The third base situation for the A's has been in flux for the last eleventy billion years. Well not really, but it sure seems like that has been the case after the dominant portion of Eric Chavez's career ceded to the 60 day DL portion of Eric Chavez's career. With not only the seemingly infinitesimally small odds of Eric Chavez returning to his 2004 form, and his contract set to expire soon whether he rebounds or not, now is certainly the time to turn out attention to the hot corner. First, I will look at internal options for the position, then I will look at external options to fill 3b, which will show that, with the exception of a F'king A must take deal steal of a deal that it would be irresponsible to predicate the construction of a team upon, that offering Adrian Beltre a 4/32 contract is the best option currently available to fill 3b.
Internally, the cupboard pretty bare. At the major league level you have McPhoxez a three headed monster that may get hurt just trying to put a uniform on. Counting on Chavez to assume any meaningful and productive playing time (though the Bill James projection system seems to think he would be league average with the bat if he ever picked one up in a game) has historically been, and likely will continue to be, a folly. McPherson's had two back surgeries as well and hasn't had any meaningful time in the majors in three years and never played more than 60 games in a season, nor has he played enough games in his career combined to have a full season in the field. While I supported his signing as a completely no risk proposition, counting on McPherson to have a meaningful and positive contribution is also foolish.
Jake Fox appears to be the best hope at the MLB level. Bill Jame's projection system shows him being a .375 wOBA player next year. If he is, he will be an excellent DH which will get his abominable defense away from our young pitchers. I don't believe he is even close to being that good. I believe that at 3b he is likely to put up -12.5 defense if left there over 150 games (just less than his UZR numbers from last year). That makes him a 1 WAR player if he does that over a full season with a league average bat. With the young pitching staff that has a fair number of ground ballers aboard, it seems like an unwise move to put such a butcher at the hot corner if the goal is as Beane has said a couple of times to protect the young pitching.
Adrian Cardenas' permanent shift to third base prevents the third base cupboard beyond Fox from being completely bare. I have rated Cardenas highly in the past, including 2nd on my post signing deadline prospect list (the numerical projections are off there as I forgot to divide wOBA by 1.15 when converting it to runs leading to way more projected offense than it should have) and voted for him in the second slot for the community list (before the acquisition of Michael Taylor). This is what I wrote at the time with correct numbers substituted.
Lack of power projection turning into power in the box score is concerning but scouts say that he can hit .300 in his sleep so with his walk rate he becomes a very good player even without the power. If he hits close to .300, he is a excellent candidate to hit something like .300/.375/.400 in the bigs which is good for about 9 BRAA. His defense at third should be at least average once he learns the position. Essentially Cardenas is a good bet to be a 3 WAR player once he gets settled in the bigs and could be a 4 WAR player [or beyond if his defense and his power exceed expectations]. That is a very good prospect with the chance to be one of those extraordinarily valuable players who gets absolutely no street cred.
If Cardenas adds a little power he would get more valuable, as even an additional .025 to that ISO contributes about another 4 runs. He has the defensive tools to be an above average defender which could easily turn him into an all-star caliber (4 WAR) player.
Why would one who thinks highly of Adrian Cardenas want to block him for possibly four years? Cardenas' is often a player without a position because he projects to be average or above defensively at both 2b and 3b, along with being anywhere from bad to cover your eyes bad at SS. And while the A's third base hole seems massive now, Mark Ellis' contract expires at the end of 2010 (though with an affordable option remaining). Ellis is no longer a spring chicken at 32 who has played more than 125 games just once in the last five seasons. Ellis' discipline slipped last year and he barely looks like a 2 WAR league average player this year. More concerning is the lack of range that Ellis showed during the year, which was the calling card of his excellent defense. If Ellis is unable to regain the range he had, he is no longer a league average player. Additionally, betting on Ellis in 2011 is problematic especially since he can play no other position besides second base, so if the need to replace him during the year arises due to poor play he would have to be traded or released.
The A's have essentially two legitimate up the middle prospects above AA in Jemile Weeks and Cardenas. It is popular around here to rosterbate with prospects producing 2012 lineups with players that were drafted this year and what not. but even though both players are above AA, chances are one of them will not be worthy of being a big league starter. Furthermore, Jemile Weeks has not had success in AA hitting to the tune of a .645 OPS and a .303 OBP in 36 games. While some of it is likely due to a low BABIP, for hitting BABIP is a skill and you want your young prospects to crush the baseball in the minors which would result in having high BABIP.
