Free Agents 101: Up-the-Middle Hitters

 Often thought to be some of the most difficult positions to fill, the Seattle Mariners are actually relatively strong up the middle. Mike Zunino has established himself as a solid everyday catcher with premium defensive abilities. Robinson Cano is one of the premier bats in the game and is locked in at second base for the next nine years. At shortstop one of Chris Taylor and Brad Miller figure to take the everyday job in 2015 and Katel Marte provides some insurance for down the road. Austin Jackson was acquired at the trade deadline and has been a solid centerfielder in previous years, though he struggled greatly after the trade.

Seattle doesn’t have a particular need up the middle, though acquiring a veteran back-up catcher is likely on the winter to-do list. The team could also look to improve upon Jackson in center field or push him to a corner, though the free agent market is barren for everyday centerfielders.

Everyday Players

Russell Martin, C
Bats: Right
Age: 32 on Feb. 15
Service: 8.150
Agent: Matt Colleran
Qualifying Offer: Yes
Martin is the top catcher available and it’s by a wide margin. He’s coming off his best offensive season since his days with the Los Angeles Dodgers and finished the year with a .290/.402/.430 line and a 140 wRC+. Martin has some pop in his bat and had a career-high 21 stolen bases in 2007 though he stole just four this past year. Defence and pitch-framing are Martin’s calling cards and he’s among the best in the majors. The 31-year old declined the qualifying offer but that’s not expected to hurt his value. Martin is a sure bet for a multi-year deal with a total value expected to be north of $60 million.

Hanley Ramirez, SS/3B
Bats: Right
Age: 31 on Dec. 23
Service: 9.014
Agent: Wasserman Media Group
Qualifying Offer: Yes
Ramirez is arguably the top available position player on the free agent market. He maintained elite status for several years before injuries limited the amount of time he could spend on the field. The 30-year was healthier in 2014 than previous years and finished the year with a .283/.369/.448 slash line and a 135 wRC+. The speed isn’t there like it used to be and he’s become a liability at shortstop, but he’s still a right-handed bat with 25 home run power. Ramirez will likely have to move to third base in the near future — ideally 2015 as to maximize the value out of his bat — but that won’t stop a club from committing big dollars to the star. Six years and nine figures on the open market is not out of the question for Ramirez

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS
Bats: Both
Age: 29 on Nov. 13
Service: 7.027
Agent: Octagon
Qualifying Offer: No
Cabrera hasn’t garnered much interest while with the Cleveland Indians but saw some time in the spotlight after being acquired by the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline. The 29-year old has some power in his bat, hitting 14 home runs in each of the last two years as well as a 25 home run output in 2011. He’s not strong defensively but isn’t a total liability in the field. Cabrera earned $10 million in 2014 and is a candidate for a multi-year deal with an annual salary in that range. He was ineligible for a qualifying offer due to the midseason trade.

Jed Lowrie, 2B/SS
Bats: Both
Age: 31 on Apr. 17
Service: 6.111
Agent: CAA Sports
Lowrie isn’t a marquee name on the market, but is a solid regular who can handle both the shortstop and second baseman positions. He’s coming off a very mediocre season posting a .249/.321/.355 slash line and a 93 wRC+. Not known for his offensive abilities, Lowrie did hit 31 home runs between 2012 and 2013 and presumably still has decent power in his bat. He’s graded poorly at shortstop the last couple years, but is more of an average defender at second. Given the weak market for middle infielders, as per usual, Lowrie has a case for a three-year deal worth more than $20 million.

Colby Rasmus, CF
Bats: Left
Age: 29 on Aug. 11
Service: 6
Agent: Excel Sports Management
Qualifying Offer: No
It appears that the top prospect shine has finally worn off as Rasmus finished another disappointing season. The left-hander had a strong 2013 campaign but struggled to make regular contact in times during 2014. He has hit 20-plus home runs in three of the past five seasons and has a reputation as a solid defender. Given his age, Rasmus could look to pursue a one-year deal this winter to potentially set himself up for a bigger pay day next winter. But it seems more likely to sign a longer guarantee given the uncertainty that still surrounds his play.

