The AL East is now in its second year of the post-Robinson Cano era, and the landscape is grim. Since Cano bolted the Yankees for a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners in December 2013, the overall second base quality on both his former team and the division has taken a hit. Yankees fans in particular might grumble particularly loudly about the questionable second basemen that the team has used, but they are far from the only team in the division to have giant question marks at the position.
Likely starting second baseman: Maicer Izturis
2014: 11 G, .286/.324/.314, 1 2B, 0 HR, 80 wRC+, 0.2 WAR
Right off the bat, the Blue Jays make the point that the Yankees aren't alone in their search for a second baseman. Signed to a three-year deal prior to the 2013 campaign, the 34-year-old Izturis, one of the last remaining Expos, missed almost all of the 2014 season with a ligament tear in his left knee. Of course it's not like he was an All-Star before the injury either--in 2013, he only managed to hit .236/.288/.310 with a 62 wRC+ in 107 games. If Izturis is indeed the favorite to be Toronto's starter at second, he might have an even weaker hold on the position than Stephen Drew. Somewhere, Roberto Alomar weeps.
The Blue Jays have already run into problems with Izturis as their scheduled starter, as he strained his groin about a week ago and will miss at least the first 10 days of the season. That opens up the door for a number of candidates to potentially fill in at second. From last year's Toronto squad, there's utilitymen Steve Tolleson, Ryan Goins, and Munenori Kawasaki. The latter two players are abysmal hitters, as evidenced by their .188/.209/.271 and .258/.327/.296 triple slashes in 2014, respectively. Kawasaki in particular was a non-roster invitee, so he's probably ticketed for the minors or release. If Goins makes the team, it would most likely just be in a Brendan Ryan-esque bench role. Tolleson did hit .253/.308/.371 with a modest 90 wRC+ in 109 games at the big league level last year, so he would be the best of the aforementioned three Blue Jays to get the job.
However, a newcomer is making matters interesting. The new kid on the block is 24-year-old Devon Travis, who was acquired from the Tigers in the off-season in exchange for speedster Anthony Gose. After a breakout 2013 in which he batted .351/.418/.518 with 177 hits across two levels of A-ball, Travis spent last year with the Double-A Erie SeaWolves, where he again impressed with a .298/.358/.460 triple slash and a 126 wRC+, although he did miss time with an oblique injury. Travis is also a fine fielder and considered the sixth-best second base prospect in baseball, one spot ahead of the Yankees' Rob Refsnyder. Thanks to this background and an excellent spring training so far, Travis is considered the frontrunner for Opening Day, and considering his potential, it would not be surprising at all if Travis "Wally Pipped" Izturis.
Likely starting second baseman: Jonathan Schoop
2014: 137 G, .209/.244/.354, 18 2B, 16 HR, 65 wRC+, 1.5 WAR
Buck Showalter was probably hoping to see a lot more from Schoop in his first full season in the majors last year. A former Top 100 Prospect and the top position player in their system at the end of 2013, Schoop demonstrated some solid power numbers but not much else. He followed the worst part of the Adam Jones School of Hitting, as he walked just 13 times in 455 plate appearances, a mere 2.7% walk rate. Not even plus defense at second could really make up for hitting numbers that shaky. Perhaps the scariest part of it was the fact that for all of longtime Oriole Brian Roberts's struggles in 2014 with the Yankees, he still hit better than Schoop with a .237/.300/.360 slash and an 84 wRC+.
For all his problems at the plate in 2014 however, the Curacao native only turned 23 in October. He still has plenty of time to figure himself out. The win-now O's need to make up some of the missing threats in the order given the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis though, so they would really like to see Schoop take a big step forward in 2015. Behind him on the depth chart is 28-year-old Ryan Flaherty, who while not imposing in the batter's box, still managed to post a wRC+ of 79 that was superior to Schoop. This guy has serious potential, but can he capitalize on it in his second go-around?
Likely starting second baseman: Nick Franklin
2014: 28 G, .160/.222/.247, 2 2B, 1 HR, 34 wRC+, -0.3 WAR
A great deal of fans were puzzled by the Rays' seemingly meager return on the David Price trade at the deadline last year, as all they received for a year and a half of one of baseball's best lefties was Franklin, starter Drew Smyly, and minor league shortstop Willy Adames. Then-GM Andrew Friedman felt confident in Franklin's ability to turn around what had been an up-and-down professional career with the Mariners, so he will certainly get his shot with the Rays, where he isn't blocked by Cano and no longer has to compete with fellow youngsters Chris Taylor or Brad Miller for playing time.