Additionally, I worry about Weeks' history of injuries both in the A's farm system and in college at Miami. Injuries to the legs are particularly detrimental to players that rely on speed. Additionally, the power that Weeks exhibited last year very well could be a Cal league mirage since his ISO spiked about 60 points in Stockton compared to either Vancouver. If that is the case his reliance on speed more critical and enhancing the risk associated with nagging leg injuries. Even if Weeks pans out, it could very well be pushing him to place him into the starting lineup opening day, especially if the A's give him a large chunk of time in AA, which I think they should. That means that it is likely that Cardenas is just as likely to be needed at 2b as at 3b by the time 2011 rolls around.
So if Cardenas is needed to solve 2b, next year's Free Agent Third Basemen consist of:
Garret Atkins – God help us
Wilson Betiment – Likely to be so bad that he won't have enough MLB service time to qualify
Jorge Cantu – Not terrible compared to everyone else
Eric Chavez – Been there done that
Pedro Feliz – even older than the version currently on the market
Bill Hall – has an option but hasn't been good in years
Mike Lowell – so hurt the Red Soxs can't even give him away
Brandon Inge – might be league average
Macier Izturus – I have no idea why Nico says the A's tried to acquire him
Melvin Mora - who is terrible at this point
Nick Punto – has an option but do you really want that stick at 3b?
Scott Rolen – might be league average but has an injury history and personality conflicts in the past.
Ty Wiggington – sucks and isn't even really a 3bman
Freddy Sanchez – Hurt veteran with a old batting title, no wonder Sabean wants him and I don't (also im pretty sure Sabean extended him.)
So in the FA bucket next year our supposedly contending year we have no viable quality free agent options available which means that if Cardenas looks like he will struggle as he typically does his first year at a new level, we will be forced to make a trade or suffer through poor production. I want to remind folks of the cost of acquiring a good strong 3bman that would be under team control through the A's contending years. Just last off seasongrover made this proposal:
So my official trade proposal is Mr. Doe/Mazzaro/Carter/Rodriguez/Cardenas for Ryan Zimmerman. A steep price to be sure, but a low-cost, Gold-Glove caliber 3B with 25 HR pop is hard to come by. Keep in mind this is the high end of what it would cost to acquire Zimmerman. I’d be perfectly willing to close the deal for less! In fact, I’m half tempted to scratch out Cardenas’ name from the list because I kinda doubt Bowden would push for Carter and Cardenas. On the other hand, if Bowden did push for both I wouldn't let Adrian Cardenas keep me from landing Ryan Zimmerman.
Sign [Zimmerman] through his arby years at $3.5/5.5/7 million, $10 million to cover his first year of FA eligibility in 2012 and a $13 million option for 2013. Something along that line should suffice and those are his peak years at an affordable sticker price
To understand grover's argument you should read his full fanpost but I will break it down. Essentially a promising but injured 3baseman was the target in this case. Zimmerman had experienced an offensive decline over his three years in the league coupled with positive UZR numbers but with one fluky looking outstanding year sandwiched by two solid but not spectacular years. Many thought that Zimmerman was stagnating; some like grover saw a profound bounce back waiting to happen. For that grover proposed sending Mr Doe (a strong looking A ball pitcher with the need to prove himself at higher levels acquired in a separate deal for Huston Street), Mazzaro (a borderline top 100 level pitcher coming off of a breakout campaign that some worried was a fluke) Carter (a strike out prone slugger who just got finished sending 40 balls over Cal league fences), Rodriguez (a potential back of the bullpen piece), and Cardenas (one of the youngest players in AA who was seen as an above average solution at either 2b or 3b).
The point of bringing this up is to to go over grovers proposal which I thought at the time was an overpay, but really to show how getting an established, good, young, even arby rather than pre arby, third baseman could decimate the impact level prospects that we have. The A's need to not make trades like the one proposed because without it we are missing three huge foundational building blocks in Carter, Cardenas, and Mazzaro. Yes, in return we would have had a 7.1 WAR third baseman. However, Ryan Zimmerman wouldn't have made the A's a playoff team last year and the A's core would be significantly weaker for the foreseeable future (If Barton repeats 2008 or Doolittle stays hurt they can't be replaced by Carter, Ellis' option has to be picked up and Weeks has to be ready to take over by 2011, the middle/back of the rotation needs to be filled, etc).
