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Checking the Market: Middle Infield

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The Red Sox could be looking for help up the middle.

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Five Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The offseason is officially upon us, and the Red Sox should be active. Coming off one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise (the length of which notwithstanding), they have plenty of needs all over the roster. To get us ready for all of the possible moves that could be made over the next few months, we’re going to spent the next week looking at every portion of the roster and the available players that could be targeted both in free agency and via trade. Today, we’ll look at the middle infield market.

Where the Red Sox Stand

As was the case with the corner infielders, the Red Sox are totally set with one half of their middle infield combination. Xander Bogaerts is the shortstop right now, and there is virtually no way that is going to change. Where this spot differs from corner infield, though, is that there isn’t a clear starter at second base. At first base, as we discussed, Bobby Dalbec will get every chance to run away with the job, and any addition would presumably be more of an insurance policy than competition for the starting gig.

At second base, the Red Sox could go in a couple different directions. They have some in-house options with Christian Arroyo, Yairo Muñoz and Michael Chavis, among some others at Triple-A. There is an argument to be made that they could just roll with what they have and eventually they’ll find a passable option. With all of the other holes they have to fill this winter, I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see that happen. If I had my druthers, though, I would look for them to sign a real starter. I wouldn’t expect them to break the bank, but finding a one- or two-year option who can be a steadily average or slightly above-average player would be a major improvement at a position that has been anything but stable in recent years. Jeter Downs will hopefully take the job within the next couple years, but they could very much use a stopgap.

Top Free Agent

DJ LeMahieu

There is a clear number one in this market with LaMaheiu. Signed by the Yankees on a bargain deal a couple of years ago, he has emerged as one of the best second basemen in all of baseball who can also move around the infield a bit, making him a fit for almost every team. Since the start of the 2019 season, when he first joined the Yankees, LeMahieu leads all of baseball in batting average and has been the 10th best hitter in the game by wRC+. A change of scenery would likely cause a dip in his power production, but his ability to spray hits all over the diamond should play anywhere.

LaMaheiu likely isn’t a fit for the Red Sox this winter, though having his bat would be huge at the top of their lineup. As I alluded to above, however, they have a lot of holes to fill and LeMahieu is the type of free agent who would top their class. It’s hard to see them committing to that kind of contract for this hole rather than the one in the outfield and/or rotation. LeMahieu would also cost Boston their second round pick as he was extended a qualifying offer by the Yankees.

Other Free Agents

Shortstops

Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius

The Red Sox likely won’t be part of this market given the presence of Bogaerts, though there are a few very solid shortstops out there for somebody. Neither Semien nor Gregorius, somewhat surprisingly, were extended a qualifying offer. The latter would be an interesting target for Boston to move over to second base, but my guess is he gets a bit longer of a commitment than they’ll be handing out at this position.

Second Basemen

Tommy La Stella, Kolten Wong, Enrique Hernández, César Hernández, Jurickson Profar, Dee Strange-Gordon, Jonathan Villar, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Jonathan Schoop, Joe Panik, Jason Kipnis

If you are going to have a year where you’re looking for a solid option to fill in at second base for a year or two, this is the year for it to happen. This is a loaded class for two-ish win players. The top of this section of the market is likely either La Stella or Wong. The former has used tremendous plate discipline to somewhat quietly be one of the better hitting second basemen in the game the last couple of years while the latter relies a bit more on baserunning and defense to provide his value. It’s hard to make any strong predictions in this market, but these two could get a bit more than the Red Sox want to allocate at this spot.

The next tier here, though, represent a lot of players who should be paid right in line with what the Red Sox are likely looking to use for second base. Enrique Hernández has had some inconsistencies with the bat, but his ability to play in the outfield could appeal to the Red Sox. César, meanwhile, doesn’t have much of a ceiling but he’s been a consistent two-win player for a long time now. Profar is the former top prospect in baseball, and like Hernández can play multiple positions while providing solid, albeit inconsistent, offense.

When you get down to the guys like Strange-Gordon, Schoop, Villar, Cabrera, Panik and Kipnis, you are looking at a group of veterans who are a bit past their prime but can still bring enough to the table that they should get major-league deals.

Best Fit: I could honestly be talked into any of the second basemen on the list above, and the move is likely to simply wait out the market and see who falls through the cracks. If I had my choice of one, though, I would look at either of the Hernándezes or Profar, with César Hernández being my choice. I do think La Stella and Wong are better options in a vacuum to be sure, and if either of them end up having to settle for two or even one year then they would become my choice.

American League Wild Card Game 2: New York Yankees v. Cleveland Indians Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Potential Trade Partners

I’m focusing only on second basemen here.

Orioles, Astros, Royals, Angels, Rays, Rangers, Diamondbacks, Reds, Rockies, Nationals

There are a range of different types of players that could be available via trade this winter. The top of the potential market is in Kansas City, where Whit Merrifield’s name will almost certainly be out there again. The Royals, to their credit, have never shown any interest in simply giving him away and he’ll presumably carry a big price tag again this winter. He’d be the top option in free agency outside of LeMaheiu, though, and has some added value in being able to play in the outfield as well. I’d put the likelihood of this getting done pretty low, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Speaking of potentially intriguing names out there who would cost a bunch to acquire, I’d keep an eye on Nick Senzel, who has seemingly been squeezed out of their plans. The Red Sox would have to part with plenty to make this work, but Senzel can also play center field, leaving the team options moving foward both in the short-term with how they play the rest of this free agent class and in the long-term with Jarren Duran and Jeter Downs coming up soon, but with neither being a sure thing.

There are a bunch of starter-quality players as well. The Orioles are still very much in rebuild mode and will likely listen to offers for Hanser Alberto. I’m not really sure where the Astros stand, but Aledmys Díaz could be available. The Rays are always looking to make moves, and with prospect Vidal Brujan being close to ready this could be the time to sell high on Mike Brosseau. Similarly, with Luis Garcia up in the majors the Nationals could move on from Starlin Castro this winter.

There are also some younger, less proven options that lack a high prospect pedigree. The Angels have David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo, Franklin Barreto and Jahmai Jones creating a logjam up the middle right now, with Rengifo and Barreto being the most likely players to be made available. Finally, in Arizona, Domingo Leyba is out of options and blocked from starting by Ketel Marte. It’s also possible they decide to go into a steeper rebuild and trade Marte instead, though that seems less likely with Marte locked up through 2024.

Best Fit: I think the Angels are the most interesting team on this list with all of their second base options. The tricky part here would be making it work for both sides, as the Angels also want to win now and need pitching more than anything else. The Red Sox don’t exactly have a ton of that to go around. Perhaps a third team would need to be brought in, but there is at least a fit going one way in this scenario.

Parting Thoughts

As I said at the top, the Red Sox have enough holes to take care of this winter that it isn’t hard to see them putting second base on the back-burner, particularly since they seem to believe in Christian Arroyo in particular among their in-house second base options. However, there are so many mid-tier options available here that it doesn’t seem like a good excuse to do nothing. Somebody will fall for a low price, and the Red Sox should be taking advantage to stabilize the position for 2021.