We’re talking about a guy who hit .310/.383/.427 with nine homers and a career-best 38 doubles in 2009. A guy who had a WAR of 4.6 — the 15th highest WAR in the NL. A guy who Fangraphs says was worth $20.6 million.
Moreover, there are several teams that could really use an upgrade at second base, including the Cardinals, Mets, Indians, A’s and Royals.
So how is he still a free agent?
Here are three things that are likely giving GMs pause:
1. Lopez was lucky last season. His batting average on balls in play in 2009 was .360, which was one of the highest marks in the National League. He likely won’t replicate that mark in 2010, so you can expect his OBP to drop. Expect something in the .350 range, rather than the .383 clip he logged in 2009.
2. Lopez isn’t as good of a defender as his 2009 Ultimate Zone Rating would suggest. At least, I don’t think so. It’s a little hard to tell, since he’s still relatively new to second base, having spent the majority of his first few big league seasons at shortstop (where he wasn’t good at all). And one year’s worth of UZR data isn’t enough to draw any conclusions. You need three seasons. It’s safe to say Lopez is a better second baseman than he was a shortstop. How much better? That’s to be determined.
3. His agent, up until yesterday, was Scott Boras, and Boras was probably insisting that teams pay Lopez like the sure-handed (according to UZR) on-base machine that he was in 2009, instead of the middling fielder and only average hitter he was in the three seasons prior.
Said Lopez in 2008 after he was cut by the Nationals: “This is definitely not the end of me.” And he was right. Lopez has resurrected his career, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him wear a big league uniform for another five or six seasons.
But let’s not get carried away. It’s extremely unlikely that Lopez morphed into a nearly five-win player overnight. Presumably, his new agents know this, and they know most baseball GMs know this (except Ed Wade, of course, but he’s already got a second baseman).
It’s a bummer for Lopez, who no-doubt hoped his big 2009 would land him a lucrative multi-year deal. At this point, he’ll likely have to settle for a one-year contract.
Hey, at least things aren’t all bad.