When the free agent exclusivity period ends on November 20, a rash of moves will be made by teams attempting to improve for the 2010 season. If last year serves as any indicator, the first few signings won’t shatter the foundation of major league baseball – that is, unless you consider Jeremy Affeldt, Brad Hennessey, Chris Schroder (who?), and Paul McAnulty (who times two?) difference-makers.
While the Bays and Lackeys and Hollidays will eventually come off the board, all logic points to teams taking an extremely patient approach with third baseman. There are six clear-cut starting third baseman available (Figgins, Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa, Pedro Feliz, Joe Crede, Melvin Mora,) and two more if you include the recovering Troy Glaus and Miguel Tejada, a shortstop who could easily make the transition to third.
These eight potential starters are competing for seven jobs; the Phillies, Cardinals, Astros, Orioles, Twins, Angels and Mariners are all in need of a third sacker. But of those seven teams, only the Phils, Cardinals, Orioles, and Angels are in position to spend a significant amount of money. The Astros have a high payroll, a bad team, and an even worse farm system. The Mariners, too, have a high payroll. And the Twins are, well, the Twins. Michael Scott spent more on his 12-inch plasma TV than they do in free agency.
This leaves four teams competing over a free agent class of eight men, headed by Figgins (1), Beltre (2), and DeRosa (2a.)
The simple concept of supply and demand tells us that, with more men seeking work than available positions, the burden is on the seller rather than the buyer. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect to see any team cave in and overpay. The exception would be the Angels with Figgins, because I fully expect them to make a push to re-sign their guy.
If the Phils miss out on Figgins, so be it. Based on his age (32), the amount of money he’ll make (3-5 years, roughly $40-60M), and the fear that a player who relies so heavily on his speed faces a rapid decline, Figgins does not fit in with this team. The prediction of 3-5 years/$40-60M is merely an educated guess based on the forecasts of many, but, when recognizing past signings and the fact that Figgins is the fourth best free agent on this year’s market, that projection seems to be accurate.
My guess is that none of us would be overly upset if the Phillies signed either Beltre or DeRosa. If Beltre takes over at third, the Phillies won’t miss a beat defensively, but many of the same offensive deficencies from the third base spot will return. During a mediocre/cold streak, Beltre’s GIDPs and low on-base percentage will make him look like Feliz’ long-lost cousin.
However, Beltre has much more upside than Feliz and slightly superior speed. It’s hard to predict what kind of numbers Beltre could put up with the Phils, because I view him as similar to Raul Ibanez. In Seattle, both Ibanez and Beltre were viewed as key run-producers, but here, they make up the sixth and seventh spot in the lineup. Nobody predicted that Ibanez would flourish so quickly in Philly, almost single-handedly carrying this team early in the season, but moving from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park and being surrounded by so many other good hitters can do wonders for a player’s offensive output.
DeRosa is a safer bet. While Beltre shares many of the same skills Feliz possesses, DeRosa represents a different kind of athlete. Despite a pedestrian 2009 season, in which DeRosa slahed .250/.335/.418, he is a high on-base guy with an affinity for the clutch hit. In 2007 and 2008, DeRosa hit .319 with 127 RBI with runners in scoring position, and compiled back-to-back OBPs of .371 and .376. There would be a defensive dropoff, but DeRosa is adequate in the field. The fact that he knows more positions than Peter North is also a plus.
I understand the logic in going for DeRosa. He would change the recent culture of the third base position, as well as the seven-hole. He adds the local element, as this is the obligatory “DeRosa-was-a-quarterback-at-Penn” sentence. And he is a guy the Phillies have coveted for years, even before he became an everyday player.
But I’d rather the team go in a different direction.
No, I’m not advocating the re-signing of Pedro Feliz. If Ruben Amaro wanted to do that, I doubt he would have opted out of Feliz’ contract in the first place. And no, I’m not calling for Miguel Tejada or Dan Uggla to switch positions.
Sign Placido Polanco.
I’ve been researching, analyzing, and discussing this issue for several weeks, and, at the end of each day, I can’t help but face the fact that Polanco would be an absolutely perfect fit. He can hit at the top or bottom of the order, and you know that you’ll get a .300/.350/.410 line from him. He rarely walks, but he never strikes out. He’s a career .309 hitter with runners in scoring position, and his .250 average with two strikes is abnormally high. As a member of the Phillies in 2004, Polanco hit .317/.360/.475 with ten homers in 265 at-bats at Citizens Bank Park.
Polanco hasn’t played third base since 2004, so it is a stretch to imagine him vacating second base. He’s a brilliant defender at second, evidenced by his major-league leading UZR in ’09 (Chase Utley was second.) But, who knows. The Tigers are shopping Curtis Granderson because they are in such need of payroll relief, so it’s hard to imagine Dave Dombrowski opening the checkbook for Polanco.
If I’m Ruben Amaro, I offer the 34 year-old Polanco something along the lines of 3 years/$18M. Six million dollars a year for three years is a bargain for a player who would add as much as Polanco, and it would be tough for him to say no. After all, Polanco is coming off of a 4 year/$18M deal that he signed as a 31 year-old. I can’t imagine too many other teams would be willing to offer him as much as six million per year.
Would it be overpaying? Probably. Would it be worth it? Absolutely. Polanco’s steady bat would add another dimension to an already formidable Phillies offense. He’s the kind of guy you want leading off an inning, coming up after a Jayson Werth or Raul Ibanez single, or batting with two outs and the bases loaded. With strikeouts coming at every other spot in the order, Polanco would assure that the ball would be put in play at the bottom, where he and Carlos Ruiz would reside. And if Jimmy Rollins or Shane Victorino struggle, Polanco could easily move up to the 1- or 2-hole.
If Polanco is adamant about staying at second base, this is all moot. But, to steal a line from Ted DiBiase, “everyone has a price.”