Who’s on Second in April 2013?

It may be a bit premature to be looking ahead to the Blue Jays‘ roster in April 2013 but if there is one major question mark hanging over next year’s position players, it would be who Alex Anthopoulos will have manning second next spring. In the first couple months of the season, there were some clamouring for an extension for Kelly Johnson (I among them) but an extended slump and power outage likely attributable to his hamstring issues has taken the wind out of those sails. It is still possible that Johnson will re-sign with the team on another 1-year deal in order to increase his diminished value and get the multi-year deal he was looking to sign last offseason but he may choose to do so in an easier environment than the AL East or for a team that offers more money/years (perhaps he’s open to a contract for less money with the security of more years). However, Kelly’s return to the Blue Jays is far from assured so it’s reasonable to assume that the Jays’ front office is already considering its options.

Potential Options:

1). Kelly Johnson – the Blue Jays’ current 2B is scuffling after a strong start to the season and has a .240/326/.383 line on the season with 11 HRs and 10 SB (many of which he collected prior to his hamstring injury). His .316 wOBA is well below his career mark of .340 and a far cry from the .377 he posted in his career year in 2010 when he was with the Diamondbacks. So far this year, he’s been worth 1.1 fWAR in 91 games weighed down by having a -2.7 UZR so far in 2012. You’d like to believe that his numbers on both sides of the ball would improve next year when given the winter to fully heal but this is the second down year in a row and its possible that not all of his offensive struggles can be pinned on his wonky hamstring.

AA is unlikely to seek a multi-year with Johnson but it isn’t a far cry to assume that he wouldn’t be opposed to having him back for a year (perhaps with a club option that becomes a player option at a certain WAR) but if he is able to get a better deal on the open market, I don’t see AA getting into a bidding war to bring him back.

Uneducated Approximation of Salary: ~$6.5 M in ’13 (Club option for $8M that becomes player option at 2.5 WAR)

2). The Internal Options

Adeiny Hechavarria – the Blue Jays are not without an internal option as they have a slick-fielding middle infielder in the 51’s Cuban SS who has been given reps at 2B this year in case of an injury in ’12 or a possible conversion in the future. While his abilities in the field have never been in question and some scouts have claimed might be the best-fielding SS in baseball already, his bat has been a cause for concern as he had struggled in stops in Dunedin and New Hampshire before reaching the hitter-friendly environment of the PCL. However, the front office and scouts praised Hechavarria in Spring Training and he has produced in the top 5 in most offensive categories despite a 17.7 K% and 7.4 BB%.

Asking Hechavarria to move to 2B in order to keep Yunel at SS is a definite possibility for next Spring despite the former being the superior defender at SS. Much of Yunel’s defensive value comes from his strong arm and its possible that the optimal defensive lineup would feature the more athletic Hechavarria turning the double plays at second. However, regardless of Johnson’s struggles this year and Hechavarria’s success in the PCL, it is hard to envision the subtraction of the former and addition of the latter not negatively effecting the offensive output of the Jays’ middle infield. There is a pretty strong consensus that the Jays would be lucky if the young Cuban produced what Johnson does in a down year.

The Jays could always decide that Yunel Escobar would be fine at second base and will move him there in order to put the slick-fielding Hechavarria at SS. I don’t think anyone could complain about watching the supposed best-fielding SS in baseball playing his natural position and gobbling up groundballs everyday. Escobar is athletic enough that 2B would not be a problem for him to field and with his strong arm there may even be a few double plays induced next year where the runner might otherwise have beaten out the throw.

3). Free Agency – There are plenty of options at 2B in the upcoming 2013 free agent market if you are looking for aging, non-impact roster filler. Beyond Kelly Johnson, the next best options will be a 33-year old Jeff Keppinger who’s having his best year since 2006 (.320/.392/.424) for the Tampa Bay Rays, a 35-year old Orlando Hudson (.196/.253/.299 in 224 AB), a 37-year old Marco Scutaro (.271/.324/.361) or a 33-year old Ryan Theriot currently with the San Francisco Giants (.282/.328/.333).

Needless to say, there are none of the young, controllable high upside players available in free agency to fit into the Jays’ hole at 2B or AA’s modus operandi. The Jays could choose to go the route of a place holder while a long-term solution can be worked out (especially if Yunel Escobar is moved and Hechavarria is used at SS) but this would be a last resort and far from ideal for the team if it wishes to compete (semi-)seriously in ’13. Of the above names, Blue Jays fans would probably lean towards a return of Marco Scutaro simply for the nostalgia factor but a one-year deal with Jeff Keppinger might not be such a bad idea with his recent success in Tampa Bay. He might be worth picking up on a 1 or 2-year deal with an option and would likely be less expensive than many of the options out there.

4). Trade for an Established 2B – Considering the difficulty to cultivate an average to above-average 2B, there aren’t exactly a tonne of teams looking to get rid of theirs. However, there is the potential to buy low with players that are having down seasons, are blocking top prospects, or simply do not fit into their team’s competitive window/long-term plan.

Player Age Team Stats Contract
1. Rickie Weeks 29 MLW .209/.321/.363, 10 HR, 2 3B, 20 2B, 50 BB, 114 K, 7 SB, 0 CS in 411 PA Signed thru 2014 + Vesting option for ’15, (10, 11, 11.5)
2. Jemile Weeks 25 OAK .221/.307/.303, 2 HR, 6 3B, 12 2B, 42 BB, 53 K, 14 SB, 5 CS in 419 PA Pre-Arb, earliest Arb in ’15/FA in ’18
3. Dustin Ackley 24 SEA .224/.305/.323, 6 HR, 2 3B, 15 2B, 44 BB, 86 K, 11 SB, 2 CS Pre-Arb, earliest Arb in ’15/FA in ’18
4. Kyle Seager 24 SEA .239/.307/.403, 11 HR, 1 3B, 24 2B, 34 BB, 72 K, 8 SB, 3 CS in 400 PA Pre-Arb, earliest Arb in ’15/FA in ’18
5. Daniel Murphy 27 NYM .303/.341/.429, 3 HR, 3 3B, 31 2B, 22 BB, 47 K, 6 SB, 1 CS in 390 PA Pre-Arb, earliest Arb in ’13/FA in ’16
6. Jose Reyes 29 MIA .274/.343/.412, 7 HR, 7 3B, 20 2B, 43 BB, 41 K, 23 SB, 6 CS in 447 PA Signed thru 2017 (10, 16, 22, 22, 22) + 22 team option (4 buyout)
7. Jordany Valdespin 24 NYM .276/.303/.543, 7 HR, 1 3B, 5 2B, 2 BB, 20 K in 110 PA Pre-Arb, FA in ’19
8. Dan Uggla 32 ATL .209/.346/.361, 12 HR, 15 2B, 63 BB, 115 K, 2 SB, 2 CS in 408 PA Signed through 2015 (13. 13, 13)
9. Jason Kipnis 25 CLE .272/.345/.407, 11 HR, 3 3B, 13 2B, 42 BB, 65 K, 21 SB, 4 CS in 437 PA Pre-Arb, Earliest Arb in ’15/FA in ’18
10. Aaron Hill 30 ARI .303/.358/.499, 13 HR, 5 3B, 24 2B, 31 BB, 59 K, 8 SB, 3 CS in 408 PA Signed thru 2013 (5.5)

The options that are potentially available on the trade market are for the most part either expensive underperformers exiting their prime years, young and controllable potential stars that their teams would be willing to part with for peanuts, or would be awkward to acquire because they were recently traded away after years of disappointment.

Despite having strong attendance numbers and an owner that doesn’t want to dismantle his fringe contender, the Milwaukee Brewers have had their hands forced by the departure of Prince Fielder in the summer and the trade of pending free agent Zach Greinke. It could be argued that their best course of action would be to do a slight reset by trading away players like Rickie Weeks who are leaving their prime years in favour of players that could have an impact in a few years time while Ryan Braun is still peaking.

Weeks is having a down year but has been a pretty consistently elite player over the course of his career. While certainly not cheap for the next 3 years at $32.5M, he would be a valuable piece and Milwaukee may be open to the idea of moving him considering they have Scooter Gennett and the recently acquired Juan Segura that could step into the void at 2B. Yuniesky Betancourt is a FA at year’s end so unless he’s resigned, it looks likely that Segura will wind up as the Brewers’ starting SS in ’13.

After a stellar rookie campaign, Rickie’s younger brother Jemile has had a disappointing 2012 but its unlikely that they would be willing to move him for anything less than a king’s ransom. Perhaps they would be willing to turn over their young and controllable middle infielder if we were willing to give them Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson for their surprising playoff drive. It would mean that AA believes that Adeiny Hechavarria’s bat would be at least serviceable now and in the years to come as he would become the everyday SS. It is always nice to have some pop coming from 2B, but a speedy player like Jemile Weeks wouldn’t be so bad either. It’s doubtful that Oakland would part with such a young potential star but its not very often that they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs either.

An interesting candidate is Mets‘ rookie Jordany Valdespin who was originally signed as roster filler for their DSL team and in the years following was brought to the States and developed into a legitimate prospect albeit one with a lot of question marks. Originally a SS, scouts believed he would be better suited to 2B or CF and he was played at all three positions in his last minor league stop in Buffalo. He has speed, 15-20 HR potential, and a problematic allergy to walks. However, in his brief time with the Mets this year, he’s performed admirably. With Daniel Murphy controlled through 2015 and Reese Havens in the system, the Mets could part with Valdespin without much concern. While he’s not guaranteed to even be a Major League regular, he is said to have the floor of a solid utility player and could be a valuable piece even if he doesn’t hit enough to be the everyday second basemen.

The Jays should also be looking at Seattle who have a struggling, young former blue chip prospect patrolling second base in Dustin Ackley, a young, controllable Kyle Seager who plays 3B but who can also play at 2B, and a Top 100 prospect in Nick Franklin currently blocked in AAA. If Seattle has soured on Ackley, perhaps he could be had for less than one might assume. However, it seems unlikely they would trade the young, potential stud while his value is so low. Seager is enjoying a strong second season for the Mariners and the team might want to hold onto the young player who could be a part of their future success. If either of these two could be had for a reasonable cost, it could solve the Jays’ hole at second through 2017. Definitely worth looking into.

5). Trade for a Up and Coming 2B Prospect

Player Team Level(Lg.) Age Stats Rankings/Notes
1. Juan Carlos Segura LAAMLW AA(IL) 22 .294/.346/.404, 7 HR, 5 3B, 10 2B, 23 BB, 57 K, 33 SB, 13 CS BA: 55. BP: 67
2. Scooter Gennett MLW AA(So) 22 .286/.328/.384, 3 HR, 2 3B, 25 2B, 23 BB, 55 K, 9 SB, 2 CS Unranked
3. Nick Franklin SEA AA(So)-AAA(PCL) 21 .296/.370/.472, 7 HR, 7 3B, 24 2B, 38 BB, 84 K, 12 SB, 2 CS BA: 53 (2011), 77 (2012)Half his at-bats at SS
4. Kolten Wong STL AA(Tx) 21 .283/.354/.397, 7 HR, 4 3B, 13 2B, 37 BB, 49 K, 16 SB, 8 CS BA: 93, BP: 88
5. Reese Havens NYM AA(EL) 25 .231/.363/.377, 8 HR, 12 2B, 49 BB, 87 K, 1 SB, 1 CS in 247 AB N/A
6. Cory Spangenberg SAD A+(Cal) 21 .288/.330/.384, 1 HR, 6 3B, 11 2B, 15 BB, 51 K, 21 SB, 6 CS in 295 PA BA: 78
7. Jonathan Schoop BAL AA(EL) 20 .244/.303/.392, 12 HR, 1 3B, 15 2B, 26 BB, 75 K in 400 PA BA: 82
8. Henry Rodriguez CIN AAA (IL) 22 .309/.325/.407, 2 HR, 2 2B, 2 BB, 6 K in 19 G, 83 PA Blocked by Brandon Phillips signed thru 2017

Note: The inspiration for this post was a comment by MjwW suggesting that the Jays should look into acquiring Jean Segura from the Angels who was currently blocked by Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar. Now that he’s already been moved in the Greinke deal, this post is going to be mailed in.

Just last year there were lots of big names among 2B prospects including Ackley in Seattle, Espinosa in Washington, Weeks in Oakland, and Kipnis in Cleveland. Now all of those prospects have graduated and the class that follows them is not as electrifying. Still, there could be a quality piece to be had amongst the up-and-comers that would be young, cheap and controllable.

With Jean Segura’s move to the Milwaukee Brewers system, it would seemingly eliminate him from the list of potential up-and-comers that the Jays could target. Though some scouts believe that Segura would be better suited at 2B, there is a hole in the Brewers system that has been open since Alcides Escobar was moved to the Royals in the Greinke trade of 20 months ago. If they decide in the coming months that he won’t be suited for SS (which is unlikely) then either Segura or Scooter Gennett could become available especially if the Brewers make the decision that Rickie Weeks is their guy at 2B.

While Kolten Wong and Cory Spangenberg would be expensive to acquire and will probably not even be ready by 2013, a player like the Mets’ Reese Havens or the Reds‘ Henry Rodriguez might be a little less expensive while still being effective. Rodriguez doesn’t make many prospect lists despite possessing good power for an undersized second basemen because scouts aren’t high on his defence and question his pitch recognition and plate discipline. The knocks on Rodriguez would drive the price to acquire him down which is the price that AA likes to pay. He’s also currently blocked by Brandon Phillips who’s signed through 2017.

Reese Havens is a high-OBP guy in the Mets’ system who has dealt with a number of injuries during his minor league career. He’s currently blocked by Daniel Murphy on the big league roster and is likely behind Valdespin on the depth chart as well. Considering his injury history, the Jays would not have to give up much to acquire him but they’re likely to want a solid backup plan if he can’t break his habit of spending extended periods on the DL.

Currently blocked by struggling star in the making Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin is wasting away in the PCL for the Mariners’ affiliate. The 53rd best prospect in baseball according to BA in 2011, Franklin’s stock dropped slightly prior to the 2012 season when he was ranked 77th. Franklin is young for the PCL and is performing strongly for his age. He’s getting on base at .370 clip and 38 XBHs so far in 2012. Perhaps Seattle would be willing to part with the young second basemen as part of a salary dump so the Jays wouldn’t have to give up much in terms of prospects to acquire him. Regardless, Seattle has to realize that they Franklin is a wasted asset with Ackley manning second for the big club for the foreseeable future. They’re likely open to moving him before his stock drops any lower.


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