You could be forgiven for a degree of head scratching after the Arizona Diamondbacks invested a combined $18 million in the services of Aaron Hill, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald for the next two seasons, while already being on the hook for a guaranteed $9 million to Stephen Drew next year. Justification for more invasive scalp massages were then handed out by the Los Angeles Dodgers when they gave Mark Ellis $8.75 million for the next two years. Full on hair transplants were then deemed necessary after Jamey Carroll was given a two year deal worth $6.75 million by the Minnesota Twins.
If anything remains atop your head at this point, prepare for its imminent departure after Clint Barmes told MLB.com that he has signed a two year contract worth $10.5 million with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Barmes, who had a 3.1 fWAR season for the Houston Astros last season despite being below average in most offensive categories, can be counted on more for his defensive acumen than anything else.
My question is how much more value is Barmes really going to offer his new team over the likes of Pedro Ciriaco, Josh Rodriguez or even Chase D’Arnaud, who would all be earning the league minimum next season?
While I’m not sure that the higher expected wages being doled out to middle of the road middle infielders will really affect the higher tier free agents like Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, both of whom are no doubt seeking more than two years in their next contract, it must feel pretty good to be Rafael Furcal right about now. The aging shortstop was atrocious last season, both at the plate and in the field, and while won’t make as much as the $12 million he earned in 2011, a multiple year deal is surely within his reach.
The Barmes signing also represents more good news for free agent second baseman Kelly Johnson who will shortly be unshackled from his Type A compensation burden and able to be signed by interested teams without the threat of losing a draft pick. In combination with how the free agent market for middle infielders has shaken out, Johnson, despite a lackluster 2011 himself, has the potential to score big in the next month.
The market price for mediocrity may also help the San Diego Padres move shortstop Jason Bartlett, whose defensive abilities may not match some of the recent signings, but whose cost is very competitive for what he can offer with his bat in a setting other than Petco Park. He is scheduled to earn $5.5 million in 2012 and has a $5.5 million club option for 2013.
However, as Eric Seidman of FanGraphs points out:
Bartlett can’t really hit, isn’t a defensive wunderkind, and no longer has a crazy split capable of enhancing his value via role specificity. This may invite the question of what exactly there is to like about him. Really, as simple as it sounds, the fact that he is a somewhat durable shortstop — between 135-140 games the last three seasons — and doesn’t completely stink in the field is enough to generate value.
Despite declining defensive ratings and a gradually worsening bat, Bartlett has averaged 1.5 WAR since the 2010 season. Teams don’t generally seek out 1.5 WAR players to solve a problem, but in this case, paying $5.5 million for 1.5 WAR might make more sense than paying $16 million over two years for injury-ravaged 1 WAR seasons.
Nonetheless, a market will certainly exist for the remaining middle infielders as the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies look to resolve the potential departures of their shortstops, while the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays will all look to fill in middle infield holes in their lineup before considering uninspiring internal options.