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Second base candidates for 2018

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One of their biggest needs this offseason, who could the Angels bring in to fill the hole?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Since trading Howie Kendrick following the 2014 season, the Angels have had a rough going to second base. A four-man competition in 2015’s spring training left Johnny Giavotella the victor. Ultimately, the scrappy infielder gave it his best shot but ultimately could not hold his own on the defensive end and eventually, the offensive end as well. The team went another direction with Danny Espinosa to begin 2017, expecting the stopgap option to provide them with a combination of power, defense, and baserunning. To say the least, that did not come to fruition. Kaleb Cowart was given a chance and fared okay, though his inability to make contact from the right side became woefully apparent. Brandon Phillips, brought in to propel the team to the playoffs, regularly faced AL pitching for the first time since 2005 and had a 72 wRC+ off of pitchers he was unfamiliar with.

Here is the Angels’ second base production from 2015-2017.

Second base production, 2015-2017

Team G PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR BB% K% ISO BABIP
Team G PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR BB% K% ISO BABIP
Astros 484 2108 .329 .383 .506 .377 142 1.0 108.6 3.7 18.7 7.2 % 10.8 % .177 .345
Nationals 932 3141 .293 .352 .474 .350 116 8.0 72.0 10.3 18.6 7.8 % 18.1 % .181 .334
Twins 479 2124 .256 .333 .491 .349 117 12.4 56.7 7.2 13.9 9.5 % 20.7 % .235 .279
Rockies 589 2170 .308 .370 .418 .343 98 -3.2 -10.1 3.8 6.5 8.7 % 15.4 % .110 .358
Indians 776 2933 .277 .338 .459 .340 111 9.2 49.0 26.0 17.8 8.0 % 17.0 % .183 .310
Mariners 552 2193 .280 .332 .459 .336 115 -12.8 25.3 3.8 10.5 6.7 % 14.9 % .179 .296
Red Sox 764 2842 .288 .354 .401 .330 103 -4.2 6.1 19.0 12.5 8.8 % 15.3 % .112 .330
Tigers 548 2202 .274 .332 .429 .329 104 4.5 15.5 28.3 12.2 7.1 % 15.1 % .156 .300
Mets 834 3020 .272 .327 .434 .326 107 -8.6 16.1 13.2 12.9 7.2 % 15.2 % .162 .293
Orioles 539 2027 .266 .309 .454 .326 102 -4.8 1.8 -3.7 6.7 4.7 % 22.5 % .188 .308
Cardinals 1027 3194 .254 .341 .403 .323 102 11.3 18.5 6.4 12.9 10.2 % 17.9 % .149 .291
Dodgers 824 2679 .257 .334 .399 .320 102 6.9 11.8 17.1 11.7 9.0 % 19.4 % .141 .306
Cubs 1202 4095 .259 .325 .421 .319 96 5.1 -12.7 36.3 15.7 8.2 % 21.1 % .162 .305
Phillies 962 2983 .266 .338 .386 .316 95 4.1 -12.9 6.9 9.0 9.0 % 18.8 % .120 .321
Diamondbacks 860 2865 .264 .319 .410 .315 89 11.0 -25.7 -9.2 5.6 6.8 % 19.5 % .146 .312
Giants 771 2526 .269 .337 .386 .315 98 3.1 -5.0 22.0 10.1 8.6 % 12.8 % .117 .298
Rays 701 2505 .239 .319 .400 .313 98 -4.3 -11.7 -7.0 6.8 9.5 % 25.4 % .161 .301
Pirates 948 3151 .268 .324 .392 .311 93 13.7 -15.5 -3.3 8.4 6.1 % 17.3 % .124 .313
Marlins 732 2486 .292 .334 .375 .309 93 17.2 -5.0 25.9 10.3 4.7 % 15.4 % .083 .342
Padres 801 2635 .243 .310 .398 .306 92 5.1 -20.5 4.4 7.0 8.1 % 22.5 % .155 .291
Rangers 554 2035 .240 .282 .434 .304 84 7.1 -31.9 -8.4 3.0 4.3 % 21.7 % .194 .268
Yankees 684 2265 .259 .299 .408 .304 88 -2.8 -36.3 -20.8 1.9 5.2 % 18.6 % .149 .294
Reds 919 2970 .271 .311 .389 .303 85 0.1 -56.4 6.7 4.6 4.7 % 17.0 % .118 .310
Brewers 809 2711 .251 .313 .379 .301 83 2.5 -53.5 -16.5 1.6 7.8 % 21.6 % .128 .308
Braves 706 2510 .251 .317 .364 .297 82 -0.6 -53.8 1.8 2.8 8.1 % 17.1 % .113 .292
Blue Jays 916 2873 .253 .304 .381 .297 83 1.5 -58.6 21.0 6.2 6.6 % 19.2 % .128 .299
Athletics 822 2911 .247 .309 .368 .295 85 -0.8 -52.4 -28.5 1.7 8.0 % 18.7 % .120 .292
Royals 657 2417 .256 .298 .373 .291 78 7.5 -56.1 19.8 4.6 5.4 % 17.2 % .117 .298
White Sox 717 2528 .237 .293 .360 .285 76 1.4 -69.7 12.8 2.8 6.5 % 23.9 % .124 .299
Angels 829 2340 .228 .278 .332 .266 66 -3.2 -99.0 11.2 -0.9 5.9 % 21.2 % .104 .278

