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Guest Post: The Trade Market at Third Base

Posted By Bill Baer On May 2, 2012 @ 7:00 am In Guest Post,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 33 Comments

Anthony Rodin is a Phillies and Mariners fan, as well as a freelance blogger whose work has been posted on Phillies Nation and ProBallNW.  You can follow him on Twitter @AntsInIN or e-mail arod1300 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Hot Corner Hot Stove Update – Introduction and April 

In 2010 it was another starter in Roy Oswalt. In 2011, it was a slugging outfielder in Hunter Pence.  In this young season, a third baseman with power is the Phillies’ most pressing need. They lack internal options and thus will have to scour the trade market for someone at the hot corner.  While the season is barely a month old, it is becoming apparent that Placido Polanco (currently hitting .250/.299/.292) is on his last legs.  Though he may have some utility in the Wilson Valdez/Michael Martinez mold by playing around the infield once or twice a week, Polanco clearly cannot start.

Unfortunately, due to previous trades and a weak farm system, the Phillies have less to work with than in the past, especially when it comes to MLB-ready prospects.  Domonic Brown is the only player in this category, with other players like Tyson Gillies and Phillippe Aumont being relatively close but nowhere near the ceiling of Brown.  Trevor May and Jessie Biddle are still a long ways from the majors, and Biddle especially is having trouble at the lower levels.

Financially, too, the Phillies are squeezed.  Team payroll is at $174.5 million.  The luxury tax threshold for 2012 is $178 million.  That leaves very little wiggle room for the front office to get a deal done under that tax.  Of course, the front office may realize that the window for competing is rapidly closing and could just go all “damn the torpedoes” and exceed the cap anyways.  In my opinion, they can afford to eat financial costs a lot more than paying in prospects, but that may change.

Given all the above, what options are there for the Phillies?  Are there any potential matches out there this early in the season that are worth keeping an eye on as the hot stove heats up?  And if so, what are the costs, both in terms of prospects and money, that would be required to get them? Let’s take a look.  Please, remember that we are dealing with small sample sizes here, and that some players may be off the market as their teams heat up and remain in the race late into the summer, especially with the new second wildcard spot open.  I’ve lumped the candidates into 5 categories: the superstars, the defensive wastelands, the contract dumps, the long-term solutions and a smattering of possible replacement-levels.

The Superstars

David Wright – NYM

2010: .283/.354/.503, 3.9 WAR (Baseball Reference)

2011: .254/.345/.427, 1.4 WAR

2012: .383/.494/.569

Salary: 2012: $15M; 2013: $16M (club option)

Say it with me now: The Phillies are not going to trade for David Wright. The Phillies are not going to trade for David Wright. The Phillies are not going to trade for David Wright.  Got the picture?  David Wright is too expensive, both in prospects and cash. To get Wright, the Phillies would easily have to give up Brown, Aumont and one or two decent prospects to a division rival, even more if the Phils want the Mets to eat some of the salary.  Plus, Wright’s 2013 option is voided if he is traded, essentially turning him into a half-year rental.  Sure, there is nothing to prevent the Phils from going after him, but the free agency market for third basemen next year is not pretty, and lots of teams with cash will be more than happy to overpay for a slugger at a premium position.  Also, the Mets by no means have to deal Wright, as their finances are starting to stabilize as the Madoff case has been settled and the Wilpons aren’t in as dire straits as initially thought. 

Kevin Youkilis – BOS

2010: .307/.411/.564, 4.8 WAR

2011: .258/.373/.459, 4.3 WAR

2012: .219/.292/.344

Salary: 2012: $12M; 2013: $13M club option ($0.5M buyout)

Youkilis probably won’t be on the market, as the Sox are actually starting to play some decent ball and the rift between Valentine and Youkilis seems to have been smoothed over.  However, if the Sox scuffle in divisional play and find themselves in fourth or fifth come the trade deadline, Youkilis could be available as the Sox look to get younger and shed some payroll.  Youk would fit right in with the rest of the ancient Phillies infield and he is a tremendous injury risk.  However, he would also bring some much-needed patience to a free-swinging ballclub and his defense is at least league average.   To get Youk though, if he is on the market, the Phils will most likely have to get rid of their last few elite prospects, with May and Brown being requisites in the trade with at least two more mid- or lower-level guys with some projectability.  Getting Youk would, in short, turn an already depleted farm system into something looking like Depression-era Oklahoma.

