There’s a baker’s dozen free agents at second base this winter. The players include (with their 2006 team in parentheses):
Mark Loretta (Boston), Alex Cora (Boston), Lou Merloni (Cleveland), Adam Kennedy (Angels), Eric Young (Rangers), Kaz Matsui (Rockies), Ramon Martinez (Dodgers), Tony Graffanino (Brewers), Jose Valentin (Mets), Ronnie Belliard (Cardinals), Todd Walker (Padres), Ray Durham (Giants) and Alfonso Soriano (Nationals).None of these players exactly qualify as spring chickens with all of them being over 30-years old. Interestingly, Adam Kennedy is the youngest of the bunch (3 days younger than Soriano).
The biggest name on the list didn’t even play second base last season and may not return there with whatever team he signs with but after hitting 46 HR last year Alfonso Soriano will be sure to garner one of the biggest off-season contracts.
The Mets would seem to be the perfect landing spot for Soriano since he could fill the hole left by Cliff Floyd in left or Jose Valentin at 2nd. However, the Mets are claiming to have no interest in Soriano. My guess is this is just posturing. If the Mets were to say Soriano was their #1 priority and he signed elsewhere – then the NY tabloids would have a field day.
Both the Phillies and Orioles are also very interested in Soriano but as an outfielder.
With Soriano off the list – that leaves 12 free agents to consider. Let’s take a look at them (in no particular order).
Mark Loretta – a pro’s pro. Loretta could return to the Red Sox under the “devil you know” reasoning. Two things are working against Loretta’s return to Boston: A – the Sox have prospect Dustin Pedroia waiting to play and B – Loretta faded pretty bad in September (hitting just .204 for the month) and September is pretty important to Red Sox fans. If Loretta does not return to Boston – I’d look for the Cubs, Giants or Cardinals to make a push to sign him.
Alex Cora – his numbers don’t look great (he hit just .238 in 235 AB) but Cora is the perfect utility infielder. He can play all the infield positions and may be one of the savviest players in baseball. Omar Minaya would sign Cora in a heartbeat but I’m hoping that Cora is happy in Boston because I’d love to see him return.
Lou Merloni – if Lou Merloni is the answer to your 2nd base or utility needs – then you have serious problems.
Adam Kennedy – the Angels have a number of prospects that need to start playing. One of those prospects is Howie Kendrick who will be the starting 2nd baseman for the Angels next season. It would make an interesting story if Kennedy was signed by the Cardinals. Not only would Kennedy be reunited with David Eckstein his old double play partner – he would also be reunited with the team that drafted him out of college.
Eric Young – you’ve had a fine career Mr. Young but we have some lovely parting gifts for you.
Kaz Matsui – the Hideki Irabu of 2nd basemen. At least he doesn’t have to go back to Japan with a new nickname like “fat toad”.
Ramon Martinez – my biggest question was whether it was worth my time typing anything about Ramon Martinez. Every year dozens of free agents fail to get any offers. This year Ramon Martinez gets to be one of those guys.
Tony Graffanino – I like Tony and I think he still has something left in the tank. He’d be a relatively inexpensive ($2 million range) answer to a teams 2nd or utility requirements. Not for nothing but I think Graffanino could put up some pretty good numbers at Coors Field and he could be a veteran presence for the young players the Rockies seem to have at the other positions (other than 1st base).
Jose Valentin – the Mets say they have no interest in Soriano but they are not willing to give the 2nd base job to Valentin. The Mets could end up losing out on both players.
Ronnie Belliard – I have not reason to dislike Ronnie Belliard but I do. I have no reason to dislike the San Francisco Giants but I do. Something tells me that Belliard winds up with the Giants.
Todd Walker – he will probably have to adjust to being a utility guy but as someone who can play 1st, 2nd or 3rd – Walker could be a valuable asset to a team with playoff chances. If the Red Sox lose Alex Cora – I think he’d be a good fit in Boston.
This brings us to the curious case of Ray Durham who for his career averaged one HR every 41 AB but this year at age 34 hit 26 HR (one HR every 19 AB). Things that make you say “hmmmmm”. If I were a GM – I wouldn't touch Durham with a 100 foot pole.
I should mention that both Cleveland and Detroit could probably also be looking for upgrades at 2nd. The main players, however, at 2nd should be the Mets, Cubs, Cardinals, Rockies and Giants. Nine days until the GM meetings begin.
EDIT: LargeBill points out that Akinori Iwamura should be thrown into the mix and that Cleveland might be looking at him as an upgrade over Hector Luna