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Evaluating the second base market for the Rays

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As of now, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe are the second basemen of the Tampa Bay Rays for the 2015 season. While they could provide some value, the Rays could still be looking for some improvement in a market filled with possibilities.

Starlin Castro could be available thanks to Chicago's infield depth
Starlin Castro could be available thanks to Chicago's infield depth
Trevor Brown/Getty Images

During this offseason, the Rays traded away their middle infield, sending Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist to the Oakland Athletics. If one of the middle infield question marks was solved quickly with the addition of Asdrubal Cabrera, there is still some uncertainty around the other position.

We don't really know yet if Tampa Bay will stick with the Franklin/Forsythe duo for 2015 and considering their past record in the big leagues, there is no harm to look for other possibilities on the market. First of all, we need to establish the level of these two guys before being able to see if we can find anyone better who would be a realistic choice for the Rays.

Nick Franklin

Season

G

PA

HR

R

RBI

SB

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

Off

Def

WAR

2013

102

412

12

38

45

6

0.102

0.274

0.157

0.29

0.225

0.303

0.382

-3.9

-4.7

0.5

2014

28

90

1

7

6

2

0.067

0.356

0.086

0.24

0.16

0.222

0.247

-6.4

1.9

-0.2

Logan Forsythe

Season

G

PA

HR

R

RBI

SB

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

Off

Def

WAR

2011

62

169

0

12

12

3

0.071

0.195

0.073

0.269

0.213

0.281

0.287

-7.1

5.7

0.4

2012

91

350

6

45

26

8

0.08

0.163

0.117

0.316

0.273

0.343

0.39

6.6

-6

1.2

2013

75

243

6

22

19

6

0.078

0.222

0.118

0.255

0.214

0.281

0.332

-6.6

-0.2

0

2014

110

336

6

32

26

2

0.074

0.211

0.106

0.268

0.223

0.287

0.329

-7.9

-5.2

-0.2

Clearly these career statistics don't look extremely good, especially when you are trying to replace some guy named Ben Zobrist. If I don't hope much for Forsythe, there is still room for Franklin to improve considering his young age and his good numbers in AAA last season when he still was in the Mariners system:

Season G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG
2014 75 333 9 45 47 9 0.141 0.18 0.161 0.34 0.294 0.392 0.455

Now let's see how Forsythe and Franklin projects for the 2015 season according to ZiPS:

Player PA BB% K% ISO BABIP BA OBP SLG Def zWAR
Nick Franklin 565 0.09 0.237 0.123 0.295 0.234 0.305 0.357 2 1.6
Logan Forsythe 357 0.087 0.23 0.117 0.277 0.224 0.301 0.341 3 0.3

Combined, they would be worth a 1.9 WAR with a -1 Def and below average batting numbers overall. Not really the type of players you want to have if you hope to contend in the American League. The thing is that the second base and even shortstop market aren't really overcrowded these days and this year's free agents are not filled with great names.

In spite of this, let's have a look at the remaining free agents at second base and shortstop, according to MLB Trade Rumours:

Second Basemen

Gordon Beckham (28)
Mark Ellis (38)
Rafael Furcal (37)
Jonathan Herrera (30)
Brandon Hicks (29)
Ramon Santiago (35)
Chris Valaika (29)
Rickie Weeks (32)

Shortstops

Everth Cabrera (28)
Jonathan Herrera (30)

Of all these players, Rickie Weeks has arguably the best résumé, although his last good season goes back to 2011 when he posted a .269/.350/.468 20HR/77RBI line for a 3.3 WAR. Since then, he only managed to get 0.9, -0.4 and 1.2 WAR with the Brewers, who decided to not activate their 2015 team option worth 14 million dollars. Gordon Beckham, Rafael Furcal, Everth Cabrera also have some major league experience with past success, but there are not really convincing cases.

So, Tampa Bay should be looking more at trade options than free agents, except if they want to roll the dice with one of the guys mentioned above. Thus, who could they consider as a realistic acquisition and an overall improvement from Franklin/Forsythe?

Tier 1 - Starlin Castro, Danny Espinosa

Starlin Castro

I have always had a soft spot for Starlin Castro ever since he entered the big leagues. He is athletic, spectacular and he has a freaking nice first name. He can hit for contact and a bit of power too, he gets on base and above all, he rebounded very well after a very unsatisfying 2013 season.

Season G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG Off Def WAR
2010 125 506 3 53 41 10 0.057 0.14 0.108 0.346 0.3 0.347 0.408 -0.8 3.6 1.9
2011 158 715 10 91 66 22 0.049 0.134 0.125 0.344 0.307 0.341 0.432 7.8 -0.3 3.1
2012 162 691 14 78 78 25 0.052 0.145 0.147 0.315 0.283 0.323 0.43 -0.5 9.2 3.2
2013 161 705 10 59 44 9 0.043 0.183 0.102 0.29 0.245 0.284 0.347 -24.3 4 0.1
2014 134 569 14 58 65 4 0.062 0.176 0.146 0.337 0.292 0.339 0.438 6.9 2.4 2.9

Last year, he posted a 2.9 WAR, not his career best although he played only 134 games due to a left ankle sprain in September. Aside from this minor injury, Castro can play 162 games a year and has no other record of serious injuries.