Furthermore, there isn't even a comparable option to Zimmerman on the trade market. Kevin Kouzmanoff is often mentioned as a trade possibility but he is just two years younger than Adrian Beltre. Since entering the league Kouz has never put up more than 2.8 WAR or less than 2.7 WAR in his full seasons. Why would we spend real prospects to acquire a player who isn't likely to be as good as Beltre, even if Beltre does decline, especially since Kouzmanoff will cost some real money in arbitration and isn't that far behind him on the aging curve?
Mark Reynolds just hit 44 homers for Arizona a team whose youthful core just ended up fizzling out putting them in a strange position where they need to both win now and probably don't have enough to do it. It is unlikely that he is available and while Reynolds has one pre arby year left but his team is going to pay handsomely for his dinger outburst this year. While this is the closes thing to a Zimmerman impact talent with similar levels (4 years) of team control. However, I think it would be concerning to acquire a player with such a huge one year spike in ISO whose defense is declining and could eventually require a shift to 1b.
Alex Gordon is frequently mentioned around here as a possible trade target. He already has an injury history with missing time with a hip injury that required surgery and had to be sent down due to poor play just this last year. He is probably a league average fielder so this is an upside with the bat play only. I would be for trading older assets for him but I honestly don't have the capability to distort my brain enough to think like Drayton Moore. Unfortunately, Moore doesn't value good bullpen assets like those the A's have (see trade of Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs), though I could see how Scott Hairston could be of interest and if something could be built around that I would advocate it. However, the failure of the Callaspo talks (another option for 3b longterm) illustrate that there is probably a bad fit between the two teams.
Other young MLB ready players that I like at 3b include players such as Todd Frazier but I doubt if he or any other of my personal favorites are available and it is hard to deal with an organization in flux like the Reds (see earlier description of the Diamondbacks) or they are just too good (eg David Wright) to be traded. This is why I have ruled out the trade option as being preferable.
Adrian Beltre is by far the best FA available on the current market at 3b. On whether or not Boston should sign Beltre
Estimate Beltre at ~10 runs defensively and ~5runs offensively. That makes him a three and a half win player. Kotchman is probably good for a win, maybe a bit more. Let’s say the difference is two wins and then factor in the Youkilis transition. Overall a 2.5 win upgrade. Wins are going for roughly $3.5M so Beltre is worth $8.75M more than Kotchman. Meaning the tops Boston should give Beltre is just under $9M. Given Boston’s placement on the win curve and how much those additional wins could help to distance themselves from Tampa, it seems the reported asking price of $10-15M isn’t too far-fetched after all.
Now the A's surely have a different placement on the win curve than Boston, but the A's also have far less competent internal replacement. Can anyone really say that the A's have a reasonable bet at third to be a 1 WAR player at the position? Jake Fox perhaps? (league average bat, -12.5 FRAA). Either way the A's paying a little more than 10m a year for three years and then having a fourth year to trade him for prospects. $32M/4 years underpays a 3.5 WAR, 3 WAR, 2.5 WAR, 2 WAR player just slightly at $3.5M/WAR. While over the last two years inflation in salaries didn't not actually occur like it has since the players strike, its likely that if the economy turns around by the end of the contract it could be less expensive in current dollars.
Furthermore, I support the signing because I support the philosophy behind this kind of free agent signing. Looking at Beane's trades it has been clear that there has been a lack of positional targeting when dealing veterans for prospects. Targeting positionally requires either a perfect fit or a taking a slightly less valuable prospect simply because they satisfy a position of need within a farm system. By filling the system without regard to position ensures the best prospects that can be acquired will be. That will leave an organization with a black hole at certain positions (Hello 3b, SS). It makes sense to buy very good to elite free agents carefully to fill those holes when trades and indiscriminate prospect acquisition is insufficient. Beltre is the best free agent on the market this year and next. If the contract is front loaded we would be paying in value during years where it is probably a bad idea to lock up players (Anderson has a history of nagging injuries last year, in the Oakland's system, and in Arizona, Suzuki plays more games than God, Sweeney needs to actually hit). Now is the best time to make a free agent acquisition as we don't have few costs now and when Beltre's contract is over we can reallocate those funds for arby cases and extensions.