It’s understandable if you haven’t given much thought as to who will be the Phillies third baseman in 2013. At the current moment, there are other pressing issues to be taken care of; like what will happen with Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, Juan Pierre, Joe Blanton, and whoever else you can think of that has been at the center of trade rumors since the calendar turned to July. But it’s time to start wondering who might man the hot corner for the Phillies next season.
It’s clear Placido Polanco’s everyday playing days are nearing an end, if they haven’t already. While he’s been relatively healthy this season, it hasn’t always been pretty. Through 285 at-bats, Polly’s batting average currently represents the lowest figure of his 14-plus seasons in the big leagues.
Comparing him to the rest of the league does him no favors, either; even at a position as thin as third base. His .256 average ranks 21st in baseball, while his .629 OPS rates 33rd among players with 125 plate appearances.
What little power Polanco had has been almost entirely sapped from his bat. During the month of July, Polanco has just five hits – one of them for extra-bases. Overall, he’s got just 17 hits that have gone for more than one base (15 doubles, 2 homers) and his ISO – or isolated power, which measures raw power – is a league-worst .071 (David Wright is .233, Pedro Alvarez leads all third basemen at .259).
With a WAR of 0.3, he’s the quintessential average baseball player at a position that needs to be above-average.
As mediocre as Polanco has been at the plate, his defense still rates highly. Among qualified players at third, Polanco’s two errors are the fewest in baseball. His range isn’t what it once was, but that’s what happens at the age of 36.
Still, he makes all routine plays and can even flash brilliance out there from time to time. At this advanced age, there aren’t many better with the glove on that side of the infield. (As I write this, he makes a nice stab to his right to force Melky Cabrera into a fielders choice).
Looking ahead to next season, there is a mutual option between the Phillies and Polanco worth $5.5 million, with a $1 million buyout. Will the Phils exercise their half?
Mixing all of those ingredients together, we come to find an old, declining-but-still-defensively-efficient third baseman with a fair salary next year. But do they still hold onto him?
The third base landscape is not filled with roses and tulips. It is an ugly patch of dirt that has very few players of use on an everyday basis.
The list of free agents next season is this, according to MLBTradeRumors.com:
- Geoff Blum (39)
- Miguel Cairo (39)
- Eric Chavez (35)
- Mark DeRosa (38)
- Brandon Inge (36)
- Maicer Izturis (32)
- Jose Lopez (29)
- Placido Polanco (37) – $5.5MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
- Mark Reynolds (29) – $11MM club option with a $500K buyout
- Scott Rolen (38)
- Mark Teahen (31)
- Miguel Tejada (39)
- Ty Wigginton (35) – $4MM club option with a $500K buyout
- David Wright (30) – $16MM club option with a $1MM buyout
- Kevin Youkilis (34) – $13MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Slim pickins. So what’s a team to do?
Well, the Phillies could hope Polanco can give them equally-steady defense in ’13 as he has in ’12. They’ll also be taking a chance his then-37-year-old body will hold up for another full season. On top of that, they need to pray he finds a bit of the old stroke; the one that had him hitting over .300 back in 2009. That might be asking too much.
What is the alternative? Take David Wright out of your head completely. Not happening. Kevin Youkilis, at one time this season, was an option. He’s with the White Sox now and has played well since being traded. I’d imagine Chicago thinks they can get another year out of him.
Ty Wigginton has done a nice job in a backup role, but he’s just that. He’s a nice extra bat. Scott Rolen is breaking apart. Brandon Inge is washed up. Mark Reynolds can hit you 25 home runs, but he’s barely a third baseman and strikes out a ton. Blum, Izturis, Teahen, Tejada, Lopez, DeRosa, Chavez, Cairo are all backups, too, at best.
That leaves few other options.
San Diego’s Chase Headley has been at the head of the trade rumor table recently, but would cost an arm, a leg, and a brain for the Phillies, and they don’t have many of those to give. Perhaps they reassess that situation in the offseason if Headley is not gone from the bottom-feeding Padres by then.
Do they leave it to Freddy Galvis, who has proven his worth as a defender at multiple infield positions, but never third base? There is no one else close to major league ready in the Phillies pipeline, so tabbing someone from Double or Triple-A is out of the question.
The right move is to move on from Polanco and find a way to get younger. As you see above, that will not be an easy task for Ruben Amaro.