By my rough count, there are currently eight free agent second basemen who have posted at least one 2+ fWAR season since 2017. My rough counting has also revealed that there are currently three free agent second basemen who have posted at least one 3.5+ fWAR season in since the start of 2017, with Jed Lowrie actually having done so in each of the last two seasons.
In fact, those subsets might jump to nine and four, respective, if the Milwaukee Brewers proceed with a non-tender of Jonathan Schoop, which The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal suggests is very legitimate possibility prior to Friday’s non-tender deadline.
Very interesting 27-year-old second baseman could hit open market tomorrow. Sources indicating strong possibility #Brewers will non-tender 2017 All-Star Jonathan Schoop. Team evaluating all options, including trade. Schoop projected for $10.1M in arbitration, per @mlbtraderumors.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 29, 2018
If that materializes, that would render seven of the nineteen most valuable second basemen in the game over the last two seasons teamless and in search of a new employer. Of course, that’s before we even get to Robinson Cano, who is firmly on the trade block, with a deal that would send him to the New York Mets purportedly in the works, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.
There is significant momentum toward a deal that would send Robinson Cano and Edwin Díaz from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Mets, league sources tell Yahoo Sports. While they characterize a deal as not done yet, there is an increasing expectation a trade will get finished.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 29, 2018
Cano’s 6.1 fWAR since the start of the 2017 season ranks as the 7th most in all MLB in that time, though his 80 game PED suspension from last season (along with injury) means he accrued that value in a lot fewer games played than many of his peers. The player right ahead of Cano on that leaderboard is a familiar one, too - Cincinnati Reds 2B Scooter Gennett, who has compiled an impressive 6.7 fWAR in that time.
We are all keenly aware of Scooter’s story by now. Claimed off waivers from those same Brewers who still can’t seem to find a full-time 2B, Scooter has blossomed into an All Star after coming to the Reds for a song, and the 28 year old is now entering his final year of team control before he, too, would reach free agency. From the Reds perspective, Scooter has put them in a bit of a bind, albeit one that most every team would love to be crushed by - he’s been better than they could’ve possibly imagined, and now they’ve got a pair of tough decisions to make.
First, is Scooter worth committing a pile of money to long-term to continue to be their 2B?
Second, is doing that a wise allocation of resources - both monetary and roster-based - when uberprospect Nick Senzel is ready right behind him?
Had Scooter continued to be the slap-hitty, no-glove 2B that he was when Milwaukee waived him, those answers would be no-brainers. Scooter though, eschewed his previous play, and has become one of the most potent middle-infield bats in the game over the last two years, to the point where he spoke openly about the idea of a contract extension to stick in Cincinnati, the city where he was born, long-term.
There are a few economic principles on display here. First, the supply of readily available 2B options to teams in need of such a thing is in a serious glut stage, which makes the idea that the Reds could get a haul by moving Scooter a bit precarious since other teams will have so many other options to explore. Scooter, in terms of prospects, would not cost a lot because of this.
I have argued before, consistently, that the best course of action for the Reds in this particular conundrum is to move Scooter - even for a modest return - and turn over 2B to Senzel, whose ability to be a plus defender with a big-league ready bat at league minimum would have a chance to shine. That would save the Reds between $10-11 million in 2019, prevent them from losing Scooter for nothing as he reaches free agency next October, and prevent a lengthy contract extension from clogging the small-market ledger when there’s a cheaper, younger option already around.
That said, what I just wrote up above has me wondering if a different scenario is on the table altogether.
Scooter, in terms of prospects, would not cost a lot because of this.
If the glut of 2B options has diminished Scooter’s value in terms of what teams would be willing to give up to get him, it’s a pretty reasonable transition to say the glut of 2B options is driving down the cost of locking in a 2B for the next few years for all teams. With Jed Lowrie, Brian Dozier, Schoop, DJ LeMahieu, Ian Kinsler, Josh Harrison, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Daniel Murphy all out there - with the likes of Dee Gordon, Addison Russell, Starlin Castro, and Cano all on the trade block, too - it’s hard to see any team out there willing to commit big money on a big contract to a 2B this particular winter. There are just too many options and alternatives for any one player to get that kind of obvious commitment.
That brings me back to the Reds, and to Scooter. If the price of 2B contracts takes a pounding this winter, there just might be a chance that the Scooter’s potential asking price takes a hit, too. Much of why I was reluctant to implore the Reds to sign Scooter long-term was because of his eventual regression as he ages and because of the kind of contract I’d figured he’d be seeking - with the obvious presence of Senzel the icing on that cake. But with the apparent willingness to try Senzel in other positions where there is still a big need on the roster (*cough centerfield cough cough*) and the potential for the price of signing a 2B for three years perhaps tanking, perhaps there’s a perfect storm brewing for the Reds to keep Scooter beyond 2019 and not break the bank irresponsibly in the process.
I’d wager the Reds will play this with the utmost patience. They’ll wait to see Dozier sign for millions less than he would have prior to his stumble in production in 2018, with a similar scenario likely in the cards for Schoop. They’ll watch as Kinsler and Lowrie end up on short-term deals due to their age, as Cano lands in a big-market that takes any would-be funny money out of the equation, and as LeMahieu gets squeezed due to the perception he can’t hit outside of Coors Field. And once that sets a low floor for the cost of 2Bs this winter, they’ll reconsider their Scooty options.
In other words, while the trade market for Scooter is unfortunately non-existent at the moment, the ability to get him on a multi-year contract that’s a steal just might be emerging, and that could well end up as much of a win for the Reds as fleecing another team by dealing him. At least, one can hope.