Getting Creative at Second Base
Last year the average MLB second baseman hit .257/.316/.376, and produced a wRC+ of 91, or roughly 9% below an average offensive player regardless of position. Orioles second basemen combined to produce a .236/.299/.376 line, good for a wRC+ of 82. That is, 18% below a league average offsensive player.
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At this point it’s pretty clear that the O’s are poised to go into camp with one of Ryan Flaherty, Alexi Casilla, Jonathon Schoop, Jemile Weeks, etc. winning the role of starting second baseman on a Major League Baseball team. The problem with that would be that Flaherty and Casilla produced very little with the bat. Flaherty’s 83 wRC+ was only marginally better than the O’s team average, and Casilla’s 51 wRC+ is almost impossibly small.
There aren’t any option in free agency, in fact there are no players left on the FA market whose primary position is second base. There are only 11 players with any infield experience at the MLB level that have yet to sign this offseason so the picking are slim. There is however, one diamond in the rough, that could be interesting to the Orioles.
That diamond in the rough is Stephen Drew. Last season Stephen Drew hit .253/.333/.443; that was good for a wRC+ of 109, or 9% better than the average offensive player. That doesn’t seem like exceptional offensive output, until you consider that his OBP was .020 points higher than the O’s club average and .034 points higher than our second basemen produced. Stephen Drew was worth 3.4 fWAR, a figure boosted by his playing shortstop, but that compares favorably to the 2.4 fWAR that the O’s multiple second basemen cobbled together last year.
(October 16, 2013 – Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images North America)
There are a couple of things to consider here. First the pros:
- Drew is very good defensively, and would likely be a very good defensive 2B
- Drew’s bat is much better than any 2B we have rostered
- Drew’s market is exceptionally weak, so he could likely be had cheaply
Now the cons:
- Signing Drew will require forfeiting our 1st round draft pick
- Drew will cost some amount of undetermined money
That’s about all I’ve got. You could make the argument that an improvement of 1 WAR from last year’s second base by committee versus Stephen Drew isn’t enough to give up a pick. The rebuttal there is that 3.4 WAR coming from one roster spot is worth a lot more than 2.4 WAR coming from several (as many as three at times last year).
You could also argue that Drew is untested as a second baseman, and might not even be open to a move. That concern was addressed by Jeff Sullivan on Fangraphs recently:
I think it’s safe to say Stephen Drew‘s in a pretty weird position. He’s a free agent, and he’s 30, so he’s not super old. He spent last year playing with the eventual MLB champion. By our numbers he was worth 3.4 wins, and he was worth 3.4 wins in 124 games, as a team’s regular shortstop. It’s easy to make a case that Drew ought to be highly desirable, but here he is, available at the end of January, and no one seems to want to give him more than two years. If reports are to be believed, Drew’s got himself a pretty weak market.
And more than that, increasingly there are rumors that Drew would be willing to play other positions. That is, Drew would be willing to not play a premium up-the-middle position, to make himself more marketable.
If Stephen Drew were open to moving to second base, he’d provide the O’s with a lot of roster flexibility, while still being able to carry personal favorite Ryan Flaherty as a utility infielder. His bat would play well in the lineup simply because if he reproduced his 2013 line he’d likely finish top 3 on the team in OBP (with a distinct chance at leading the club).
Giving up a pick for Drew is a high price to pay, no doubt. Add that to the fact that he’ll demand a decent salary, and I think it’s fair to have concerns about price. That said, Drew’s market is so weak that a 2 year deal worth about what the club offered to Balfour would likely get the job done. The O’s might have to throw in a bit more money, but generally I think that’s close to what would work for both sides.
There are some other, more abstract benefits that could come to fruition if the team signed Drew. It would give them more leverage with JJ Hardy in contract negotiations. The club would have a ready, willing, and able replacement on hand to fill in Hardy’s spot should he elect to play hardball. Drew’s presence would also make Hardy more trade-able, since the club could slide him to SS and plug in Ryan Flaherty at second without missing much of a beat.
In the end, it’s doubtful that the O’s would sign a player like Stephen Drew, especially when they already have a very good SS on the roster. Then again, getting creative with roster construction is exactly the kind of thing that helps clubs with lesser payrolls compete with teams like Boston or New York who seemingly have endless resources. Signing Stephen Drew might not make a lot of sense at face value, but when you really look at it, it could make all the sense in the world.