Free agent watchers are already looking ahead to the offseason after next.
The biggest names are the three superstar first basemen currently in line to reach the open market following the 2011 season: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. And with Ryan Howard's recent $125 million contract extension, there is already speculation that the salaries for this trio of free agents could go through the roof. However, there could be another bumper crop of free agents just one position over from the coveted first basemen during that same offseason. This group may not boast the star power of the first basemen, but it's a deeper bunch.
Following the 2011 season, a plethora of second basemen could be open for bidding, including Robinson Cano, Aaron Hill, Kelly Johnson, Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks. There's also Jose Lopez, but the Mariners have been playing him at third base of late.
The Yankees hold a $14 million club option on Cano for 2012 and the Reds have a $12 million option on Phillips. Even if those options are exercised, there would still be a number of quality second basemen available, none older than Uggla, who will be 32 at the start of the 2012 season.
Many things could happen between now and 15 days after the final out of the 2011 World Series when eligible players can begin filing for free agency. However, in the spirit of it never being too early to look ahead, let's take a peek at what kind of seasons PECOTA projects for the potential crop of free-agent second basemen in 2012 along with their MORP (Marginal Value Above Replacement Player), a Baseball Prospectus metric modeled on the behavior of recent free-agent markets and which accounts for non-linearity in the market price of baseball talent.
Second is the best?
In 2011, there will be a deep crop of free-agent second basemen.
It's hard to imagine the Yankees won't extend Cano, but there will still be plenty of options on the free-agent market. The Brewers need to be careful, because not only might they lose Fielder, they could also lose Weeks, who finally appears to be coming into his own. But with so many players at the same position on the market at the same time, don't be surprised if there are some bargains to be had.
John Perrotto is editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.