I guess that the Cubs would not mind losing Castro in exchange for prospects and maybe some pitching staff (their rotation and bullpen look a bit weak in my opinion). Also, Chicago could still play Javier Baez at shortstop, his native position, and put Arismendy Alcantara at second base. Oh and they also have Addison Russell who is expected to make his debut this year.

As for the Rays, they could acquire a still young and promising player, whose defensive statistics could only become better at second base. Moreover, Castro is locked until 2019 with $47M remaining on his contract, which is in the Rays financial range.

Danny Espinosa

Year G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG Off Def WAR
2010 28 112 6 16 15 0 0.08 0.268 0.233 0.239 0.214 0.277 0.447 -1.7 2.6 0.5
2011 158 658 21 72 66 17 0.087 0.252 0.178 0.292 0.236 0.323 0.414 5.9 3.7 3.2
2012 160 658 17 82 56 20 0.07 0.287 0.155 0.333 0.247 0.315 0.402 -5.6 16.4 3.3
2013 44 167 3 11 12 1 0.024 0.281 0.114 0.202 0.158 0.193 0.272 -14.2 3.7 -0.6
2014 114 364 8 31 27 8 0.049 0.335 0.132 0.319 0.219 0.283 0.351 -10 4.2 0.6

If Castro does not end up in Tampa Bay, the Rays could also be looking towards Washington and Danny Espinosa. The Nationals expect him to start on the bench according to reports in the league, and even if they would be happy to keep him, the Rays could explore a trade idea with Washington for Espinosa and his $1.8M 2015 compensation. Although the Nats do not have Chicago's depth in the middle infield, they still have Dan Uggla who might rebound from his horrendous 2014 concussion season and also Jeff Kobernus who played decently in AAA last year (.257/.338/.359).

On the Rays side, they would acquire a good defensive player, with the ability to hit for some power. Yet his strikeout ratio and on-base percentage aren't really exciting and his 0 WAR combined over the last two seasons doesn't help his case. Although, it could help Tampa to get him at a reasonable value, if they think that he could bounce back to the level of his 2012 & 2011 seasons.

Ultimately, an Espinosa trade would be more difficult to consider because Washington already have a very strong team and I am not sure if the Rays could offer them an interesting compensation in return. Also, the Nationals acquired Yunel Escobar to play second base, so there still might be hope for a Espinosa trade.

Tier 2 - Justin Turner, Darwin Barney

This tier is only composed by Dodgers players, which means that they have depth and could be willing to trade one of their middle infielders hopefully.

Justin Turner

Season G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG Off Def WAR
2011 117 487 4 49 51 7 0.08 0.121 0.097 0.292 0.26 0.334 0.356 -1.7 -9.2 0.5
2012 94 185 2 20 19 1 0.049 0.13 0.123 0.301 0.269 0.319 0.392 -0.7 -2.9 0.2
2013 86 214 2 12 16 0 0.051 0.159 0.105 0.327 0.28 0.319 0.385 -1.1 0 0.6
2014 109 322 7 46 43 6 0.087 0.18 0.153 0.404 0.34 0.404 0.493 21.5 -1.9 3.2

After five season in the MLB, Justin Turner had his breakout season last year, posting a .340/.404/.493 line in 322 plate appearances for a 3.2 WAR. With a utility role in the Dodgers infield, he managed to put up a strong offensive performance rewarded by $2.5M contract for 2015.

Turner had an amazing offensive season and his bat could be very appreciated in the Rays line-up, even if his defence isn't really strong. The question about him is more about his future and potential regression. Justin Turner might very well be one of the top 'regression' candidates for 2015, yet at $2.5M I guess he is worth the risk, even for the Rays. He can play at 1B, 2B and 3B and his career OBP is well above Franklin's.  My main concern is more about how he would do in a full season and in a stronger league.

Nonetheless, Turner might be a good Rays target and the Dodgers wouldn't say no to some pitching upgrades probably and prospects. Also, even with Turner gone they would still have infield depth with the young Alex Guerrero and Darwin Barney.

Darwin Barney

The Dodgers acquired Barney at the trade deadline last season from the Cubs and he avoided arbitration last month with a $2.525M compensation for the upcoming season.

Season G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG Off Def WAR
2010 30 85 0 12 2 0 0.071 0.141 0.051 0.284 0.241 0.294 0.291 -3.5 5.2 0.5
2011 143 571 2 66 43 9 0.039 0.117 0.078 0.31 0.276 0.313 0.353 -8.4 8.7 1.9
2012 156 588 7 73 44 6 0.056 0.099 0.1 0.273 0.254 0.299 0.354 -13 17 2.4
2013 141 555 7 49 41 4 0.065 0.115 0.096 0.222 0.208 0.266 0.303 -26.7 14.7 0.5
2014 94 262 3 24 23 1 0.065 0.13 0.101 0.267 0.241 0.3 0.342 -5.8 7.8 1.1

Barney gets most of his value thanks to his defence. Among all second basemen, he has the best UZR/150 since 2012 as Eno Sarris explained after his trade. Yes, the best UZR/150 in the league.

