “win now” mode, and d’Arnaud was still a year or so away — that’s what teams do when they smell postseason potential. As it turned out, Arencibia hit 21 homers in 2013 while posting a miniscule .592 OPS (that’s hard to do!), and was let go by the Jays after their miserable season. The slugging backstop hooked on with the Rangers and hit 10 homeruns in 222 plate appearances (as well as 14 in 190 in the PCL). This is what Arencibia does: he takes big swings and puts a ball over the fence about once every 20 at-bats — and doesn’t do much else. As a catcher, he’s mediocre — but, he IS a catcher, and there aren’t many who have his power. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he became d’Arnaud’s backup? Assuming Anthony Recker remains with the Mets, I don’t see it happening, as Recker is essentially the same hitter, and light-years ahead of Arencibia as a backstop.
Never a top prospect, Abreu has found his way into parts of six MLB seasons with four different clubs. He’s a switch-hitter with a tiny bit of pop, but an aggressive swinger who doesn’t fit into the Mets’ philosophy of working deep counts — he puts the ball in play. A defensive whiz whose best position is second base, he has enough arm to play spot time at shortstop and handles third base with aplomb. His versatility and ability to hit from both sides of the plate makes him valuable as a utility infielder — something the Mets haven’t had since …
Is it possible that Cedeno is “only” 31 (turning 32 in February)? It seems like he’s been in MLB forever. You’ve seen him in the orange and blue before, and he “is what he is” – a solid if unspectacular defender who can fill in at three infield positions, an aggressive hitter (who adjusted and bought in to Dave Hudgens‘ patient approach in his brief stint with the Mets), and a cool-headed, fundamentally sound veteran who rarely makes mistakes. His value is as a backup infielder who can fill in at shortstop for an extended period without embarrassing himself.
Remember Reese Havens? Bianchi shares many similarities — a shortstop with great fundies and baseball smarts who showed bright promise early, but whose career crashed due to one injury after another. Havens finally retired, but Bianchi continues to fight the good fight — having weathered a torn labrum, Tommy John surgery, back problems, and more. Don’t bother looking at his stats because he’s only played one full pro season since 2010 — you need to see him to understand his value. His overall game is tight as a drum; he does everything well. After the arm injuries, the arm strength is no longer there for extended play at shortstop, but can still do it in a pinch. You won’t see extraordinary offensive numbers but he has a short, quick stroke that makes him ideal for pinch-hitting. Think of him as a Justin Turner type of player, but maybe a bit more polished in the field.
This second baseman / third baseman hit 43 homers in two seasons in Colorado at the ages of 24 and 25, then fell off the face of the Earth. Before you say it was the thin air, get this — he hit MORE homers away from Coors Field (24 at home, 29 away from 2008-2010). Strangely enough, Stewart’s career went downhill at about the same time as Garrett Atkins‘, who also hit more homers away from Coors Field. I mention it because Atkins was blocking Stewart at third base, pushing Stewart to second base, until Stewart pushed Atkins off the hot corner and out of Colorado in 2009, and on the surface, it may have been assumed that both players’ stats benefited from the thin air, but that wasn’t really the case. Random things intrigue me, I guess (did they share the same “nutritionist” in Colorado?). In any case, Stewart can play 1B/2B/3B, he strikes out a ton, but he did once flash homerun power, so, who knows?
Another guy who hit homeruns in the late 2000s and then fell off the planet. It really makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Were these guys simply big swingers whose holes were eventually exploited by big-league pitchers, or was it residual super-powers that quickly waned off in the years after PEDs testing began? Kouzmanoff was one of 51 National Leaguers who hit at least 20 homeruns in 2008. By 2012, there were only 38 NLers who hit that many, and in 2014, there were 27 (and 30 in the Adulterated League). Hmm … In any case, Kouzmanoff had a renaissance of sorts last year, posting a 1.029 OPS in 13 games for the Rangers. A small sample size, for sure, and he’s 33 years old, and he only plays 3B, and so there likely isn’t a fit with the Mets.
The prolific pinch-hitter has been a Met killer since he entered the NL as a Phillie in 2007. He’s only .266 with a .745 OPS career against the Mets, but 8 of his 46 homeruns have been against them — more than he’s hit against any other club. His career appears to be over and I don’t know how much value he’d have for the Mets, other than to prevent him from killing them.
Was it really ten years ago that Marte was a top-ten prospect in all of baseball? Talk about a bust. And yet, he still keeps trying. In 2014, at age 30, he cracked 19 homers and posted a .919 OPS in the hitter-happy PCL. His hit tool remains his value, but he’s not hit as a big leaguer. Why is he here? I don’t know, the guy’s been an enigma for a decade, and for whatever reason, his inability to realize his potential in MLB has forever fascinated me. He’s a righthanded-hitting first baseman / third baseman, not particularly known for his glove.
You can’t expect to find an everyday player from the minor league free agent pool, but, certainly, there could be valuable bench players — and they’re cheap. Looking at the Mets financial resources and their lack of veteran infield depth, I could see them picking from the scrap heap for a utility guy and/or pinch-hitter.
What do you think? Any infielders you see out there who have sparked your interest? We’ll cover outfielders and pitchers another day.