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11/08/11 10:00 AM EST

Power potential in free-agent keystoners

Second-base market lacks stars, but reliability can be had

Second base has never been much of an offensive position. When a team has one who can hit, it usually tries to keep him. Such was the case when the Yankees and Reds picked up their options on Robinson Cano and Brandon Phillips, respectively.

Both decisions were considered no-brainers, and while they significantly weakened the market of free-agent second basemen this offseason, it doesn't mean that a worthwhile addition can't be made. There are plenty of reliable, solid, pick-your-synonym types, with some upside to be found, too.

There has been a downward offensive trend at second base. Major League second basemen hit .276 in 2008. In 2011, they batted .260. The average for all hitters, regardless of position, fell nine points in that same time.

Kelly Johnson hit the most home runs, 21, of any of the current free-agent second basemen. That tied him for fourth-most in the Majors at the position. Aaron Hill, whom the Blue Jays traded to the D-backs for Johnson, is also a free agent, and he had a combined 62 home runs from 2009-10, second at the position only to Dan Uggla's 64.

Hill didn't keep pace with that output last season, hitting a combined eight homers between Toronto and Arizona. But his final 33 games in Phoenix produced an impressive line: a .315 average, .386 on-base percentage and .492 slugging percentage.

2011 awards
MLB.com takes a glance at each position entering the Hot Stove season.

SP: Plenty of mid-tier arms
RP: Closers flood market
1B: Pujols, Prince elite
2B: Thin but reliable
3B: Aramis the lone big bat
SS: Attention on Reyes
OF: Bargains available
DH: Ortiz the top target
Hot Stove MLBlog
Hot Stove Tracker

The D-backs had an $8 million club option on Hill for next year, but they decided against exercising it. The D-backs have expressed a desire to have Hill back, but are hoping to do so at a lower price tag. Hill recently switched agents, moving from the Beverly Hills Sports Council to Greg Genske.

There are some veterans available. Mark Ellis, 34, did well at Coors Field after the A's traded him to the Rockies. Jamey Carroll, who turns 38 in February, played in a career-high 143 games for the Dodgers last season. Craig Counsell, 41, could retire after hitting just .178 for the Brewers.

There's also a possibility that shortstops or even third basemen could switch over to second as they enter the later stages of their career.

Looking to buy: With most of the candidates putting up similar numbers, there could be a carousel-like rotation of second basemen. The Dodgers, Rockies, D-backs, Blue Jays and Cardinals figure to be keeping a close watch.

Top dog: Besides Hill and Johnson, Clint Barmes' bat has power, and he could make a return to playing second base full-time. He started 120 games at shortstop this past season with the Astros, but he's made 262 big league starts at second as well. Barmes hit 12 home runs, pretty good power for the position this past season.

Best of the rest: Bill Hall played in just 62 games -- his fewest since 2003 -- but he spent most of his time at second and can still play a variety of positions. ... Nick Punto had a .278 average and a .388 on-base percentage in 63 games for the Cardinals, with whom he signed as a free agent last offseason, but had a subpar postseason. ... Jerry Hairston hit .270 with a .344 OBP between the Nationals and Brewers, but his .385 average in the postseason might prove to have been an eye-opener. ... Aaron Miles' .275 average and .314 OBP for the Dodgers should bring him some suitors.

Worth a shot: Willie Bloomquist, Alex Cora, Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Adam Kennedy, Felipe Lopez, Jose Lopez, Ramon Santiago and Jack Wilson.

Potential class of 2013: Cano ($15 million club option); Phillips; Howard Kendrick, Angels; Jeff Keppinger, Giants; Ian Kinsler, Rangers ($10 million club option) and Orlando Hudson, Padres ($8 million club option).

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.