Ranking the 5 Best Remaining Free Agent Position Players
For teams still looking to add a little pop to their lineup for next year, the top-five remaining choices in the free agent market for position players is not what I would call "robust."
Most of the available talent on the market can be had in trades, although trading for a quality bat means giving away some young prospects for someone else's aging or expensive player. And unlike the starting pitching free agent market, all of the position players that could truly have made a difference for someone have long been picked through.
What's left is one young player with potential and four veterans who probably aren't going to move the needle much for whichever team signs them. Still, every team needs to fill holes, and sure enough, all five of these players can do just that.
Colby Rasmus is the one intriguing position player left in free agency. The main reason for that is his age.
Unlike most free agents, Rasmus isn't an old dude on the back-end of his career. He'll be just 28 next year and has the potential to be a solid young player for someone. In 2013, Rasmus hit .276/.338/.501 for an .840 OPS with 22 home runs and 26 doubles in just 458 plate appearances and an fWAR of 4.8. That's pretty darn good.
However, last year, he slipped badly. He was hurt for much of the year, accumulating just 376 plate appearances with a slash line of .225/.287/.448 and 18 homers. And according to our nERD statistic, a lineup full of Rasmuses would have generated just 0.27 runs a game more than a league average player, which made him a barely above average run producer. Still, that's the highest nERD among the remaining free agent position players, which should tell you something about the quality of the guys that are to follow.
The Orioles are said to be in negotiations with Rasmus as the team's right fielder. He's an excellent defensive player when motivated, but that motivation tends to come and go. Any team willing to take a chance on him could potentially land themselves a three- or four-win player, but they could also get themselves a young, injury-prone dud.
Nori Aoki had a very solid season for the AL Champion Kansas City Royals this year with an outstanding .349 on-base percentage while batting mostly second for Kansas City. And while his defense wasn't quite at the level of his ridiculously talented outfield teammates, it was about league average last year, which is a pretty good place to be.
Aoki isn't a big run producer, which is where nERD generates much of its value. That's why he ranks below Rasmus on this list, generating 0.25 runs a game more than a league average player.
If they don't sign Rasmus, Aoki could be a good fit for the Orioles, who has already lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency. While he certainly wouldn't be able to replace the offense that those two brought to the table, he could be a decent top-of-the-lineup addition. The Reds and Mariners are also rumored to be "in" on Aoki.
Sadly, he is the last player on this list on the positive-side of the nERD stat. Egads.
Asdrubal Cabrera is one of those guys you snag towards the end of free agency because you either missed out on or were priced out of some sexier targets. Last year, he was just slightly worse than a league average player according to nERD and weighted runs created (wRC+), although he was worth 1.7 wins above a replacement player last year, according to Fangraphs (fWAR).
If you need a shortstop or a second baseman and don't have a ton of money to spend, Cabrera can definitely play for you. He'll hit about 15 homers, he'll get on base at about at .310-to-.320 clip, and he'll be someone you can pencil into the lineup almost every day.
Cabrera is a reasonably consistent player, and a team could do a lot worse than to sign a league average player to a reasonable deal. The Yankees, Rays, Royals, and Blue Jays are all potential suitors.
Emilio Bonifacio is not going to provide you with runs. No, this is a glove-first second baseman and outfielder who brings value to his team by being versatile defensively and playing virtually every position at a high level. But when you look at his offensive numbers, they aren't impressive.
Bonifacio's nERD of -0.51 means a lineup filled with league average players would score 0.51 runs a game more than Bonifacio, and his wRC+ is well below the league average of 100, at 81. However, he does add speed on the bases with 26 steals in 34 attempts last season.
For a team needing a defense-first player, Bonifacio makes some sense on a short-term deal. He's still relatively young, turning 30 in April. And he'd be especially useful as part of a platoon. Last year, he hit .365/.411/.548 against right-handed pitching and would provide some solid depth for a team like Oakland or Seattle.
Seasons don't get a whole lot worse than the one Stephen Drew had last year. He waited until the middle of the regular season to sign with someone, and when he did, it was pretty disastrous. He was equally terrible for both the Red Sox and the Yankees, worth a full win less than a replacement player. His nERD of -1.4 and wRC+ of 44 further tells the story.
It was just a terrible year all around for Drew.
Still, there are teams interested. Shortstops are hard to find, especially ones that just two years ago put up an fWAR of 3.4, had an on-base percentage of .333 and played sterling defense for the world champion Sox. Any team signing Drew right now would probably be doing so on the cheap and also be in desperate need of a shortstop.
Oakland is one of those teams who need help at that position and might be willing to take a chance on a bounce-back season from Drew. The Mets are also reportedly kicking the tires, as are the Cubs, strangely enough. Chicago would seem to already have a ton of depth at that position, so their interest in Drew is a bit odd.
Whoever signs Drew will be banking on the fact that there's no way he can be as bad in 2015 as he was in 2014.