Even if his offensive  numbers are below league average, he would still be better than Nick Franklin according to some projections. My main concern here is "Would the Dodgers be willing to trade him?" Especially since he put such great offensive numbers in the second half of the season with a .324/.469/.486 line and a 177 wRC+.

Yet, as I mentioned before, Los Angeles does have several good infielders and our friends at True Blue LA think that the Dodgers will need some starting rotation depth, so maybe the Rays could explore the idea of such a trade before Spring Training.

Tier 3 - Marwin Gonzalez, Munenori Kawasaki, Everth Cabrera

This tier is maybe more optimistic on a "feasibility" point of view, but I still think these players could help the Rays in 2015.

Marwin Gonzalez

The good thing about evaluating trade possibilities is that you know you can go have a look at the Astros and you will find someone interesting. In this case, it is Marwin Gonzalez.

Season G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG Off Def WAR
2012 80 219 2 21 12 3 0.059 0.132 0.093 0.264 0.234 0.28 0.327 -13.5 4.7 -0.2
2013 72 222 4 22 14 6 0.041 0.167 0.098 0.25 0.221 0.252 0.319 -11.1 0.3 -0.4
2014 103 310 6 33 23 2 0.055 0.187 0.123 0.33 0.277 0.327 0.4 2.5 -5.3 0.8

The soon-to-be 26-year old can play shortstop and second base and he posted above-average numbers in 2014 and a remarkable .293/.333/.408 and 112 wRC+ in the second half of the season.

Houston seems very open to consider new solutions to improve their team and they will still look for ways to do it until Spring Training according to Jeff Lunhow, their general manager. The Rays could wisely try to get him, especially considering that the Astros have some infield depth with Jonathan Villar and Matt Dominguez for instance.

Munenori Kawasaki

Season G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG Off Def WAR
2012 61 115 0 13 7 2 0.07 0.157 0.01 0.233 0.192 0.257 0.202 -9.6 2.6 -0.3
2013 96 289 1 27 24 7 0.111 0.142 0.079 0.269 0.229 0.326 0.308 -5.4 3 0.8
2014 82 274 0 31 17 1 0.08 0.179 0.038 0.323 0.258 0.327 0.296 -5.9 0.8 0.4

Kawasaki can not hit for power. It's simple, he just can't. Yet he has the ability to get on base, in fact since 2013, among players with at least 500 plate appearances during the last two years (I know, it's not a lot), he ranks seventh among shortstops, just behind Yunel Escobar and in front of Ian Desmond or Jimmy Rollins for instance.

While he does not provide the offensive numbers of the players presented above, he could still have something to help the 2015 Rays. Especially if he manages to improve his defence a little bit, which should not be a major issue if he switches to 2B.

Everth Cabrera

Now this is the tricky part. Everth Cabrera is a free agent, he received a $2.45M compensation last season from the Padres, before being non-tendered by the organization in December.

Season G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG Off Def WAR
2009 103 438 2 59 31 25 0.105 0.201 0.106 0.325 0.255 0.342 0.361 -1.8 -4.9 0.7
2010 76 241 1 22 22 10 0.079 0.224 0.071 0.274 0.208 0.279 0.278 -12.7 2.3 -0.3
2011 2 9 0 1 0 2 0.111 0.333 0 0.2 0.125 0.222 0.125 -0.4 -1 -0.1
2012 115 449 2 49 24 44 0.096 0.245 0.078 0.336 0.246 0.324 0.324 0.2 -0.1 1.5
2013 95 435 4 54 31 37 0.094 0.159 0.097 0.337 0.283 0.355 0.381 13 3.2 3.1
2014 90 391 3 36 20 18 0.051 0.22 0.067 0.294 0.232 0.272 0.3 -12.9 -0.6 -0.2

Overall, his career statistics are not extremely good with a .248/.319/.333 line, yet he had two good seasons in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately, he used performance-enhancing drugs before and maybe during this period, officially to recover from a shoulder injury. Before the 2014 season, Cabrera acknowledged that he had to "come back from zero" and he did "some work everyday to get that momentum again". As you can see on the table above, it did not really came back in 2014.

However, this does not stop some teams to have interest in him, as Baseball Prospectus reports that the Blue Jays may want to look at him to play second base. So if your division opponent wants a player at a position you might want to improve, why not look yourself too?

In the case Toronto gets him first, it could also be an opportunity for Tampa Bay to get Kawasaki at a very reasonable value.

These players are among the ones the Rays should consider targeting, in my opinion, if they do not feel safe with the Franklin/Forsythe duo for 2015. Some would be substantial improvements and exciting to see in a Rays uniform, others could be more of a bet and provide, at worst, infield depth. In any case, there are still opportunities available on the market and it's worth a try.

All statistics used in this article come from Fangraphs and contract information from Baseball Prospectus.