It’s funny — isn’t this supposed to be the age of the shortstop? Or the age of the starting pitcher? I feel like I’ve heard both of those terms thrown around quite a bit in the last few years, and not once have I heard about the keystone.
The other funny thing about the concept of second base being such a strong position around the league is that the simple idea of projecting a young player to be a second baseman is, or at least used to be, somewhat of a damnation in and of itself. When talking about prospects, I once heard somewhere that a second base prospect is an oxymoron — prospects are all about tools and upside, but a second base projection is for a player that doesn’t have the range for shortstop or the arm for third base.
Believe it or not, however, second base was arguably the strongest position in the MLB last season. According to FanGraphs, 11 second sackers finished 2016 with at least four wins above replacement:
2016 2B fWAR Leaders
Can you fathom 11 second basemen? There are only 30 teams in the majors, so that means that over a third of baseball has a well above-average option at second base. And this list doesn’t include any of Mookie Betts, Justin Turner, Jose Ramirez, or Anthony Rendon, all of whom posted a 4+ fWAR season in 2016 and have played second base in their career. This list also doesn’t include Neil Walker or Ryan Schimpf, both of whom were on pace to top four wins but fell short due to a lack of games played.
There were only 45 position players that finished with at least 4 fWAR this past season. Among all of the positions, second base led with 11 players of 4+ fWAR. Even if you pooled all of the outfielders into one position, only 10 reached that threshold.
And just in case you think I chose a convenient parameter, we can up the minimum to 5+ WAR — but that just skews the results even more. Among 23 position players that posted five-win seasons in 2016, seven were second basemen. (For reference, exactly one second baseman finished with five wins above replacement in 2015, and that was Jason Kipnis with 5.0 on the dot.)
I was originally just going to write this piece about the strong current state of second base and be done with it, but I realized how relevant this is to the ongoing trade negotiations regarding Brian Dozier.
If you will indulge in my geekiness for a second, let me make a simple analogy to the board game Settlers of Catan. If you’ve ever played before, then you know that there are five resources in the game, and the most valuable resource is — well, whichever is scarcest in that particular game you’re playing. This analogy was the first thing that popped into my head, but it can be applied to settings other than Settlers. Look at the value of baseball cards, or sneakers, or stamps, or whatever else people collect for a hobby. It’s simple economics: Scarcity breeds value.
Now, scarcity isn’t literally what makes Brian Dozier less desirable, because teams only care about baseline production, but it does go hand-in-hand with opportunity cost. Other than arguing the validity of fWAR as a statistic, there isn’t a factual way to say anything other than that Brian Dozier was worth approximately six wins above replacement last season. But if you’re a team that currently has a four-win option at the same position, then Dozier only represents a two-win upgrade for you.
And players aren’t really interchangeable among positions, with the exception of someone like Ben Zobrist. Even if they were more interchangeable, it wouldn’t really matter because second base is relatively high up on the defensive spectrum. For example, if you have a player with a 110 wRC+ who can play a decent second base, and you acquire Brian Dozier to replace him but want him in the lineup somewhere else because he’s such a valuable player, then suddenly that bat doesn’t look so special anymore at first base or in a corner outfield spot, and said player’s value drops immensely.
Now, think about the contending teams, or even possibly contending teams — the Rockies, Cubs, Pirates, Nationals, Mets, Marlins, Astros, Rangers, Mariners, Indians, Tigers, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles appear to be set at second base. That would leave the Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Angels, and Yankees as potential trade partners with the Twins. Obviously, the Dodgers are the ones that have been heavily negotiating for Dozier, at least if you believe the rumors. If the rumored starting point for the Twins is Jose De Leon and more (which is definitely reasonable), then that already eliminates the Giants and the Angels, who probably don’t have the prospect stock to match. This offseason, the Cardinals have been very vocal that Kolten Wong is their second baseman, so we can probably cross them off the list, especially with reports confirming that they’re not heavily pursuing Dozier. The Yankees could use Dozier, but I doubt that they’d be willing to give up the young assets necessary to acquire him, especially since he only comes with two more years of control, and the Yankees are building for the bigger picture more so than 2017. That pretty much leaves the Diamondbacks, although I haven’t seen a single report linking them to Dozier. Hey, maybe they come out of the woodworks and acquire Dozier without any foresight from the public.
But you can see the larger point here — the reason that the Twins have found the Dodgers to be so stingy in trade talks is because of the concept of leverage. It’s all about supply and demand — even if you include the Diamondbacks as a suitor (which is probably a stretch), then you have at most two teams that are willing and able to provide a suitable package for Dozier. However, Ian Kinsler, Logan Forsythe, Yangervis Solarte, and Jurickson Profar are all varying degrees of available, so the supply outweighs the demand in the current second base trade market. Should a deal fall through between the Dodgers and the Twins, the Twins probably lose more from the talks breakdown.
The Twins are probably frustrated by the Dodgers’ offers, and understandably so. Brian Dozier is an excellent player that still has prime years left and comes under contract for two more seasons at an incredibly reasonable $15 million combined. But the Dodgers are playing this just right — Andrew Friedman probably realizes he’s only bidding against himself. Should the Twins decide to hold onto Dozier until the 2017 trade deadline, more than 25 percent of Dozier’s team control, and therefore value, will have dissipated. The Twins are very unlikely to contend, so that half-season’s worth of MLB value from Dozier doesn’t really mean anything to them, especially when they could’ve converted that into prospect currency this offseason.
Obviously, even with just one buyer, there comes a minimum threshold offer in which it no longer makes sense to move Dozier just for the sake of moving him. If the offer is that poor, then it makes more sense to just hold onto Dozier and hope either the Twins make a surprising playoff run or that one of the contending teams’ starting second basemen get hurt.
But Jose De Leon is quite a fine prospect in his own right, and if the Dodgers are willing to offer a strong secondary piece like Willie Calhoun or Alex Verdugo, then this offer is probably well above that minimum threshold.
This is one of those scenarios in which the Twins trading Brian Dozier to the Dodgers for young controllable assets is the perfect match. But the two sides seem to be at an impasse, and it’s because the fit is too perfect, something that the Dodgers realize all too well.
Earlier this morning, the Twins appeared to set a deadline on the Dozier trade talks, telling suitors to make their final offers as 2016 comes to a close. For now, the Dodgers seem unmoved; if they refuse to budge, it likely won't be because of Dozier himself, or the Twins, but rather because of the plethora of other options available. The current surplus at second base helps everyone, except teams like the Twins, whose only trade asset mans the keystone.