Some players appear content to wait out the market. Johnny Damon remains unemployed as pitchers and catchers get ready to report, but he’s vacationing in Hawaii, not a care in the world. Other players appear a bit more impatient. Count Felipe Lopez among the latter crowd. He fired Scott Boras over the weekend, reportedly over frustration that he, like 10.6 percent of Americans, lacks a job. His new representatives at Beverly Hills Sports Council must now find a team needing an upgrade at second or third base.
Over the past year and a half Lopez has placed himself among the top MLB second basemen. In the 849 plate appearances he has accumulated since the Nationals released him in 2008, he has posted a .372 wOBA. Despite the poor first half of 2008 that led to his release, Lopez ranks ninth among second basemen in WAR over the past two years, .02 ahead of both Robinson Cano and Orlando Hudson and only .01 behind Mark DeRosa. His defense plays into that ranking, with a 2.5 UZR over the past two years, seventh among MLB second basemen.
Can Lopez sustain that production? His 4.6 WAR season in 2009 stands out, but CHONE projects him to produce only 2.2 wins above replacement in 2010. A large factor in this projection, it appears, is a regression of his .360 BABIP back to his career norm of .323. With a career high line drive rate of 22.3 percent, along with a career low fly ball rate of 25.9 percent, the regression makes sense. Chances are a number of those line drives will once again become fly balls. A 2.2 WAR would have moved Lopez from the fifth most valuable second baseman in 2009 to the 15th most valuable.
Even so, a number of clubs could still benefit from a stronger second baseman, even as we creep closer to spring training. The problem isn’t so much with the upgrade, however, as it is with money. Many teams have reached their spending limits, despite fielding less than adequate players at a number of positions, including second base. The Astros and Padres fall into this group, as they fielded, and will again field in 2010, two of the worst second basemen in the league. Only a few teams remain that need another infielder and have the money to sign one.
The Cardinals, for whom Lopez thrived in 2008, were reportedly interested in Lopez in December, before Matt Holliday signed, and still have some money to spend. Lopez might have to accept a reduced role there, however, as David Freese figures to get a long look at third base this spring. Over the past two seasons at AAA he has hit .304/.363/.542 in 664 at-bats. He’ll turn 27 just after the season starts, so the Cards might want Lopez as an insurance policy just in case Freese can’t come close to replicating his PCL numbers.
The Cubs could be another suitor. They ranked 27th in wOBA from their second basemen in 2009 and didn’t make many moves to upgrade for 2010. But, with their payroll over $135 million for 2010, they might be content with a platoon of
Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker. CHONE projects them to combine for 717 plate appearances and 2.5 WAR, so unless they see something they don’t like in spring training it remains unlikely that they’ll spend the extra money on Lopez.
Like many of his fellow free agents, Lopez lost the waiting game. Had he signed in December, or even early January, he might have commanded a contract similar to Hudson’s one-year, $5 million deal. Now it appears that he’ll have to settle for much less, not only in money but perhaps also in playing time. Unless he forces his way into an everyday lineup with his bat, that’s going to cost him even more money next off-season. What kind of offers, I wonder, did Scott Boras turn down?