The Best Free-Agent Defensive Players Still Available

Surprisingly, Juan Uribe was the best defensive free agent before the offseason began.

Surprisingly, Juan Uribe was the best defensive free agent before the offseason began.

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.

Player Pos. Inn UZR/150 DRS
Juan Uribe 3B 900.1 35.3 15
Jacoby Ellsbury CF 1188.1 12.9 13
Mark Ellis 2B 950.0 7.8 12
Marlon Byrd RF 1168.1 2.6 12
Mike Napoli 1B 1097.1 13.3 10
David Murphy LF 980.1 15.5 8

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.

Player Pos. Inn DRS rSB PB WP
Yorvit Torrealba C 422 1 0 2 13
Kelly Shoppach C 295 -3 1 3 17
Hector Gimenez C 179 2 1 5 7
Koyie Hill C 145.2 0 0 1 6
Miguel Olivo C 141.1 0 -1 1 3

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

The New York Yankees lost slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira before the 2013 season began, forcing them to desperately sign Lyle Overbay off the trash heap.

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.

Player Pos. Inn UZR/150 DRS
Lyle Overbay 1B 1031 3.7 5
Mark Reynolds 1B 500 1.6 -5
Yuniesky Betancourt 1B 409 -10.4 -2
Carlos Pena 1B 382.2 -6.1 -5
Kendrys Morales 1B 274.1 -6.3 -2
Michael Young 1B 219.2 -6.7 -3
Alex Gonzalez 1B 146 -14.8 -1
Wilson Betemit (2012) 1B 125 1.2 0
Jeff Baker 1B 114 20.6 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.

Player Pos. Inn UZR/150 DRS
Elliot Johnson 2B 483.1 7.8 10
Ramon Santiago 2B 269.1 -2.8 -2

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.

Player Pos. Inn UZR/150 DRS
Stephen Drew SS 1093.1 6.7 -2
Omar Quintanilla SS 814 -7.5 -8
Ramon Santiago SS 192.2 6.6 6
Justin Turner SS 115.1 16.2 1

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.

Player Pos. Inn UZR/150 DRS
Michael Young 3B 890.2 -20.2 -2
Placido Polanco 3B 849.2 -4.5 3
Wilson Betemit (2012) 3B 608.2 -9.7 -6
Chris Nelson 3B 481 -10.9 -3
Yuniesky Betancourt 3B 417.1 -6.7 -1
Mark Reynolds 3B 409.2 -22.1 -6
Justin Turner 3B 127.1 -6.1 0

Center Field: Dewayne Wise

Dewayne Wise is still best known for his perfect-game saving catch on July 23, 2009. But as thankful as Mark Buehrle perhaps was, most pitchers with Wise behind them are just as thankful.

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.

Player Pos. Inn UZR/150 DRS
Sam Fuld CF 186.1 -14.9 -1
Andres Torres CF 166.1 4.5 -1
Rick Ankiel CF 142.1 -12 -3
Dewayne Wise CF 141.1 19.2 0
Roger Bernadina CF 139 -12 1

Left Field: Derrick Robinson or Andres Torres

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.

Player Pos. Inn UZR/150 DRS
Juan Pierre LF 564.1 -3.4 4
Andres Torres LF 417.1 13 0
Derrick Robinson LF 305.2 1.3 5
Jason Bay LF 299 4.6 0
Sam Fuld LF 204.2 -4 1
Trevor Crowe LF 150 10 -3
Roger Bernadina LF 145.2 0.8 -1
Jeff Baker LF 101 -29.5 -1

Right Field: Derrick Robinson

With Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce rounding out the Cincinnati Reds’ outfield in 2013, Derrick Robinson barely got a chance to show off his talents.

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.

Player Pos. Inn UZR/150 DRS
Nelson Cruz RF 906.1 -3 -6.5
Derrick Robinson RF 395.1 5.4 6
Roger Bernadina RF 222.2 27.8 4
Jason Bay RF 181.1 -35.8 -1
Rick Ankiel RF 165.2 -21.1 -2
Laynce Nix RF 162 9.5 2
Trevor Crowe RF 141.1 10.1 2
Sam Fuld RF 121.1 26.1 1
Brennan Boesch RF 103.1 -31.6 -2

One response to “The Best Free-Agent Defensive Players Still Available

  1. Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Morrow, Martin, D'Backs

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