Addressing the Third Base Situation
As you have read here ad nauseam, third base is a very shallow position across Major League Baseball. Having lived through the waning of Placido Polanco‘s career, the Phillies will likely be moving on despite his relatively cheap $5.5 million option. Polanco played in just 90 games in 2012, missing time due to injuries to his back, knee, ankle, and wrist. In moving on, however, the Phillies can pick from an uninspiring list that includes Geoff Blum, Miguel Cairo, Eric Chavez, Mark DeRosa, Maicer Izturis, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Jose Lopez, and Scott Rolen. They can also choose another go-around with Ty Wigginton. Players whose options may not be picked up by their current teams include Brandon Inge, Mark Reynolds, and Kevin Youkilis.
Here’s a look at how each player fared in 2012 by wOBA. “Ptn %” refers to the percentage of PA in which the player had the platoon advantage (e.g. RH hitter vs. LH pitcher or LH hitter vs. RH pitcher). Kouzmanoff was excluded because he did not play in the Majors at all in 2012.
The average third baseman posted a .320 wOBA. Of the 12 players listed, only three posted above-average offensive numbers during the regular season. The bottom of the list you can immediately cross off due to the combination of age, poor performance, and lack of playing time. Each player has a significant deficiency, and you can put them into separate groups. For instance, Chavez and Izturis are platoon-exclusive players; Youkilis and Rolen are injury-prone; Reynolds and Wigginton can’t play defense; and Izturis, Inge, and Lopez can’t hit.
Among players under contract, the obvious name is Chase Headley, but as the past trade deadline indicated, the San Diego Padres’ asking price is very, very high and the Phillies no longer have a Minor League system overflowing with attractive prospects. The Padres have prospect Jedd Gyorko, a 23-year-old who posted a .968 OPS at Triple-A Tucson, ready to take over in the event Headley is moved. Other third basemen are young, cheap, and under team control for a while, including Kyle Seager, Mike Moustakas, Pedro Alvarez, and Chris Johnson — more or less unavailable via trade unless Ruben Amaro is willing to grossly overpay. The rest constitute a combination of old and expensive players such as Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, and Alex Rodriguez and their teams wouldn’t make them available save for the most lucrative of returns.
This barren third base market is the reason why Amaro considered moving Utley to third base. That idea is problematic, however, because Utley demonstrated over his entire career that his arm, weak and inaccurate, is his worst defensive attribute. Moreover, his offense (.356 wOBA) is significantly more valuable at second base (avg. wOBA .309) than at third base. The more realistic in-house solution would be to utilize Kevin Frandsen and/or Freddy Galvis at third base. Galvis (.266 wOBA) would need the world’s supply of steroids to adequately hit well enough at the hot corner, but would make up at least some of the lacking offense with great defense — he does have the arm to make cross-diamond throws. Otherwise, the Phillies will be hoping Frandsen can stave off the looming specter of regression.
Fixing third base will require some shrewd, outside-the-box thinking. Since taking over for Pat Gillick after the 2008 season, Amaro has shown the propensity to opt for the obvious home run move, such as signing Cliff Lee and trading for Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. Though to his credit, he did pick Frandsen and Juan Pierre out of the garbage bin as well. 2013’s third base solution appears to require more striking of lightning in a bottle.