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The 2017-2018 offseason infield market

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A look at some infielders who will be available this winter

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, we kicked off our look at the offseason market by checking in on the catchers who will be available. Admittedly, the Red Sox don’t really appear to need much help behind the plate. Today, though, we’re going to look at the infield market, and this is where we could see the Red Sox take some action. First base will get most of the limelight, but there is an argument to be made for every position. First base is vacant right now unless they want to play Hanley Ramirez and/or Sam Travis there everyday. Second base is hurt by Dustin Pedroia’s absence, and while they say they are fine relying on internal options you can never trust front office speak. Third base has Rafael Devers, but with the defense he showed last year perhaps they are ready to move him across the diamond. At shortstop, there is at least some chance they could see what Xander Bogaerts is worth in a trade, though I’d be surprised. Either way, let’s get rolling.

First Base

Starters

Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana, Lucas Duda, Yonder Alonso, Logan Morrison, Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli, Mark Reynolds

Of all the positions on the diamond, this is the most likely spot where the Red Sox will look for an impact player. Unfortunately, Hosmer is the guy the rumor mill is pointing to. Hosmer is fine, but he’s a groundball hitter who relies on average rather than power, which is not what the Red Sox need. He’s also likely to command a large contract and would cost Boston their second highest draft pick as well as $500,000 in international money. Fortunately, there are a ton of alternatives to Hosmer.

Santana is the best alternative and is another guy who received a qualifying offer. However, he also won’t get as long of a deal and had legitimate power as well as great on-base skills. Duda struggles against lefties but is a middle-of-the-order bat against righties. Alonso had a big breakout this year but has more upside than arguably anyone else in this group. Morrison is another guy for whom one could get power cheaply. Moreland...well, we all know Moreland. Napoli....well, we all know Napoli. Reynolds is a prototypical three-true-outcomes hitter. Valencia is best utilized in the short-end of a platoon, but he can survive as an everyday first baseman in the right lineup.

My Pick: I’m going to cheat here and pick two because I can’t make a decision. Santana is my favorite player on this list and I believe that he, in a vacuum, is the best first for the Red Sox lineup. However, the draft pick/international money cost makes me a bit wary. Duda, meanwhile, should be relatively cheap in terms of contract and free in terms of picks. If they get either of those guys, I’ll be happy.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bench Players

John Jaso, Adam Lind, Danny Valencia, Tyler Moore

It’s not fair to call any of these guys backups, but they also aren’t players who want playing every day. Instead, they are platoons or guys you want splitting time with multiple positions. That’s not really something the Red Sox need with guys like Sam Travis, Hanley Ramirez and perhaps eventually Michael Chavis in tow. They should be looking exclusively at the first group, though these are the lower-tiered names to know.

My Pick: None.

Second Base

Starters

Brandon Phillips, Neil Walker, Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley

Dustin Pedroia’s injury makes this group a very interesting one for the Red Sox, and I remain convinced someone from this foursome will be in Boston to start the year. Of course, that’s complete speculation and based on no inside information. I just don’t believe they can count on the internal options if Pedroia is out longer than they expect, and I think it’s fair to expect Pedroia to miss more time than the initial timetable.

As for the players, Walker is the clear best of this group, but that puts him out of play for Boston. He’ll get a multi-year deal from somebody as one of the most underrated middle infielders in the game. Phillips is my favorite from this group, but it would hinge on him being okay with a part-time role after Pedroia comes back. Nothing in his career suggests he’d be okay with that. Still, if the lineup makes the improvements they expect, having a veteran, glove-first player like Phillips in this spot could be huge. Kendrick is another strong fit as someone who can play second base while Pedroia is out then shift into a utility role that could include time as the fourth outfielder. Utley, finally, is a future Hall of Famer who would be the most solid player at second base in Pedroia’s absence, but after Pedroia comes back he’d provide the least amount of flexibility.

My Pick: Considering that Phillips will almost certainly want a more guaranteed role, I’ll pick Kendrick here.

Bench Players

Darwin Barney, Josh Rutledge, Andres Blanco, Ryan Flaherty, Phil Gosselin, Cliff Pennington

As with first base, I don’t really see much of a reason for the Red Sox to look at anyone in this group. They already have Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero on their roster, so they’re basically set in terms of backup infielders.

My Pick: None

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Third Base

Starters

Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, Yunel Escobar, Eduardo Nuñez, Trevor Plouffe

This is the position at which there will be fans clamoring the Red Sox make a move, though I’d be surprised if it happened. The thought is that they could sign a big bat here and move Rafael Devers to first base, a popular idea after seeing the rookie’s defense in 2017. I see the thought process, but it’s too early to give up on Devers at third base. They are going to give his former manager and new major-league infield instructor Carlos Febles some time to work with the young third baseman and hone his craft.

