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The Strike Zone

Ranking the All-Could-Have-Been-A-Free-Agent Team against position players on the open market

Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez, BrewersRyan Braun (left) and Carlos Gomez would have been the best free-agent outfielders available, as ranked by bWAR from the last two seasons. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

On Monday, we presented our All-Could-Have-Been-A-Free-Agent Team, which demonstrated just how underwhelming this year's market is. Below is a comparison of how the position players we chose have stacked up in recent years with the ones at their position who did reach free agency this winter (a similar comparison for the pitchers will follow). The free agents and their rankings come from the Reiter 50, the annual list of the top free agents in the game compiled by SI.com's Ben Reiter. For comparison, I used each player's total Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference.com version) from the past two seasons. As you can see below, at almost every position, the player who did not make it to free agency -- listed in the table in all caps -- would have been the best among the group.

Because of injuries and changed circumstances, one year of data isn't enough to get a great sense of where a player ranks within a given position's hierarchy, and while three years is probably more appropriate, I'm going to stick with two years because it provides a good sense of the trends involved. Keep in mind that 2.0 WAR is roughly the equivalent of a league-average regular at the position, while 5.0 WAR is All-Star caliber. Without further ado:

Catcher

Could-Have-Been Team: Chris Iannetta

Free AgentReiter 50 Rank2012-13 bWAR
Carlos Ruiz496.2
A.J. Pierzynski304.5
Jarrod Saltalamacchia204.3
IANNETTAN/R3.3
Brian McCann43.0

As noted on Monday, this isn't a position that would be greatly affected by the addition of another mid-market option. What's most interesting is how much focus is on McCann, whose two-year value has been depressed by a shoulder injury that resulted in his two lowest seasons of playing time since his abbreviated rookie year of 2005. While anyone chasing him is buying him more for his bat -- and a chance to DH a significant part of the time -- than his glove, his past two years rank eighth and sixth, respectively, among his eight full seasons in terms of single-season OPS+.

First base/DH

Could-Have-Been Team: Joey Votto, Billy Butler

Free AgensReiter 50 Rank2012-2013 bWAR
VOTTON/R12.1
Mike Napoli65.7
Kendrys Morales184.9
BUTLERN/R4.7
Justin Morneau403.3
Corey Hart292.0
James Loney391.7
Paul Konerko330.3

For the purposes of this piece, I've lumped all the DH types into the first base group since the ones in the Reiter 50 have spent significant time there. Obviously, none of these players are anywhere near as good as Votto, and only Napoli and Morales are hitting the market with the equivalent of back-to-back seasons of at least average play (roughly 4.0 WAR) under their belts.

Second base

Could-Have-Been Team: Chase Utley

Free AgentReiter 50 Rank2012-2013 bWAR
Robinson Cano116.1
UTLEYN/R6.5
Omar Infante325.2
Kelly Johnson503.0

In terms of two-year value, Cano towers above the rest of the field, with nearly five more wins than second-ranked the Red Sox' Dustin Pedroia (11.4) in that span. Utley was once the guy who towered over the field himself, but now he's merely a good option. For ranking purposes, I've classified utilityman Kelly Johnson here based upon his having far more starts at second base (147) than leftfield (50) or other positions (35) over the past two years.

Shortstop

Could-Have-Been Team: Asdrubal Cabrera

Free AgentReiter 50 Rank2012-2013 bWAR
CABRERAN/R4.5
Jhonny Peralta214.5
Stephen Drew152.7

Cabrera is tied with Peralta in terms of two-year value despite the latter's 50-game Biogenesis suspension. He's also nearly four years younger. Keeping in mind that neither player is a threat to win a Gold Glove and may not be a shortstop for much longer, which would you rather bank upon?

Third base

Could-Have-Been Team: David Wright

Free AgentReiter 50 Rank2012-2013 bWAR
WRIGHTN/R12.8
Juan Uribe343.8

Wright reaped a windfall with last year's $138 million extension, but given what a team-friendly deal that was, one has to think that he would stand to gain far more on the open market, as he'd rank right behind Cano among the top free agents.

Outfield

Could-Have-Been Team: Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Justin Upton

Free AgentReiter 50 Rank2012-2013 bWAR
GOMEZN/R10.8
BRAUNN/R9.0
Shin-Soo Choo37.6
Jacoby Ellsbury26.8
Carlos Beltran116.2
J. UPTONN/R4.9
Marlon Byrd254.5
Curtis Granderson134.1
Nelson Cruz102.4
Nate McLouth262.1
Michael Morse41-1.0
I've lumped all the outfielders together for the purposes of the table and the intraposition rankings. Ellsbury is the only full-time centerfielder from among this group, with Granderson having been pushed to a corner this past season. Using the 2.0 WAR per year baseline as average, that's five above-average players actually available but still nothing close to a perennial All-Star, at least on performance instead of reputation; Beltran has made the NL squad in each of the past three years while averaging 3.6 WAR per year in that span.
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