Platoon/Part-Time Players

AJ Pierzynski, C
Bats: Left
Age: 38 on Dec. 30
Service: 14.100
Agent: Octagon
Pierzynski split 2014 between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals and saw regular playing time when Yadier Molina went down with injury earlier in the season. The veteran of 17 major league seasons posted a .251/.288/.337 slash line in 2014 and had a poor season defensively as well. Often known more for his fielding and ability to handle a pitching staff, not to mention his lengthy tenure with the Chicago White Sox, Pierzynski has never been much of an offensive threat despite showing some solid power numbers. Even though he’ll turn 38 in December, the left-hander is capable of playing regularly, though he’d likely be better utilized in a back-up role.

Rickie Weeks, 2B
Bats: Right
Age: 33 on Sep. 13
Service: 9.131
Agent: The Legacy Agency
Weeks has been the everyday second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers for much of the past decade. He’s coming off a strong season at the dish in which he posted a .274/.357/.452 line with a 127 wRC+. Weeks has three seasons with 20 or more home runs but has graded very poorly on the defensive side of things. It’s plausible that the 32-year old can secure a full-time gig, but may not be able to reach his 2014 salary of $11 million in 2015.

Kelly Johnson, 2B/3B
Bats: Left
Age: 33 on Feb. 22
Service: 8
Agent: Relativity Baseball
Johnson has been well-travelled the last several years with his versatility — he can cover all infield positions sans shortstop as well as both corner outfield spots — making him an attractive option for a club looking to patch a hole. He posted a .215/.296/.362 slash line in 2014 and has a pair of 16 home runs seasons in the two years previous. His breakout 2010 campaign looks like an anomaly, but he’s still a serviceable player with even platoon splits for his career. Johnson won’t turn 33 until February but and has a chance at securing a multi-year deal.

Emilio Bonifacio, 2B/3B/OF
Bats: Both
Age: 30 on Apr. 23
Service: 6.066
Agent: Mato Sports Management
Bonifacio was the necessary piece for Toronto to pull off the blockbuster of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson two offseasons ago, but has since developed into a super-utility role. His positional flexibility has allowed him to see plenty of game action over the last several years and the 29-year old posted a .259/.305/.345 slash line in 2014. Bonifacio offers little in terms of power but has stolen at least 26 bases in each of the last four years. His ability to play solid defence across the diamond is his greatest strength and should allow him to sign a smaller multi-year contract this winter.

Stephen Drew, SS
Bats: Left
Age: 32 on Mar. 16
Service: 8.038
Agent: Boras Corporation
Drew fell victim to the qualifying offer last winter and ending up re-signing with the Red Sox after the start of the season before eventually being dealt to the New York Yankees. The 31-year old struggled to find his stroke and posted a pedestrian 44 wRC+ in 2014. He’s been a solid regular the last couple years however with strengths on both sides of the ball. He’ll likely want a one-year deal to re-establish his value and prove 2014 was a fluke.

Back-up/Role Players

David Ross, C
Bats: Right
Age: 38 on Mar. 19
Service: 12.001
Agent: Sports One Athlete Management
Ross is the prototypical back-up catcher: just enough pop left in his bat to chip in here and there, strong defensive skills, and solid veteran leadership in the clubhouse. He appeared in 50 games for the Boston Red Sox in 2014 and a reunion with the club seems possible.

Ryan Doumit, C
Bats: Both
Age: 34 on Apr. 3
Service: 9.120
Agent: Sosnick/Cobbe
Doumit has become a replacement-level player who can plug holes behind the plate and in the corner outfield spots. The switch-hitter has had several above average seasons at the plate but is coming off a 52 wRC+ campaign in 2014. Doumit is average defensively and his previous offensive success should convince a team he’s worth giving a one-year deal for 2015.

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