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The Value of Second Basemen

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This past off-season was certainly a crazy one full of big contracts and lots of movement. It saw both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder switch leagues for pacts worth more than $200 million and saw guys like CJ Wilson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes take very sizable deals to shuffle to new teams as well. Through all of this, guys like Roy Oswalt, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui are currently unemployed.

Despite all of this fun, I found that the developing market for middle infielders was the most fascinating thing that took place. Aaron Hill, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Mark Ellis, John McDonald, and Willie Bloomquist all got two years ranging from $3 million to $11 million. You can make a case for the worth of some of those guys defensively, but offensively none of them are anything special. Their average age is 34.5 years old and they combined to hit .255/.307/.351 (courtesy of Mike Axisa). Two years seem like a bit much for that type of production, no? But it could also speak volumes to how weak the position is.

In the recent couple of weeks, we have seen two All-Star second baseman get big time extensions. First it was Ian Kinsler getting $75 million over five years with a sixth year option. Kinsler, 30 in June, has a small injury history, but has overall been a very good second baseman. Last year he hit .255/.355/.477 which adds up to a .370 wOBA and a 128 wRC+. Second base has always been considered a defense first position, so when Kinsler hit 32 homers last year while being a plus defender according to UZR; it was a huge plus for the Rangers.

Days later, Brandon Phillips of the Reds got a six year extension worth $72.5 million. Phillips, 31 in June, had a fantastic year last year hitting .300 for the first time in his career and posting an OBP above .350 for the first time in his career. However, we have to be careful because. His BABIP sat at .322, thirty points above his career average.

Phillips may not have the same on base skills and power skills as Kinsler, but he has been a more consistent player over the last six years. He’s hit at least 17 homers and batted at least .261 each of the last six season, while being a plus defender each year. I understand that UZR isn’t always accurate, but when you have a big enough sample size, it usually is.

Robinson Cano is one player that will definitely be affected by these contracts. Cano will be 30 next year and hits for better average and around the same amount of power as Kinsler. UZR doesn’t treat him well as a defender, but he definitely passes the eye test. Taking the other two extensions into account, one would have to think that he would get six years and close to $100 million. It’s going to be tough for the Yanks because they’ll definitely want to retain him, but they are trying to get under the $189 million payroll threshold by 2014.

Cano still has two team options left on his contract before he becomes a free agent, so we might have to wait a while to see how it plays out. However, the second base position doesn’t have much depth to it; there are some very good ones and then there is a big drop off so when you have a guy in the top tier, you need to lock him up.