Hi, everybody, I've been a lurker around here for a while, but there's something that I've seen repeated enough, that I'm coming out of hiding to set things right.
I keep reading something like the following: The A's should hold off on moving Adrian Cardenas to 3b because he's a much more valuable prospect at 2b.
This belief comes from a combination of conventional thinking and the fact that there are far fewer quality 2b prospects in the minors right now than 3b prospects. In reality the answer is quite the opposite--Adrian Cardenas is much more valuable to A's at third--for a couple reasons.
1. The assumption that it is more difficult to play 2b than 3b is wrong, or at least very debatable. In the era of VORP, we've been taught to think of value relative to average offense for the position, i.e. since 2b as a whole hit worse than 3b as a whole, we assume 2b are better defenders. This has more to do with a combination of an excellent generation of 3b and a tendency for modern managers to tolerate worse hitters at 2b than a difference in difficulty between the positions. There's a different skill set required--2b need more range, 3b need better hands and a stronger arm--but 2b isn't really any harder than 3b.
Probably the biggest innovation we saw this year among the sabermetric community was an emphasis on positional adjustments based on difficulty in playing the position over relative-to-average-hitter-at-position adjustments, like VORP. Mostly pioneered by Tom Tango, position adjustments conclude that 2b and 3b (and CF) are equally difficult to play. So, assuming that Cardenas is an equally good defender at 3b as 2b (admittedly a big assumption), then he's equally valuable at either place in an absolute sense.
2. The A's, unlike virtually every other team in baseball except for those lucky enough to have an Utley or Pedroia, are much better off at 2b than 3b.
Mark Ellis may continue to have injury problems, and he's not a great hitter, but he's signed to a very reasonable contract for a while, and is such a good defender that even when he's hitting as badly as he was last year, he's an average player. We all know about Jemile Weeks, who is currently tearing it up in high A, and he looks like a decent bet to be the 2b of the future once Ellis steps out of the way. In addition, they have Patterson*, Petit and Pennington in AAA, all acceptable short-term fill-ins.
And, as you may have realized by now, there's not much at third. Chavez isn't walking through that door, Garciapparra is held together with duct tape, and Hannahan, well, I think Hannahan gets a bad rap around these parts--he's a good enough defender that he's far from a sink hole--but you'd much rather have him as your Plan B (or C) in AAA than someone who has to play 120 games a year.
*I think Patterson is also very undervalued around here. He's showed he can hit AAA pitching well enough to play a corner outfield spot there, and that's good enough to be fringe-average at 2b in the majors even with poor defense. He hasn't looked great in his couple chances, but give him time to settle in, and he'll do just fine. He's much better than Petit.
The A's situation at 3rd is so dire that people are salivating at the idea of Neil Walker, Josh Fields and Allen Craig (hint: those guys suck). If Cardenas is the 3b of the future, then we don't have to worry about only targeting a 3b in a possible deal for Holliday (not that that would be a good idea anyway) and turning down a chance to get someone like Austin Jackson, Jordan Schaefer, or whoever the most talented player available is.
Moreover, 2b are generally undervalued, so it's much easier to find a decent one for cheap than a 3b if Weeks doesn't pan out and/or Ellis doesn't get back to his old self.
Basically, every fact about the current situation in Oakland says we're fine at second and in desperate need of a third baseman, and it's not like we're talking about moving a SS to 1b to fill a need. Instead, it's more like moving a LF to RF. Taking all of this together, Adrian Cardenas should be the A's 3b of the future.
Now, if only we could find a shortstop.