As expected, most of the big-name free-agents have signed contracts by this point.
That said, if the Baltimore Orioles decided to upgrade from Nolan Reimold, both Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz, who hit 23 and 27 home runs in 2013, respectively, are still looking for jobs. The same goes for the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels, both of whom could bolster their rotations by inking the likes of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo and even Masahiro Tanaka.
But when it comes to improving teams’ defenses last minute, the pickings might be slimmer.
The top-six free-agent defenders have long been off the market, with Juan Uribe’s glowing 15 DRS and 35.3 UZR/150 leading the way.
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the best free-agent defensive players still available.
Note: players must have logged at least 100 innings at a given position to become eligible.
Catcher: Yorvit Torrealba
Coming off of surgery to repair a torn right meniscus, there understandably hasn’t been a ton of interest in Yorvit Torrealba’s services.
It also doesn’t help matters that Torrealba is a career .256 hitter with a park-adjusted 80 wRC+ to go along with it. But even though the 35-year-old catcher doesn’t handle the stick too well, his glove work is at least passable.
Amongst available catchers, Torrealba’s 1 DRS in 2013 was bested only by Hector Gimenez’s 2 DRS. And the pair’s equivalent 28 percent CS% was middle-of-the-pack compared to rest of the league.
But the nod goes to Torrealba, as the veteran played 243 more innings than Gimenez.
Torrealba’s chances of netting a roster spot in 2014 is contingent on his health. Assuming his meniscus has properly healed, the 13-year major leaguer should land a backup role.
First Base: Lyle Overbay
Overbay was serviceable in the first half for the Bombers, collecting a park-adjusted 101 wRC+ and 11 home runs. But the 36-year-old quickly faded after the All-Star break, posting a mere 58 wRC+ while adding just three dingers.
Overbay’s saving grace in 2013—as it has been his entire career—was his defense. In 1031 innings at first base, the 13-year veteran gloved a 5 DRS and 3.7 UZR/150. Jeff Baker was the only other first baseman to post impressive fielding metrics, scooping a 20.6 UZR/150 over 114 innings.
|Wilson Betemit (2012)||1B||125||1.2||0|
Second Base: Elliot Johnson
Elliot Johnson was unspectacular in 2013. But despite just posting a park-adjusted 85 OPS+ over 102 plate appearances once joining the Atlanta Braves, the Johnson was still able to push Dan Uggla out of a starting gig in the latter part of the season.
But Johnson livelihood is hardly based on how he produces (or doesn’t produce) at the plate. The only reason the 29-year-old can still find gigs, albeit minor ones, is his ability to play elite defense at multiple positions. Johnson logged time at five different positions in 2013 and gloved positive defensive metrics at all of them.
The light-hitting infielder spent the most time at second base in 2013, posting a magnificent 10 DRS and 7.8 UZR/150 over 483.1 innings.
The only other remaining, eligible second baseman on the list is Ramon Santiago. And Santiago’s minus-2 DRS and minus-2.8 UZR/150 just aren’t in the same league as Johnson’s.
Shortstop: Ramon Santiago
Even though Ramon Santiago was a below-average fielder at second base, his work at shortstop was much more noteworthy. Spanning 192.2 innings, Santiago gloved a sterling 6 DRS and a 6.6 UZR/150.
But despite the solid 9.0 percent walk rate, the 34-year-old didn’t do much else at the plate in 2013. In fact, Santiago posted a park-adjusted 63 wRC+ with just one home run over 234 plate appearances.
The shortstop nod in this category could have also gone to Stephen Drew, who posted a 6.7 UZR/150. But DRS wasn’t as kind to Drew, grading him at a minus-2 DRS for the season.
Unlike Drew, who will soon likely sign a multi-year deal and start at shortstop, Santiago’s best bet might be on a minor league deal and as a reserve.
Third Base: Placido Polanco
Placido Polanco has a stellar 16-year career to be proud of. But over the past two seasons, the 38-year-old has shown his age.
Polanco has posted a park-adjusted 71 OPS+ since 2012, which is 26 points below his career rate (from 1998 to 2011).
The one part of Polanco’s game that hasn’t completely dissipated, however, has been his defense at third base. The Dominican native posted a fruitful 3 DRS over 849.2 innings at the hot corner for the Miami Marlins last season.
While his minus-4.5 UZR/150 casts a different light on his defensive abilities, compared to the other third base candidates, his negative UZR/150 still appears to be the lesser of seven-eligible evils.
|Wilson Betemit (2012)||3B||608.2||-9.7||-6|
Center Field: Dewayne Wise
Over 141.1 innings in 2013, Wise gloved a 19.2 UZR/150. The 35-year-old’s career 11.0 UZR/150 and 8 DRS in center support his 2013 defensive prowess too.
The only skill set preventing Wise from being a serviceable fourth outfielder is his complete inability to produce offensively. Wise owns a career .228 batting average, park-adjusted 65 wRC+, 3.9 percent walk rate and strikes out at a 20.7 percent clip.
The title of “best remaining free-agent defensive left fielder” could go to either Derrick Robinson or Andres Torres depending on the defensive metric used.
If using DRS, Robinson trumps Torres by a wide margin, with a 5 DRS to Torres’ 0 DRS. But if UZR/150 is instead utilized, Torres’ 13 UZR/150 is worlds better than Robinson’s 1.3 UZR/150.
And even though Juan Pierre, who logged the most innings amongst eligible candidates, gloved a 4 DRS, his minus-3.4 UZR/150 was bad enough to let either Robinson or Torres prevail in the illustrious category.
Right Field: Derrick Robinson
And while Robinson doesn’t possess the offensive dynamics Ludwick, Choo or Bruce boast, the 26-year-old was hardly an automatic out last season. Over 216 plate appearances, Robinson posted a decent .255 batting average, park-adjusted 81 wRC+ and 8.3 percent walk rate.
Even though Robinson’s double-digit stolen-base totals from the minors didn’t translate to the bigs, his sterling defense certainly did. In 395.1 innings in right field, Robinson gloved a 6 DRS and 5.4 UZR/150.
A good case could also be made for outfielder Roger Bernadina, who collected a 4 DRS and 27.8 UZR/150 in right field. But Bernadina also played in 172.2 less innings than Robinson.
With age on his side, Robinson should be able to find a fifth outfielder gig this offseason. And with a history of speed—and solid walk skills—Robinson could potentially emerge as more than a one-trick defensive pony.