When I started this series, one of the reasons that I gave for doing so was that the "season is getting a little dull" so we might as well look ahead to the future. If you haven't heard about those vermilion stockings that happen to really be dropping the ball lately, that prognosis of mine has really proven to be off base.
But either way, let's keep going through the bevy of players that should be available this winter. I'm doing so by position, and already I've covered the respective markets for catchers and first basemen, so today we've continuing our trip around the diamond. We're looking at second basemen today, with the usual array of free agents, trade candidates, sleepers and one big name that could shake up the market.
THE FREE AGENTS
Possible starters: Mark Ellis, Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson, Jamey Carroll
No stars here, but a few very helpful regulars. Ellis was brutal in Oakland earlier in the year, but he's been much better since getting traded to Colorado, including a .279/.320/.412 line in 251 PA's. Infante is a good defender with a decent bat, although some teams may prefer to use him in a utility role and the Marlins appear to be interested in bringing him back. Johnson has power and Carroll has contact skills; KJ obviously has the upside (remember last year?) but he's also likely to be more costly, too.
Possible back-ups: Orlando Cabrera, Alex Cora, Craig Counsell, Adam Kennedy, Felipe Lopez, Jose Lopez, Aaron Miles, Bill Hall
A fairly underwhelming bunch, although there's a smidgen of upside here. Cabrera, Counsell and Cora looked finished this year, but teams tend to gravitate towards veteran middle infielders. The other guys- Kennedy, Miles, Hall and los dos Lopez- are all somewhat younger, though none of them played well this season.
Yeah, we were close to getting a pretty stacked market at this position. Cano and Phillips are two of the elite second basemen in the game, which obviously explains why they'll never hit the market this winter. The two Diamondbacks, Hill and Bloomquist, could both end up back in Arizona. $16 million is pretty costly for two years of Aaron Hill, but he's played much better since being traded and the club may appreciate the security.
THE TRADE CANDIDATES
Possible starters: Martin Prado, Brian Roberts, Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, Ian Desmond, Jeff Keppinger
There's some serious variety here. Prado gets a bit more expensive next year and the Braves may want to go in another direction in left field. Roberts is expensive and Baltimore might want to save some money there if they can. Izturis and/or Callaspo could be bumped from next year's lineup if the Angels add a big bat at third base. Desmond could end up being dealt if the Nationals sign a big name like Jimmy Rollins or decide to shift Espinosa to shortstop and call up Stephen Lombardozzi. And Keppinger likely won't have a major role with San Francisco next year assuming that Freddy Sanchez is healthy.
Possible back-ups: Jeff Baker, Will Rhymes, Chris Getz, Eric Sogard, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Chris Nelson, Eric Young, Mike Fontenot
I probably missed some guys here, but it's hard to cover every infielder that could possibly be considered a trade candidate and a back-up second baseman. Most of these guys have been underwhelming this year, though.
THE BIG WILD CARD
Okay, so Beckham isn't really a big-time name. He was supposed to be one by now, but consecutive years of underwhelming performance have left many wondering if the industry just whiffed on this guy. He's developed into a plus defender at second base, but that's essentially the only place that he derives value from, as he's devolved into an impatient hitter with a bad habit for making weak contact.
But this is a guy that could really make things interesting, in my opinion. He's still very young, he turned 25 just a few days ago. He's still going to be cheap; it remains to be seen whether he'll get Super Two status for 2012, but either way he's not going to command more than $1-2 million for next season. And most importantly, there's still a boatload of upside here. This guy was an elite prospect as recently as two years ago. He showed it in the majors, too, hitting .270/.347/.460 in 103 games with the White Sox in 2009. He's declined significantly as a hitter since then, but given his developing prowess with the glove, he doesn't need to return to above-average hitting levels to be a good contributor.
In a market that's headlined by Mark Ellis, Omar Infante and Kelly Johnson, this is the kind of high-upside, low-money option that a lot of teams won't discuss. If the White Sox are running out of patience with Becks, he's the kind of piece that could make for a very interesting transaction.
Most people presumably remember Donald as the infield prospect that went to Cleveland in the Cliff Lee trade, as well as his subsequent mediocrity in an Indians uniform. He's a pretty intriguing young player, though, and could end up being a nice sleeper for 2012 if he's used properly. He's not good enough to play shortstop regularly anymore, and he's got a sizable platoon split, but any team that's in need of a second baseman that can hit lefties should look in Donald's direction. He likely wouldn't cost very much, either, given that the Indians are already set up the middle with Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, and don't have a clear role for Donald.
Downs isn't a complete sleeper, as he already had a pretty nice breakout this season with the Astros. More important, though, is the high probability that Downs can sustain a good deal of his performance. The 27-year-old Downs posted a .284/.359/.519 line in 206 PA's this season, flashing solid K/BB numbers and power that we've never seen from Downs before. Even if he doesn't retain all of his unexpected power, he should still be able to provide enough pop to be a solid platoon piece or maybe even a regular if his defense is up to par.
Yeah, I know he struggled with the Mets earlier this year, and yeah, he's been playing in Colorado Springs. But the 25-year-old Emaus just followed up a .298/.395/.495 season with Toronto's Triple-A club by hitting .313/.389/.564 in 45 games for Colorado's top minor league affiliate. That's about 550 plate appearances of very strong minor league performance compared to 42 plate appearances of poor MLB performance in New York. Even if he's an average defender at best, he continues to show strong walk and strikeout rates along with pop; if he can hit .280/.350/.400 and be a solid defender, that's a pretty valuable piece while he's still cost-controlled.