The second base situation for the Royals had been a revolving door for several seasons with no one single player receiving over 500 plate appearances since Alberto Callaspo in 2009. In fact, since that time only two other players have even received over 400 plate appearances. The signing of Omar Infante should end this trend. Infante, who turns 32 on December 26th, has been a consistent hitter offering few surprises to his game as good, but aggressive, contact hitter with gap power. He once had slightly above-average speed, but that now appears to be in some decline and a return to double-digits steals will be more a factor of manager tendencies. Jim Leyland was one of the least aggressive managers on the base paths, so it is indeed possible that Infante could steal more in 2014 even if his raw speed is in decline. For now, Infante’s game is pretty stable as .270s or better with high single digits HR/SB potential, worth $10 to $12 in AL-only formats.
The Robinson Cano move has been quite well digested by now and the consequence of Nick Franklin becoming a principle trade chip is also old news by now. Instead, the Mariners’ moves to acquire both Corey Hart and Logan Morrison as a free agent and Carter Capps via trade is a bit more interesting, as both players’ level of production in 2014 is far from a sure thing when contrasted against the Mariners' $240 M man.
Hart signed a $6 M base salary deal with no option to share time with Morrison between DH and the OF, thus likely ruling out the return of Raul Ibanez. Hart missed all of 2013 due to a knee injury. Prior to last season, Hart had hit no fewer than 26 HRs in any of his three previous seasons. With the exception of his 2012 campaign, Hart has been a fair contact-hitter for a right-handed power hitter. In his last season with the Brewers, Hart struck out nearly a quarter of the time while hitting 30 HRs and saw his batting average drop to .270. Other than that one chink, Hart’s game has been fairly stable career-long and even at age 32, he could enjoy a full rebound given a healthy knee.
Morrison is the more frustrating of the two players. Here we have a player with an above average approach at the plate and the raw power to hit 25 HRs, yet he has a career-high of 23 accomplished in 2011 and a career .249/.337/.427 line. To be fair, Morrison has been limited by knee injuries and that has sapped his power on at least a temporary basis. But even in his 23-homer season, Morrison was a ground-ball hitter. The lefty owns a GB% of 46% and is coming off a 32% FB rate 2013. This combination makes it somewhat difficult to project a 20-plus HR season in 2014, regardless of his pedigree and potential. For now, it is difficult to recommend bidding beyond single digits in AL-only formats for Morrison’s services.
Small Spending Spree
The Mets were active after a long layoff in the free agent market, signing both Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon. The Mets head into 2014 with a rotation of Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Colon and a fifth starter to be named from the ranks of their system (Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero or Jake deGrom) or from free agency. Colon, 40, now averages in the high eighties on his fastball and has turned into a pinpoint control artist, throwing primarily either his two-seam or four-seam fastball (86% of the time on those two) while mixing in the rare slider or changeup. Colon is coming off a season as a pitch to contact pitcher who posted an 80% left on base rate while producing a second straight sub .300 BABIP and 6% HR/FB in a very pitcher-friendly park. A rise in ERA of at least a full point should be expected.
After having signed Chris Young to man right field, the Mets are continuing that theme with adding Granderson to man left. What they have done is significantly upgrade the defense of their outfield, now manned by three players who have been everyday CFs at points in their career. Granderson and Young are both noted for their patience at the plate and their power/speed profiles, but their high strikeout rates as well. Ideally, Granderson and Young would platoon, but given the size and scope of Granderson’s contract, that is unlikely. Instead, the Mets now have a 32-year-old left-handed hitting OF whose on-base percentage should be nearly 100 points higher than his batting average. The shift from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field will impact Granderson’s home run output for sure, but there should still be enough left in this two-time 40-homer hitter to at least top 20.
First Base Solution
Rather than go the trade route, the Rays decided what they already had in 2013 was better than the other remaining options (free agent or trade) and gave James Loney a three-year deal. The move shifts Ben Zobrist back to where his bat plays best: second base. Loney had a nice bounce back season, hitting .299 with 13 HRs. While this level of production has value as a corner infielder in AL-only leagues, it must be noted that this level of play is Loney’s ceiling. The lefty is a line-drive and ground-ball hitter who has hit less than 30% of his balls in play in the air. In order to hit .299, however, it has to be noted that Loney produced a by far career-high 30% line-drive rate and .326 BABIP. In other words, as a fairly slow runner with a career .308 BABIP, it is more probable that Loney is more likely to be a .270s to .280s hitter in 2014.