With the 2020 regular season having reached its end, there will be more and more talk about free agency during the upcoming weeks. MLBTR has already taken a look at the catchers, first basemen, shortstops, and third basemen due to reach the open market soon. We’ll now turn to the keystone, where utility options are in abundance.
Top of the Class
- DJ LeMahieu (32): The American League batting champ is the cream of the crop at second base. Given his ability to slide anywhere in the infield, he’s about as valuable a commodity as can be found on the open market this winter. There will be widespread interest. Still, second base is his best position, and he’s easily the best player available in this spot. Don’t be surprised to see him sign somewhere with a need at the keystone – even returning to the Bronx. Since signing in New York, LeMahieu has posted an outrageous .336/.386/.586 slash with 36 home runs, 43 doubles and four triples in 871 plate appearances.
- Jonathan Villar (30): Villar split his time between the Marlins and Blue Jays in 2020, but he fell short of reproducing the solid effort from the year prior. Between the two stops, he slashed just .232/.301/.292 while receiving regular playing time. There are some rumblings that he’s a second-division kind of guy, and he may have to choose between playing every down for a mid-tier club, or accepting a utility spot for a contender. He’s a dirt dog who runs well and can handle any spot up the middle, including centerfield.
- Tommy La Stella (32): The A’s like La Stella and will likely try to bring him back. His ability to play second or third while posting professional at-bats and keeping the ball in play make him an appealing option league-wide, however. He’s also not likely to break the bank. He’ll not want to return to pinch-hitting duty, so a regular role will be a must – especially after a solid .281/.370/.449 effort between the Angels and A’s in 2020.
- Cesar Hernandez (31): Hernandez impressed in his lone season with the Indians. If the price is right, both sides might look for a repeat performance after the long-time Phillie slashed .283/.355/.408 with a league-leading 20 doubles across 261 plate appearances. After middling defensive numbers with the Phillies, he got good marks for his work at the keystone in 2020 (6 DRS, 3.8 UZR). Hernandez should have no problem finding a regular role somewhere.
- Jurickson Profar (28): Profar made good on his opportunity with the Padres, hitting .278/.343/.428 with 7 home runs across 202 plate appearances. He played more outfield than second base this season, but that was mostly a function of Jake Cronenworth’s breakout. Profar certainly enjoyed his time in San Diego, but his versatility could make him an asset on many teams. Where he suits up in 2021 should come down to price point.
- Jonathan Schoop (29): Schoop mashed in his first season with the Tigers: .278/.324/.475 with 8 home runs in 2020. He still handles himself well defensively at second, but he doesn’t bring the versatility of many players on this list.
- Enrique Hernandez (29): Kiké fits the mold of a number of players on this list, guys who can handle regular to semi-regular playing time while filling in all over the diamond. Hernandez has been the second-stringer to Chris Taylor in this role for the Dodgers, but he nonetheless gets somewhere between 200-500 at-bats per season, and they trust him in the postseason. He hit .230/.270/.410 in 2020, and if the Dodgers don’t return him to the roster, someone else will.
- Freddy Galvis (31): Galvis slashed .220/.308/.404 across 159 plate appearances in his second season with the Reds. He can play both spots up the middle, and the switch-hitter does just enough at the plate to remain a viable option for everyday at-bats.
- Jason Kipnis (34): The long-term Cleveland Indian saw regular playing time with the Cubs in 2020, slashing .237/.341/.404. He did just enough to keep getting the call at the 9-spot in the order, but he’s probably best utilized in a heavy timeshare.
- Asdrubal Cabrera (35): MLBTR’s Steve Adams said it best when previewing the market for third baseman: “Cabrera isn’t a shortstop anymore, but he keeps hitting and is capable of playing second base as well as both infield corners. He’s commanded one-year deals the past few winters and will probably be in line for another one this winter.”
- Josh Harrison (33): Harrison had a decent run with the Nationals in 2020 after the Phillies cut him loose. He hit .278/.352/.418 across 91 plate appearances while making a good impression on manager Davey Martinez. He runs well enough and plays everywhere except shortstop and catcher. Don’t be surprised to see the Nationals bring him back in 2021.
- Brock Holt (32): Likewise, Holt impressed with the Nats after a disastrous turn to start the year with the Brewers. Not only did he hit .262/.314/.354 across 70 plate appearances in Washington, but he rocked a mustache and made two appearances on the mound.
- Marwin Gonzalez (32): Gonzalez spent the past two seasons with the Twins, slashing .248/.311/.387. He maintains the ability to play everywhere, though he made just one appearance at shortstop over his two seasons in Minnesota.
- Adeiny Hechavarria (32): The defensive wizard appeared in 27 games for the Braves this year, slashing .254/.302/.305. He hasn’t been in consideration for postseason action. His value on this list lies in his ability to play a competent defensive shortstop.
- Chris Owings (29): Owings got 44 plate appearances with the Rockies this year and held his own, hitting .268/.318/.439. His value comes in his versatility, however. Despite only appearing in 17 games, Owings spent time at every position except pitcher and catcher, even pinch-hitting three times and pinch-running twice.
- Neil Walker (35): Walker was a semi-regular as recently as 2019 for the Marlins and 2018 with the Yankees. In 2020, however, he appeared in just 18 games, slashing .231/.244/.308 with the Phillies. Defense has never been his forte, but he can handle a glove at first, second, or third, while even taking an occasional turn in the outfield.
- Jed Lowrie (37): Lowrie’s disastrous tenure with the Mets ended with just 8 plate appearances in two years. If the long-time veteran can get healthy, someone will give him a look, but that’s a big if.
- Logan Forsythe (34): Forsythe’s best days are behind him. He hit just .118 in very limited action this year for the Marlins, and it’s been a long time since he glory days in Tampa. Still, he provides a good eye at the plate and enough positional versatility to get a look somewhere as a non-roster invitee.
- Joe Panik (30): Panik’s days as a regular at the keystone are probably over. He hit .225/.340/.300 across 141 plate appearances with the Blue Jays in 2020 while moving between second, third, and short. That’s his role moving forward, but the playing time he received in 2020 extrapolates to 380 plate appearances in a full season – I’ll take the under on that number moving forward.
Players with 2021 Options
- Kolten Wong, $12.5MM club option with $1MM buyout (30): Wong doesn’t bring much in the way of power, but he puts together good at-bats and plays gold glove defense. He slashed .265/.350/.326 in 2020, putting him somewhat on the bubble for 2021, but chances are the Cardinals find some way to bring him back.
- Daniel Descalso, $3.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout (34): Descalso won’t have this option picked up, despite providing more-or-less exactly what the Cubs hoped from him in terms of clubhouse/veteran presence. On the diamond, however, Descalso missed all of 2020 after slashing just .173/.271/.250 over 194 plate appearances in 2019.
- Leury Garcia $3.5MM club option with a $250K buyout (30): This one could go either way. The White Sox love Garcia, and with Nick Madrigal coming back from injury, the ChiSox may prefer to bring back Garcia. He hit a palatable .271/.317/.441 across 63 plate appearances in 2020.
- Dee Strange-Gordon, $14MM club option with a $1MM buyout (33): The Mariners will buy out Strange-Gordon after another lackluster season at the plate (42 wRC+). Great speed and the ability to play the outfield should get him a look somewhere, perhaps even with a contender in the mold of Billy Hamilton.