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2017 trade deadline preview: Infielder rentals

A look at the potential rental infielders to keep an eye on this July.

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Last week, I took a look at the starting pitchers rental market, come the 2017 July trade deadline. The conclusion was that there would not be many high-caliber players available to ‘rent’ from teams that are not likely to be contenders and that the top names on the list already pitched for contenders and were unlikely to be moved at the deadline.

We discovered that teams are best served making trades for pitchers under control beyond 2017, and not relying on what may become available to ‘rent’ from August to October.

This week, we’re taking a look at the infielder market for 2017 rental players. All of the players listed below have contracts that expire at the end of the year. Only 39 players make the list, and of those 39, only 22 of them posted a half win or more last season.

PLAYER POS. AGE TEAM 2017 SALARY 2016 fWAR
Jonathan Lucroy C 30 TEX $5,250,000 4.5
Neil Walker 2B 31 NYM $17,200,000 3.7
Carlos Santana DH 30 CLE $12,000,000 3.7
Logan Forsythe 2B 30 TB $7,000,000 2.8
Eduardo Nunez SS 29 SF $4,200,000 2.7
Aledmys Diaz SS 26 STL $2,500,000 2.7
Zack Cozart SS 31 CIN $5,325,000 2.5
Todd Frazier 3B 30 CHW $12,000,000 2.4
Jung Ho Kang 3B 29 PIT $2,750,000 2.2
Danny Espinosa SS 29 LAA $5,425,000 1.7
Yunel Escobar 3B 34 LAA $7,000,000 1.6
Carlos Ruiz C 37 SEA $4,500,000 1.5
Darwin Barney SS 31 TOR $2,887,500 1.5
Jose Reyes 3B 33 NYM $535,000 1.3
Danny Valencia 3B 32 SEA $5,500,000 1.1
Alex Avila C 29 DET $2,000,000 1.1
Brandon Phillips 2B 35 CIN $14,000,000 0.9
Brett Lawrie 2B 26 CHW $3,500,000 0.9
Chris Iannetta C 33 ARI $1,500,000 0.9
Mike Moustakas 3B 28 KC $8,700,000 0.7
John Jaso 1B 33 PIT $4,000,000 0.6
Rene Rivera C 33 NYM $1,750,000 0.5
Mitch Moreland 1B 31 BOS $5,500,000 0.4
Alcides Escobar SS 30 KC $6,500,000 0.4
Jose Lobaton C 32 WSH $1,575,000 0.3
Lucas Duda 1B 30 NYM $7,250,000 0.1
Andres Blanco SS 32 PHI $3,000,000 0.1
Ryan Flaherty 3B 30 BAL $1,800,000 0.0
Bobby Wilson C 33 LAD $1,000,000 0.0
Jimmy Rollins SS 38 SF $1,000,000 0.0
Brendan Ryan 1B 34 DET $625,000 -0.1
Miguel Montero C 33 CHC $14,000,000 -0.1
A.J. Ellis C 35 MIA $2,500,000 -0.1
Eric Hosmer 1B 27 KC $12,250,000 -0.2
Cliff Pennington SS 32 LAA $2,250,000 -0.2
Yonder Alonso 1B 29 OAK $4,000,000 -0.3
Ruben Tejada SS 27 NYY $1,350,000 -0.3
Jhonny Peralta SS 34 STL $10,000,000 -0.5
Jed Lowrie 2B 32 OAK $6,500,000 -0.7

One of the more striking characteristics of the above table is the expensive cost of some infielders who simply have not performed of late. Eric Hosmer was arguably one of the least valuable players in 2016 and is owed over $12 million in 2017. Similarly, Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Montero, and Brandon Phillips all posted fewer than one win (per FanGraphs WAR), yet all three have upcoming season salaries of at least $10 million.

The top of this list certainly has some interesting players, specifically the prize of the rental class, Jonathan Lucroy. Milwaukee traded Lucroy twice last deadline — once to the Indians, which the catcher himself nixed via his no-trade clause, and once to the Rangers, which came to fruition. The latter club again won the West but didn't put up much of a fight against the Blue Jays, who knocked them out of the postseason for the second consecutive year.

For a Texas team that seemed to outperform their talent most of the year, the start of 2017 will be important in determining what the future in Arlington holds. Lucroy could be a Ranger until his contract expires, but it seems at least equally as likely Texas will be chasing the pennant and decide to unload him for assets that benefit the team beyond 2017.

Today, the Rangers are projected for 83 wins and per FanGraphs’ Depth Chart standings, a fourth-place finish in the AL West. It is an unsurprising projection considering the minute +8 run differential Texas put up in 2016. Known as a plus pitch framer, Lucroy has continued to be one of baseball’s heavy-hitting catchers as well. As pitch framing becomes less relevant, more teams will look at him foremost as a potent offensive force. Going into his age-30 season, he is coming off a year in which he hit for average (.292 average and .355 OBP) and power (.208 ISO and 24 home runs).

Looking at the projected contenders, Lucroy could be appealing to a team like the Nationals, who traded for the Padres' Derek Norris and have him penciled behind the plate. Likewise, the Red Sox do not have a sure-fire candidate to catch, and Dave Dombrowski does have a propensity to add talent and ‘go for it’ when the team is rolling.

Todd Frazier and Logan Forsythe could easily become available if and when the White Sox and Rays’ seasons look lost. Chicago and Tampa do not appear ready to win now, so holding players whose contracts expire at the end of the year makes little sense.

Two players on the list bring some additional complexity. With Jung Ho Kang’s legal troubles overshadowing his baseball career, the Pirates themselves may be looking for a third baseman, of which there are a myriad on this list. Whether Kang plays at all this season remains to be seen. At this stage, he looks unlikely to be a trade asset for the Pirates.

Another player with off-the-field issues is Jose Reyes, whose implication in a domestic violence incident last offseason obscures his production on the diamond for the Mets. The frugal New York brass would like nothing more than to ride Reyes to another playoff berth, but if New York stumbles, and a postseason berth does not seem imminent, his low salary makes him attractive trade bait.

The Angels have two players on the left side of their infield who could potentially be moved this summer. Los Angeles is not expected to compete in 2017, and both Yunel Escobar and Danny Espinosa could fetch some lottery tickets from contenders looking for either depth or injury replacements at third base and shortstop.

This list does have some interesting players, and based on the teams holding some assets, there will absolutely be some rental players dealt at the deadline. Depending on where the Mets are in the standings, they could go all-in with players on expiring deals (such as Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, and Curtis Granderson) or become sellers. For teams looking for help behind the plate, they better hope Texas gets off to a rough start.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano