In a previous post I explained some background of the Alaska Railroaders – a fictional Major League Baseball club with a roster consisting of free agents at the start of the 2016 season. I also shared that the team’s first signing would be Garrett Jones (who is currently playing in Japan) and that he would be the primary first baseman.
The starting second baseman would be Dan Uggla. Uggla’s last truly productive season was 2012, but “the last frontier” would give Uggla one last chance to start. The second base market was thin by the time the regular season started, but Uggla could prove himself worthy by supplying power to the lineup. Uggla had a difficult 2015, finishing with a slash of .183/.298/.300, but the 235 career home runs and name recognition (if this team existed, that would be important) offer some appeal. However, Uggla would probably have sit a few games here or there to break up cold streaks, meaning that someone else would also see considerable time at second base for the Railroaders. With some pressure taken off of him, Uggla may be able to move north of the “Mendoza Line” (on a team of all free agents, there isn’t necessarily someone waiting in the wings to take your job). Uggla also knows how to take a walk, but the real hope here is that he will be able to run into a few. I see Uggla definitely playing more than half of the games (if he can stay healthy) for the Railroaders, unless his numbers were truly unbearable. Put him down for 13 home runs home runs along with a .202/.298/.360 slash across 381 at bats. The resulting OPS is not good (.658) but survivable if Uggla delivers some pop.
Everth Cabrera would be the starting shortstop. Cabrera’s career slash of .246/.315/.328 makes clear that he is a light hitter, but his defense is solid. Playing the majority of the time, Cabrera could reasonably repeat his 2014 campaign (.232/.272/.300, 3 home runs, 18 steals). The ability to steal a few bases comes as a welcome addition to this roster. The Railroaders could count on Cabrera for .234/.307/.324, with three home runs and maybe upwards of 15 steals.
The position of third base allows this entire speculation to get creative: Jae-gyun Hwang was posted in December by the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization for bidding and did not receive a bid. For the purposes of this project, the Alaska Railroaders did submit a bid and were able to agree to terms with Hwang. Last season, Hwang posted a .290/.350/.521 in the hitter-friendly KBO, while racking up 26 home runs, 97 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. Generally, the recent wave of Korean players has demonstrated that most can prove capable in Major League Baseball. Jung Ho Kang, Dae-Ho Lee, and Hyun Soo Kim have all played well thus far in their MLB careers. Slugger Byung Ho Park has struggled, but will certainly get another chance this season with the Minnesota Twins. Hwang was especially good in Korea during 2014 and 2015 (and presently for the 2016 season is hitting .327/.375/.569 with 17 home runs) and should be at least serviceable for the Railroaders. Hwang, 27-years-old to start the season, will man the hot corner full-time. Strikeouts will be a concern for Hwang, and he will not walk much. That said, the Railroaders will need to march him onto the field each day (and the team would hope that he holds up over a longer MLB season). Hwang could be counted on for .277/.309/.410 while belting 14 home runs, stealing a dozen bases, and providing a spark for the Railroaders offense.
The market is very thin at catcher (as per the eligibility limitations for this team). The Railroaders will start the season with Humberto Quintero serving as the primary catcher, with Ryan Doumit as a backup option. Doumit could also help in right field and at first base if there is a need. Neither of these players could be expected to stay healthy the entire season, especially considering the demands of the position (and the age of each). I am hard-pressed to count on Quintero to start more than 65 games behind home plate. Doumit may be able to contribute 60 games as the backstop, but that leaves 37 games remaining. Of course, most teams use multiple catchers throughout the season as injuries dictate. Quintero and Doumit would simply start the season by sharing the position. Quintero fares somewhat better against left-handed pitching, while Doumit fares better against the more common right-landed hurlers. However, Quintero plays the position better. Quintero should be able to muster .230/.258/.315 across 248 at bats, while hitting three home runs. Doumit is a bit more dangerous at the plate than his counterpart. Doumit will also see extra at bats through his occasional appearance in right field or first base, as well as his ability to pinch hit. Regardless of how the Railroaders use him, Doumit logs just over 250 at bats, hits .261/.339/.412, and slugs eight home runs.
Rounding out the infield would be the reserves: Michael Morse, Kevin Frandsen, and Joaquin Arias. Arias and Frandsen are utility players. Either can spell Uggla, Cabrera, or Hwang as needed. Frandsen would most likely see considerable time at second if Uggla should really struggle. Frandsen could receive around 200 at bats, hitting .256/.300/.360 with four home runs. Morse would serve as the right-handed half of the platoon at first base with Jones. If Morse were to play really well (anything close to how he played in 2010-2012 or 2014), he could force Jones to move to right field more often so that the Railroaders could have both of their bats in the lineup. Arguably, Morse could see upwards of 200 at bats, especially if he sees time as a pinch hitter and designated hitter during interleague play, and hit .265/.342/.404 with five home runs.
Up next: the outfielders.