As a 22-year-old in 2013, Franklin caught attention with an awesome first half, when he hit .268/.337/.451 with 16 extra-base hits and a 122 wRC+ in 41 games. Unfortunately for him, the last part of the season was a nightmare, and he didn't fare much better in his short time with the Mariners last year. In fact, he spent most of 2014 with Triple-A Tacoma since the Mariners felt more comfortable with Taylor and Miller at shortstop than Franklin. Franklin did produce a .294/.392/.455 batting line with Tacoma, but his Triple-A production dipped when he was dealt and reported to Durham. A .210/.288/.290 triple slash in 27 games wasn't really what the Rays wanted.
Nonetheless, this is Franklin's best chance to establish that he can be a useful major league player. He's working through an oblique strain right now, forcing skipper Kevin Cash to start clear bench player Logan Forsythe on Opening Day, but when he recovers, the second base job is his. Tampa had hoped that he would snatch the shortstop job from free agent signing Asdrubal Cabrera, but that's not happening, at least not right now. Like Schoop, Franklin really needs to prove his worth in the pros, and he doesn't have Schoop's glove to fall back on.
Likely starting second baseman: Dustin Pedroia
2014: 135 G, .278/.337/.376, 33 2B, 7 HR, 99 wRC+, 4.8 WAR
Cano's longtime counterpart in Boston, Pedroia's almost certainly the best second baseman in the division, but at this point, it's pretty much by default. When the Red Sox inked Pedroia to an eight-year, $110 million extension in the middle of 2013, most writers considered it a generous discount, especially in contrast to the free agent contract Cano later received. It's still a decent deal, but 2015 Pedroia doesn't exactly inspire the same amount of confidence that he once did.
Once a player who could be counted on for about 40 doubles and double-digit home run totals, the pop seems to have left Pedroia's bat. A .376 slugging percentage and a 99 wRC+ remains good for a second baseman, but those figures are nowhere near the numbers he used to post. He dealt with wrist inflammation early in the 2014 season that appeared to bother him all year, eventually leading to an operation on his wrist. Although it was not nearly as serious as the wrist problems that Mark Teixeira had, it's a concern regardless. Pedroia's quick wrists generated most of his power just a couple years ago, and if they're not one hundred percent, then he could have another inconsistent year at the plate.
Pedroia is still obviously Boston's best option considering his contract and his elite defense, but the red flags for his future have already been planted. The horror stories of previously standout second basemen declining at an alarming rate are well-known: Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Chuck Knoblauch... the list goes on and on. Can Pedroia be like a Chase Utley or Joe Morgan and buck the trend, or will he fall victim as well?
Likely starting second baseman: Stephen Drew
2014: 85 G, .162/.237/.299, 14 2B, 7 HR, 44 wRC+, -0.3 WAR
At last, we end with Yankees fans' favorite whipping boy, Stephen Drew. I fall in the "Drew defenders" camp for a number of reasons, but even people who liked the Yankees signing him to a one-year deal understand the risks. Drew was absolutely abysmal in 2014 after sitting out spring training waiting for a better contract. After a few months of play, the "no spring training" excuse seemed less valid, and there was still no improvement on his horrid production. He somehow played even worse than Roberts did during a first half that led to his release.
The Yankees don't feel totally comfortable handing the second base job over to bat-first prospect Rob Refsnyder or Triple-A standout Jose Pirela, so the starting role is Drew's for the time being (especially with Pirela out indefinitely due to that ugly concussion). A career shortstop, Drew only began playing second last year when the Yankees acquired him, but since he was already a reputable defender at the tougher position of shortstop, there's not too much concern over his ability to handle second. It's certainly less worrisome than using Refsnyder, a converted outfielder who needs serious improvement or Pirela, a utilityman whose defense isn't inspiring either.
It's also hard to shake the idea that Drew's game went to hell that quickly. Sure, it's happened before to superior players, as previously noted with the Alomar and Sandberg examples, but they were older than Drew, who is 32. Hell, as recently as 2013, he hit .253/.333/.443 with a 109 wRC+. While Fenway Park certainly helped inflate those numbers, it's not like Yankee Stadium is a pitcher's paradise either. If Drew can even be a good portion of that 2013 form, say a 95 wRC+ producer, then he would be an immensely helpful bridge to Refsnyder. I'm a big believer in Refsnyder, but if there's even a chance Drew could be useful, then it's best to just play him and let Refsnyder develop a little more with the glove. Rushing prospects just isn't a great idea--the Canos of the world are the exception rather than the rule. Let's actually see if Drew can be useful or not with a full spring training rather than immediately declaring him the next Tony Womack. It's not like the division's other second basemen right now are fierce, either.