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2016-17 Free Agency Preview: Catchers and Infielders

Sketches of FA candidates

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers are probably a few years (at least) away from being major players in free agency, and one gets the feeling that they might never really go after the big money guys as long as David Stearns is the GM. But who signs whom might make some other whom available, and sets the prices, so we will look at the top available players by position groups this week.

Today we look at infielders and catchers. It is unlikely that the Brewers will sign a catcher, but it is possible that they might try and fill third base. There has been a lot of speculation that the Brewers will have a real interest in former Astros thirdbaseman Luis Valbuena.

Top Ten (somewhat of a consensus listing, with my own biases well represented)

  1. 3B Justin Turner
  2. 2B Neil Walker
  3. C Wilson Ramos
  4. C Matt Wieters
  5. 1B/DH Mike Napoli
  6. 3B Luis Valbuena
  7. UTIL Sean Rodriguez
  8. C Jason Castro
  9. UTIL Steve Pearce
  10. C Nick Hundley

Others: Jae-gyun Hwang (Lotte Giants); Daniel Descalso; Chase Utley

The Dodgers will want Justin Turner back. It will be surprising if he is in play for the Brewers. His defense is very good, and he hits with power. He had 34 doubles and 27 homers in 2016, and posted an OPS of .832. At 31, he is worth a 4 or 5 year deal. He will be a gem for whoever signs him, though he will require draft pick compensation.

Neil Walker was having a good year for the Mets before September back surgery. That injury/surgery probably will cost him money; it is tough to see a team giving him a long-term deal. The Mets have given Walker his $17.2 million qualifying offer, and it might be in his best interests to accept it and prove his health.

Wilson Ramos also is coming with significant injury baggage, probably even moreso than Walker. His late-season knee surgery derailed a break-out season, where he hit .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBI, but his injury led the Nationals to not give him a qualifying offer. It is unlikely that Ramos will be able to play until about 6 weeks into the season, and then most likely he won’t be able to catch right away. An AL team that could use him as a DH is probable, and a one year deal could be his way to go also. His opportunities are somewhat enhanced with no qualifying offer from the Nats, as no loss of a draft pick will be involved.

Matt Wieters had Tommy John surgery two years ago, and also didn’t get a qualifying offer from his (perhaps) former team, the Orioles. Wieters played only 101 games in 2014-15, but played in 124 last season. His bat is decent, and the big catcher will likely get a multi-year deal.

Mike Napoli did not receive a qualifying offer, either. He was reported to have been a major influence on the young players in Cleveland, and contributed 34 homers and 101 RBI to the Indians’ near world championship, but he will be 35 next season and the Indians weren’t interested in a $17.2 million salary after paying just $7 million last year. Napoli is best suited to the AL, but it seems the Rockies also have interest.

Luis Valbuena was not given a qualifying offer either. His 2016 season was shortened by injury (90 games), but he did contribute 16 homers and 70 RBI. He is blocked at third base for the Astros by youngster Alex Bregman, so will need to seek employment elsewhere. If the Brewers could get him for two years/$14 million total as MLB Trade Rumors has predicted, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him signed. It would seem logical for Valbuena to look for a team where he would get to play everyday.

Sean Rodriguez had a really good year for the Pirates in 2016, posting career highs in every major hitting category and playing in 140 games, mostly as a utility player. He played every position in the field except catcher, and hit 18 homers. He’ll turn 32 next April. It is possible that somebody will sign him to start, but he may be able to sign with a contender as a super utility player. Rodriguez made $2.5 million in 2016.

Jason Castro has averaged close to 120 games per season for the Astros over the last four years. He hasn’t hit a ton since his break-out season in 2013 (OPS .835 with 18 homers and 35 doubles), hovering around the .650 OPS range in ‘14, ‘15, and ‘16. He will get a job, as there are always teams in need of a major league catcher. Returning to Houston might make sense.

Steve Pearce is another utility player, although his age (33) will make anything more than two years problematic. He has reached double figures in homers each of the last 3 years, and hit well after being acquired by Tampa from Baltimore last season.

Nick Hundley is another catcher that will find work, but at age 33 won’t get a lot of years. His offense is OK, but having played in Colorado might cause teams to discount that. He is solid defensively.

Of the “others”, Jae-gyun Hwang is an interesting piece. He has spent his career the Lotte Giants of the KBO but reached free agency this winter and is looking to make the jump stateside. He is mainly a third baseman with some pop, and the success of Jung Ho Kang in Pittsburgh might give his candidacy some credence. Hwang hit 26 homers in each of the last two seasons and will turn 30 next July. Of note, he is known for his bat flips.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference