The middle infield free agent crop has a strong feel of Robinson Cano, and then everyone else. Well when you hit no fewer than 25 homers along with a .310 average, and slug over .500 for four straight seasons there is a reason. Earlier in his career, Cano’s OBP was much more directly tied to his ability to hit for average given an overly aggressive approach. What makes Cano more attractive now is that he has indeed, three out of the past four seasons shown much more discipline which have has allowed him to post OBPs around the .380 range, making his long-term viability as a starter strong. An impressive part of Cano’s game has been despite career-long fairly low fly ball rates (31%) and 40%-plus ground ball rates, Cano has been regularly been able to turn a significant percentage of those few fly balls into home runs. With other players this is often an area of concern and is something to be monitored closely as Cano enters his mid-thirties.
Stephen Drew received his most plate appearances since 2010 and given a good glove and a fair amount of pop for his position, will draw significant amount of interest. Once a fairly strong contact hitter who could hit for average, Drew’s strikeout rates have become more pronounced in recent seasons. That coupled with significant struggles (sub .200 in 2013) against left-handed pitching may continue to keep Drew’s batting average south of .260. On the up side though, if Drew can remain healthy and increase his at-ats, 20 home runs is a possibility.
Despite the 50-game suspension, Jhonny Peralta is still one of the most desirable shortstops on the market. Defensively Peralta has long been thought to be better off at the hot corner, but he can play shortstop adequately enough. The 31-year old is a fair bet for mid-teens home run production and from that skills should derive most of his interest in fantasy play. Batting average for Peralta has been a crap shoot given wild fluctuations in his BABIP. For example, Peralta’s .303 batting average this season was driven by a career high .374 BABIP. Meanwhile in 2012, a .275 BABIP suppressed Peralta to a .239 batting average. Purchases of Peralta should be paying for the pop from shortstop and viewing a .270-plus batting average as gravy with a note of caution that Peralta did produce his highest strikeout rate in 5 seasons in 2013.
Mark Ellis served as the Dodgers’ primary second basemen for each of the past two seasons, but has been sent on to greener pastures in favor of Alexander Guerrero. Ellis, a solid defender at the keystone, really has not been all that worthy of note for fantasy purposes since 2007. A disciplined, contact hitter, Ellis suprises once in a while and still manages to hit for average, but his pop has diminished over time. It is unlikely that he’ll get another chance to start at age 36, but could still be valuable in a utility role.
Omar Infante has been a cost effective option for fantasy players as a good contact batter who has proven to be a .270s hitter at minimum and occasional .300 hitter, good for double-digits pop and a few stolen bases. A .333 BABIP is a bit over his head even though he makes contact more than 90% when contrasted against his career mark, so a slight batting average regression is likely, but otherwise the soon to be 32-year old likely has another good year or two left in him given the steadiness of his other skills and tendencies.
Kelly Johnson, who will be 32 at the start of the 2014 season has, established a fairly strong track record as a second basemen with good power skills, some speed, and an ability to draw walks. The issue, however, has been over each of the past three seasons Johnson has gone from a fair contact hitter who could hit in the .270s or higher to someone who has struck out around a quarter of the time over the past three seasons and has become a .220s hitter as a result. To add to Johnson’s misery, the lefty suddenly struggled mightily against righties rather and posted wide platoon splits. In recent seasons, Johnson was simply unable to hit pitching regardless of handedness. It is unclear, as it was with Ellis, whether Johnson will even be given an opportunity to play regularly in 2014, though unlike Ellis, Johnson still has fairly good offensive tools which offer a little ray of hope.
For years Brian Roberts was one of the top tier second basemen in the American League. He was also a model of consistency and durability. It is shocking to realize that the last time one could say that about him was 2009. At 36 it is unclear whether the Orioles or some other team will bring him back in any capacity other than backup. It does not help that he does not have much positional flexibility beyond second base. In Roberts’ favor, he did show some pop and occasional speed, and an approach close to his career norms, so there’s a small chance there’s something left in the tank.
Others Free Agent Middle Infielders: Robert Andino, Willie Bloomquist, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Alex Gonzalez, Cesar Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki, John McDonald, Nick Punto, Brendan Ryan, Ramon Santiago, Skip Schumaker, Chris Valaika, Josh Wilson,