This time of year, few free agents will require a sizable commitment to add. While James Shields provided a notable exception, the bulk of remaining free agents can be had for relatively modest investments. Last winter, seemingly innocuous deals for Pat Neshek, Justin Turner and Zach Duke proved to be substantial bargains for the teams that issued them. In looking at the remaining free agents on the market, Rickie Weeks stands out as a once-excellent contributor who could still deliver value for a modest price.
The 32-year-old former No. 2 overall selection is hardly what he was in his brilliant 2009-11 peak when he batted .269/.357/.472 in 1431 plate appearances. Weeks showed consistent 20-30 homer power with good on-base skills and anywhere from slightly above-average to somewhat below-average defense, depending on your metric of choice. In his age 26-28 seasons, Weeks looked to be on the verge of cementing himself as one of the game’s elite second basemen.
Fast forward a few years, and we sit on Feb. 9, 2015, as Weeks looks for a job following up on a season in which he primarily deployed as a platoon bat. An overall batting line of .274/.357/.452 looks like a near-mirror image of Weeks’ heyday, but the sample size of plate appearances was less than half what he’d have earned in 2010, and his power against right-handed pitching was nonexistent.
Pair that with Weeks’ .209/.306/.357 line from the 2013 season, and one could easily write him off as a once-promising star that burned out quickly. That may ultimately be how he’s remembered, but there are also reasons to think that Weeks could provide some significant value in the 2015 season.
Weeks hit an impressive .256/.361/.504 line against left-handed pitching (seven homers in 155 PA), and quietly posted a nice overall batting line, although his good fortune on balls in play versus righties suggests that his cumulative .274/.357/.452 line should come down a bit across the board.
Looking back to Weeks’ 2013 season, he struggled with a .268 average on balls in play despite lowering his pop-up rate and hitting line drives and grounders at a rates that are roughly commensurate with his career marks. Weeks’ BABIP on grounders that season was 80 points below his career norm, while his BABIP on liners was about 50 points lower than usual. There’s definite reason to believe that some (though not all) of the downturn in production was an aberration.
Weeks has never been regarded as a great defender, and his glove has taken some significant steps back in recent years. A team would have to consider it a victory if his defense were merely below average as opposed to downright poor, but there are enough teams with questionable second base situations that a bat-first option or a platoon at the position should have some appeal. Weeks could also perhaps be deployed at third and in left field on occasion, one would think, if needed. Here are a few teams that make sense for the longtime Brewer…
- Angels: The Halos are currently projected to use a combination of Grant Green, Josh Rutledge and Johnny Giavotella at second in 2015. None of those three offer much upside with the bat — though assistant GM Matt Klentak spoke very optimistically about Green when he was a guest on the MLBTR Podcast last fall — nor do any project to be elite (or even above-average) defenders. If the Angels are going with an open competition at second base, adding Weeks to the mix would seem a reasonable course of action.
- Blue Jays: Toronto’s budgetary constraints are well known, but so is their dearth of usable options at second base. Maicer Izturis may see the bulk of time at the keystone in 2015, but he’s a 34-year-old coming off significant knee surgery and being asked to play half his games on artificial turf. Ryan Goins provides an all-glove alternative, but certainly Weeks could give the Jays an option with considerably greater upside at the plate.
- Braves: The Braves signed Alberto Callaspo to man second base for the bulk of the season, and they also acquired a near-MLB ready infielder, Jace Peterson, in the Justin Upton trade. Nonetheless, an alternative to Callaspo should he struggle and should Peterson require more minor league development would seem logical for the Braves, even it comes with little certainty in its own right.
- Giants: Joe Panik is slotted to play second again in 2015, and while the former first-round pick provided plenty of value in a 2014 audition, much of it came as a result of a .343 BABIP. Panik is a solid enough defender, but he offers no power (.063 ISO) and little speed. Weeks presents at the very least a platoon partner for Panik, who posted a sky-high .437 BABIP against lefties that he won’t repeat.
- Orioles: Jonathan Schoop is an excellent defensive player with plenty of upside at the plate, but he hit a ghastly .209/.244/.354 in 2014. Additional depth at the position certainly wouldn’t hurt the O’s, whose next-best alternatives include the light-hitting Ryan Flaherty and the well-traveled Jimmy Paredes.
- Padres: The Padres have a questionable infield mix, and while Jedd Gyorko is expected to man second base there, the team could, in theory, use him at third base while deploying Will Middlebrooks and Yonder Alonso in a platoon at first base. It’s not a perfect fit by any means, but the Friars should likely be open to adding more infield depth.
- Royals: Kansas City shopped Omar Infante at the Winter Meetings and has little infield depth beyond Christian Colon. Bringing in Weeks would give them an alternative should Infante struggle and possibly someone to take some at-bats at third base against left-handed pitching to offset Mike Moustakas’ platoon woes.
At this stage of the offseason, Weeks seems destined for a one-year deal with a relatively modest base salary, if not a minor league deal. Of the listed clubs, the Angels and Blue Jays make the most sense to me, but given the low level of risk associated with adding Weeks at this point, one could make the case for a number of clubs — even some not listed here.