That being said, they could be tempted by Mike Moustakas, who leads this class. In terms of pure power, he is easily the most enticing infielder on the market. He will cost a fair amount of money and the same draft pick/international money as Hosmer, but he is also a safer bet to produce at the plate in my eyes. I don’t see him as a fit with the Red Sox, but I see myself being less surprised at the money he makes than his former teammate Hosmer. Meanwhile, Frazier had a strong end of the year in New York and is another guy who can provide legitimate power. Escobar is a solid average hitter but won’t provide much power. Plouffe has been a strong power hitter at one point but is coming off a truly atrocious season. Finally, there is Nuñez, who we all know about and many want back. I think that group will be disappointed, though he would be a great fit for this Red Sox team with his ability to play all over the diamond.

My Pick: I think Nuñez has to be the pick here given his versatility and what he did for the team in the second half of 2017. Unfortunately, I am still of the belief that it is unlikely for him to return to Boston.

Bench Players

Conor Gillaspie, Jae-gyun Hwang, Jhonny Peralta

Once again, this group doesn’t really make much sense, though there are a couple more interesting names. Gillaspie is a solid contact hitter from the left side who can play on either corner of the infield. Hwang is a former Korean League player who had trouble finding a major-league job last year and is likely looking for a better path to playing time than Boston can provide. Peralta was in Boston’s system last year and....it didn’t go well.

My Pick: None

Shortstop

Starters

Zack Cozart, Jose Reyes, Alcides Escobar, Erick Aybar, J.J. Hardy

Here we have another position at which there is a path to the Red Sox seeking help, but it is unlikely. It would involve the Red Sox not believing there is growth coming for Xander Bogaerts and trading him now to cash in on his value. In that scenario, they’d likely want someone better than Lin or Marrero playing every day. Cozart would be the ideal candidate for that as a plus defensive shortstop who has showed the ability to hit like a star as well. He is on the wrong side of thirty, though, and could see a competitive market after not getting a qualifying offer this week.

The other options are far less appealing and don’t really make sense if you are going to move on from someone like Bogaerts.

My Pick: Cozart is the only player listed above who is a clear major-league quality starter, something the Red Sox already have. After how many years they went without being able to find a consistent shortstop, they can’t move on from Bogaerts without having assurances that they are getting that kind of player to replace him.

Bench Players

Alexi Amarista, Chase d’Arnaud, Stephen Drew, Adam Rosales, Ruben Tejada

Continuing the theme from the rest of this post, bench-quality depth is not Boston’s problem and is not something they’ll be looking for this offseason. Although, it should be mentioned, Chase d’Arnaud was the best hitter on the Red Sox this past year. People forget that.

My Pick: None

Trade Candidates

Jose Abreu, Justin Bour, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Yangervis Solarte, Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Whit Merrifield, Jed Lowrie, Martin Prado, Josh Donaldson

So, this list probably only scratches the surface of infielders who could be available this winter. I’m sure the actual list is much longer with a larger diversity in player types. Still, these are the headliners as I see it (though I’m sure I’m missing a headliner or two, too). In terms of first baseman, I think Abreu is the best mix of likelihood to be moved and star power. Bour is another strong candidate as an underrated bat from the left side. Votto and Freeman are, of course, better than both, but I don’t think either ultimately ends up being traded.

Moving over to the middle infield, we have Kinsler headlining this group, but I don’t think he makes sense with the Red Sox. Once Pedroia comes back, they’d have a logjam. Iglesias also doesn’t make sense as a glove-first shortstop. Merrifield is one of the most underrated players in baseball, though it’s not clear that he’ll actually be available this winter. I think anyone with the Padres could be, and Solarte would be a strong fit with the Red Sox given his solid offensive skills and ability to play all over the infield. This is also the argument for Lowrie, who we’ve already seen in Boston earlier in his career. In terms of third baseman, Prado is someone who was connected with the Red Sox last year and still doesn’t make much sense. However, I could see the Marlins insisting on him being included in any Giancarlo Stanton deal. Donaldson, meanwhile, is a bona fide star who Toronto could move if they want to look at a legitimate rebuild, though I’d be surprised if he was dealt to a division rival. If they were to move Devers across the diamond, Donaldson is the type of talent for whom they should make that move.

My Picks: In terms of fit and likelihood of a deal, Abreu, Solarte and Lowrie are my favorites from the group above.