The Defensive Wastelands

Mark Reynolds – BAL

2010: .198/.320/.433, 0.4 WAR

2011: .221/.323/.483, 0.5 WAR

2012: .158/.284/.228

Salary: 2012: $7.5M; 2013: $11M club option ($0.5M buyout)

Reynolds’ free-swinging ways would fit right in with the Phillies, as he has led the league in strikeouts for four straight years.  However, he also has prestigious power when he connects, belting 44, 32 and 37 homers in the last 3 years.  He would also add some balance to a still lefty-heavy lineup, providing some serious pop from the right side. Unfortunately, his glove is simply atrocious and eliminates almost all of the value his bat brings. Coupled with his high salary, especially for 2013, Reynolds shouldn’t be too expensive in terms of prospects and may not be a bad fallback choice, especially if the offensive woes continue into the summer.

Edwin Encarnacion – TOR

2010: .244/.305/.482, 1.6 WAR

2011: .272/.334/.453, 1.0 WAR

2012: .322/.376/.678

Salary: 2012: $3.5M

Encarnacion is on a tear this year, belting six homers already.  He’s more patient, cheaper, and less of a defensive abomination than Reynolds.  Unfortunately he’s a free agent after this year, making him a rental.  For the Phils, a three-month rental may not make sense, as losing even a middling prospect for such a short term player is a poor use of scarce resources.

Wilson Betemit – BAL

2010: .297/.378/.511, 1.3 WAR

2011: .285/.343/.452, 1.3 WAR

2012: .241/.268/.481

Salary: 2012: $1M; 2013: $1.75M; 2014: $3.2M player option (vests at 700 PA between 2012-2013)

Betemit has been an above-average bat and below-average glove for a few years now, and is signed relatively cheaply through at least 2013.  The reason he’s here instead of the long-term solutions is that his glove is below-average, though not nearly as bad as Reynolds’.  Betemit is a bit of a free swinger, but has power and bats from both sides (with a pretty substantial platoon split).  If Baltimore does eventually collapse as so many think they will, they have a couple of options that should be on the Phillies’ radar.

Mark Trumbo – LAA

2011: .254/.291/.477, 2.1 WAR

2012: .304/.373/.543

Salary: Arbitration-eligible beginning in 2014

There’s a reason why Trumbo is here and not the Long Term Solutions group.  Trumbo is atrocious at 3B. He is easily the worst glove in this category.  The only reason he’s at 3B to begin with is because the Angels have about 38 1B/DH/corner outfield types and they need to find some way to get all their bats in the lineup.  Thus began the Mark Trumbo Experiment, which has resulted in him making three errors in just nine chances.  He is not a long-term solution at third base for anyone.  He really doesn’t have much of a position in the field outside of first base, and the Phils have that position locked down for the next half decade.  Plus, because he is club controlled for so long, the Angels will probably charge a hefty price in prospects, which just doesn’t make sense when the return is a guy with a sub-.300 on-base percentage.

Contract Dumps

Chone Figgins – SEA

2010: .259/.340/.306, 1.1 WAR

2011: .188/.241/.243, -0.5 WAR

2012: .209/.274/.337

Salary: 2012: $9.5M; 2013: $8.5M

Full disclosure: I am a Mariners fan, and I want this bum off my team.  To Figgins’ credit, his line this year isn’t indicative of his performance.  He’s hitting more line drives but still has a .262 BABIP.  He’s connecting with the ball a lot better than he has since his Mariners contract began in 2010 (he has more home runs than even Albert Pujols!).  He can also play numerous positions — shortstop, second base, and any outfield position if necessary.  Concerning is the fact that his walk rate is down and his K rate is way up (24.2%; his previous career high was 16.2% in 2010).  Due to his high price tag, Figgins should come cheaply in terms of prospects, and the Mariners have enough salary room that they can eat the remainder of the 2012 salary.  The question is whether or not he’d truly be an upgrade over Polanco or Wigginton, or if his career is just as over as Polly’s.