Yeah, it’s rough. Who could be brought in to fix it? Or is the answer within the organization?

Internal options

Kaleb Cowart, 25

Cowart parlayed his strong Salt Lake City performance into better major-league results this season. However, even his strong defense and newfound versatility (he is a third baseman by trade) likely will not be enough to offset a .695 OPS and 89 wRC+ (where 100 is average and higher is better, meaning Cowart was 11% worse than average at the plate this year). Cowart is certainly talented enough to stick on a 25-man roster, though that’s likely to be in a utility or super-utility role should he be willing to dabble in new positions unless the Angels decide to allocate resources elsewhere.

David Fletcher, 23

The middle infielder out of Loyola Marymount is shooting up the system, putting up a 103 wRC+ at double-A Mobile. He stumbled quite a bit in triple-A, but there’s no reason to be concerned since he is quite young for the level. Listed at 5-10, 175, Fletcher profiles as an instinctual baserunner and contact hitter at second base - his ranginess also allows him to fill in at shortstop here and there. This year should be reserved for his development, though if he joins the big-league club it would be post-All Star Break in a utility role.

Trade candidates

More potential trade candidates will inevitably appear as teams’ offseason plans adapt or pivot. For example, last offseason Danny Espinosa became expendable to the Washington Nationals following their acquisition of Adam Eaton. For now, this is a sufficient preliminary list.

Cesar Hernandez, 27

Hernandez to the Angels was a hot rumor last offseason, but the trade never occurred. Hernandez followed up his breakout 2016 with a WAR over three in 2017. He matched his .371 OBP (2016) with a .373 OBP (2017), proving his contact/speed profile is legitimate. He would make an excellent leadoff hitter and fits Eppler’s mold of high on-base percentage. Whether he added power or not is debatable (cue the juiced ball issue), but his OPS increased by 20 points en route to a 111 wRC+. Defensive metrics assert mixed results (-2 DRS, 2.1 UZR), which is a significant drop-off from the 4 DRS, 13.5 UZR he posted in 2016.

This year would be his first year in arbitration, meaning he is controllable for three more seasons - 2018-2020. MLB Trade Rumors projects Hernandez to make $4.7 million in his first trip through arbitration this winter. At minimum, he would cost at least one of the Angels’ top prospects or controllable starting pitcher, in addition to supplemental pieces. The Phillies have their own in-house MLB ready replacement in top-100 prospect Scott Kingery.

Ian Kinsler, 35

Of all the players in this section, Kinsler is the most likely to be traded. The crafty veteran has always been a strong defender and speedy baserunner, trends that have continued this season (6 DRS, 6.1 UZR). It’s a bit confounding to see why his results at the plate have taken such a hit this season, since many of his peripherals have stayed similar or improved.

In 2017, Kinsler made the highest hard contact rate of his career at 37%, a 3 percent increase from 2016. He pulled the ball to left a career-low 38.9 percent of the time, and the five percent difference has been redistributed to the opposite field, leading to his highest ever 26.2% contact to right field. An incredibly high popup percentage at 14.4% is the driving force behind a dramatically lower BABIP, but he has also gotten unlucky. Based on the quality of contact generated, Statcast states Kinsler has an expected .248 batting average - his actual batting average was .236, a significant difference of 12 points.

Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The data on the Tigers’ second baseman is particularly interesting, and truth be told it deserves its own dedicated written piece. Though the fanbase is sure to have its reservations, Kinsler would fill the position quite nicely. He doesn’t fit in Detroit with a rebuild coming on, and due to the lack of demand for second basemen he would cost little in a trade, apart from the salary being taken on.

Dee Gordon, 29

Gordon stole the league’s most bases (60) at a 78.6 percent clip. He slashed .308/.341/.375 with good defense (3 DRS, 6.4 UZR). A singles hitter that rarely strikes out or walks, most of Gordon’s value comes through his on-field athleticism. Like Hernandez, Dee Gordon would be a strong leadoff hitter. It’s unclear who the Marlins will make expendable, but if they rebuild down to the studs Gordon would be one to go. Surely a 3.3 fWAR season makes the remaining $37M on his contract much more palatable than it was last offseason.

Scooter Gennett, 27

Gennett has a spotty track record but made the most of his opportunity with the Reds this year, including a 4-HR game early on in the year on the way to a 124 wRC+ and an .873 OPS. He didn’t fare so well on defense at second base, but he’s capable of playing anywhere in a pinch as a super-utility option. He posted a 2.4 fWAR season, but just a 0.4 fWAR from ‘15 and ‘16 combined.

Jed Lowrie, 33

Lowrie continues to amaze us all as he proves that nobody knows anything about baseball. The infielder bounced back in a big way to post a 119 wRC+ and a 3.5 fWAR. The A’s front office has revealed that Lowrie’s option will be picked up and he will likely not be traded until midseason, so let’s move on to...

The free agent market

Zack Cozart, 32

Cozart was always an above-average defender at shortstop, but he figured out how to hit in a big way this season, slashing .297/.385/.548 and a 141 wRC+. He walked more than average and struck out less than average. It all added up to a 5.0 fWAR and 4.9 bWAR, excellent marks for a player who had previously never exceeded the three-win mark. Assuming he is not tendered a qualifying offer of $17.4 million, Cozart would be a fine fit for Anaheim if he is willing to move to the other side of the infield in deference to Andrelton Simmons.

Neil Walker, 32

The Angels kicked the tires on Walker before he was dealt from the Pirates in 2015, but couldn’t reach an agreement. When Walker has been on the field, he has performed quite well. Unfortunately, he has battled injuries for the second straight year - a partial hamstring tear. He slashed .265/.362/.439 with a nice mix of plate discipline, contact, and power. It is the defensive side that took a hit: a -5 DRS and -1.2 UZR makes him unlikely to end up in Anaheim.

Asdrubal Cabrera, 31

Cabrera improved his strikeout and walk figures, but like Walker the defense has taken a hit. He can play second base, third base, and shortstop, providing some nice versatility to the team that signs him. He posted a 111 wRC+ (career 105 wRC+) with a -6 DRS and 0.9 UZR at second base. Metrics aren’t particularly fond of him anywhere, and DRS/UZR disagree whether he fits better at second or third base. Cabrera was worth 1.3 fWAR and 1.1 bWAR this season.

The Mets have to make a decision on his $8.5M option ($2M buyout).

Eduardo Nuñez, 30

Nuñez put up a 112 wRC+ this season with 24 stolen bases with the Giants and Red Sox. He was slightly below average on defense everywhere he played - 2b, 3b, SS, and LF. He posted a 2.2 fWAR season.

Eric Sogard, 31

Sogard posted nice numbers across the board, adding up to an average regular. He did not play enough to accrue that value, losing playing time to Neil Walker. His track record is even spottier than Gennett’s, as he has never posted a 2-win season. He has played second base well throughout his career, though he has played other infield positions in small sample sizes.

Brandon Phillips, 36

Phillips was a low-end regular this year, his game founded on making contact. He has stated he wants to play near his family multiple times and was fond of Atlanta. It seems a foregone conclusion that he is a Brave next season.

Howie Kendrick, 34

Kendrick was used sparingly with Philadelphia and Washington, but he can still swing the bat quite well. HK hit 21 percent above average this season, spending most of his time in left field rather than second base. He only played 129 innings at 2b, but defensive metrics saw him as a bit above average (1 DRS, 2.4 UZR/150).