Free Agency: Third Basemen

Per MLB Trade Rumors, here is the list of free agent third basemen:

Rich Aurilia (38)
Brian Barden (29)
Adrian Beltre (31) – Type B
Wilson Betemit (28)
Aaron Boone (37)
Craig Counsell (39)
Joe Crede (32)
Bobby Crosby (30)
Mark DeRosa (35) – Type B
Pedro Feliz (35) – $5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Chone Figgins (32) – Type B
Nomar Garciaparra (36)
Troy Glaus (33) – Type B
Adam Kennedy (34)
Mike Lamb (34)
Mark Loretta (38)
Melvin Mora (38) – Type B
Pablo Ozuna (35)
Robb Quinlan (33)
Miguel Tejada (36) – Type A
Juan Uribe (31)

Just out of logic, I’m going to pare that list down to Beltre, Crede, DeRosa, Figgins, and Tejada. If you recall prior to the 2009 season, the Phillies had interest in replacement-level players like Aurilia and Garciaparra, among others. That won’t be the case this time around, since the Phillies have Pedro Feliz’s option to fall back on.

The Phillies could also make a trade for a third baseman, like Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals. This analysis, however, will strictly look at those available via free agency.

First, let’s look at offense using weighted on-base average, or wOBA.

Strictly looking at offense, all five of the other candidates produce about as well as Pedro Feliz.

Joe Crede’s 2007 was injury-shortened. He would be a good buy-low candidate but lacks the upside of Beltre and Figgins.

Miguel Tejada shows up on free agent lists both as a shortstop and a third baseman even though he’s never played third base at the Major League level. However, he is coming up on the back end of his career and a shift to third base would cover up his declining defense.

Mark DeRosa and Chone Figgins are the most versatile, as they can play just about every position except catcher and pitcher. Figgins, considering his speed, is exceptionally versatile and would provide a boon to the Phillies’ lineup as Jimmy Rollins, whose on-base percentage is lackluster for a lead-off hitter, could be moved lower in the order. DeRosa could spell Howard occaisionally at first base when a tough left-handed starter takes the hill.

Adrian Beltre is a good candidate for the Phillies as he plays defense about as well as Feliz and hits at a higher level, even though his wOBA has been on decline. A move from the spacious Safeco Field to the cozy Citizens Bank Park would create a nice bump in his power numbers. His right-handedness would help deter opposing teams from immediately bringing in LOOGYs to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez.

Let’s move on to base running. Since FanGraphs factors in stolen bases, we don’t want to double-count that in our analysis, so we’ll take Base Running Runs (BRR) and subtract Stolen Base Runs (SBR). Both of the metrics, by the way, can be found at Baseball Prospectus.

No surprises here: Figgins is a really good runner; Feliz is not. Upgrading from Feliz to Figgins would add about 12 runs to the Phillies’ offense, or about 1.2 wins. That’s just with base running and not even factoring in stolen bases. In fact, replacing Feliz with anybody will provide a nice facelift. The Phillies haven’t really had a third baseman who could run the bases since Scott Rolen.

Before we tie this all together, we need to look at defense. Of course, we’ll be using UZR/150.

Feliz doesn’t look so bad here, but he’s been in steady decline likely due to his age and back problems. Beltre and Figgins, on the other hand, have been improving. Crede’s 2008, while not a bad defensive season, appears flukish as he commited as many errors as he did in 2005 and ’06 combined. DeRosa’s UZR/150 numbers look good in ’07 and ’08 but they come in a small sample of just over 400 defensive innings. In ’09, he logged 874 innings at third base. Using Tejada at third base should be viewed as a last-ditch effort.

All right, let’s wrap it up. Using FanGraphs and adding in base running runs from Baseball Prospectus, we’ll simply take a look at the total value of each player.

That’s right, in 2009, Figgins was worth about as much as Mark DeRosa, Miguel Tejada, and Adrian Beltre combined. Figgins, more than any other third baseman, should be in the Phillies’ crosshairs. Of course, they have other fish to fry, like adding depth to the starting rotation and getting a reliable arm in the back of the bullpen.

By the way, another decent under-the-radar candidate is Felipe Lopez. He had a .356 wOBA in 2009, though he hasn’t played much third base and when he has, it hasn’t been at a high level. Thankfully, he’s minimally ineffective on the bases (-0.3 BRR-SBR). He was worth about four and a half wins to the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009. That may not be his true talent level, but he’s right up there with Beltre and Tejada.

What can we gather from this? The Phillies can make a huge improvement by getting Chone Figgins, and they can slightly improve by signing anyone else mentioned in this analysis. Picking up Feliz’s $5.5 million option is safe and easy, as it only binds them for one more year and it doesn’t cost them too much money.

Spending, say, $10 million on a third baseman who provides 2.5 WAR would be a better idea than spending $5.5 million on Feliz and $4.5 million or so on a reliever who won’t provide at least 1.5 WAR. For comparison’s sake, Chan Ho Park provided exactly 1.5 WAR for the Phillies in ’09. Only 22 of 145 (15%) qualified relievers, including closers, provided at least 1.5 WAR. 15 of the 22 (68%) were closers.

The Phillies should jump through hoops to sign Figgins. Otherwise, Beltre — for his defense (considering there will be at least three left-handed pitchers in the starting rotation) and his right-handedness — should be #2 on the list. Among Crede, DeRosa, and Tejada, the Phillies should go for whoever comes the cheapest. Feliz’s option should only be picked up if the Phillies can’t find the financial flexibility to mend other areas (back of the rotation, back of the bullpen) while fixing third base as well.