Replacement-Level

I’m not going to do a full breakdown of each player here, but there are numerous guys who might be available at the trade deadline who should be cheap in both money and prospects, but who offer only a marginal upgrade over Wigginton/Polanco.  These include Casey McGehee, Jack Hannahan, and Chris Johnson. Yeah, not a lot to get excited about there, though Hannahan’s glove is really good. 

Long-Term Solutions

These are guys who the Phils should target in a trade and then, if necessary, extend them.  There is a dearth of talent at third base right now (as this post is highlighting), and if the Phils can lock down a productive or cheap (or both) bat at the position for the next few years, they should do it.

Chase Headley – SD

2010: .264/.327/.375, 3.6 WAR (.289/.334/.432 away from Petco)

2011: .289/.374/.399, 2.0 WAR (.330/.399/.465 away from Petco)

2012: .253/.388/.470

Salary: 2012: $3.475M, under arbitration through 2014

It’s hard not to like Headley, especially after seeing him destroy the Phils recently in San Diego.  Headley’s numbers have been deflated by Petco (as you can see), but he is a patient gap-hitter with a solid glove.  Headley’s patience is something the Phillies desperately need, and playing 82 games at Citizens Bank Park instead of Petco should help his numbers. With Zimmermann out, one could make the argument that Headley is among the top 3 third basemen in the NL right now.  Because he’s cheap and club controlled, Headley would most certainly cost the Phillies a fortune.  However, in looking at the free agency market for the next couple years, a corner OF like Domonic Brown is going to be a lot easier to find than an above average 3B.

Alberto Callaspo – LAA

2010: .265/.302/.374, 1.8 WAR

2011: .288/.366/.375, 4.5 WAR

2012: .182/.217/.182

Salary: 2012: $3.15M; 2013: arbitration-eligible

Callaspo is the 4-WAR guy you’ve never heard of.  While his batting line isn’t exactly sexy, he makes good contact and avoids making strikeouts.  He’s solid defensively at third base, and can also play shortstop and second base competently.  Callaspo isn’t a guy you build a team around, but he is an excellent companion piece to an already-existing core, a guy who can play a position of value well above replacement level for cheap.  The Angels are still trying to find their best lineup, which cost Callaspo playing time this year.  The Phils should even be able to get him without sacrificing Brown, though given the current state of the Angels bullpen, you figure Phillippe Aumont would have to be involved in some fashion.

Kyle Seager – SEA

2011: .258/.312/.379, 0.9 WAR

2012: .278/.288/.417

Salary: Arbitration-eligible beginning in 2015

Yes, another Mariner.  Seager’s a contact-heavy gap hitter with some pop.  He plays a solid third base, but can play second base and shortstop as well.  Like Callaspo, he’s a good young complementary piece who could lock down a position of need for the next half decade.  He’s had a rough April in terms of patience (1.4 BB%), and while he’s never drawn a lot of walks, he doesn’t strike out a lot, either.  Domonic Brown would likely have to go to Seattle in a deal involving Seager, but considering Brown’s tenuous ride with the Phillies thus far, it may be a good match for both sides. The Mariners have plenty of depth at 3B (Alex Liddi, Figgins, with Francisco Martinez and Vinnie Catricala due up the next couple years) that they can afford to trade him.

That’s the market. At this point, it’s still wide open since there are no clear buyers or sellers.  As the calendar turns from May to June, though, we’ll revisit this list and begin to separate out those who aren’t available, and add in any newcomers.


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