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Get A-Rod’s Backup Instead

Posted by Eric Seidman, Thu, October 25, 2012 08:05 AM | Comments: 15
Analysis, Commentary, Offseason, Statistical Analysis

Polly is likely on his way out. Would Chavez be a better fit? (AP)

The Phillies will decline Placido Polanco‘s $5.5 million option for 2013, buying him out for $1 million. The formal decision hasn’t come down the pipeline, but it’s essentially a foregone conclusion. This opens up a spot at third base that the Phillies will need to fill internally, via trade or through the free agent market. Internal options exist, and the team may well choose to mix-and-match utility players and defensive specialists until the de facto 2014 starter — Cody Asche — is ready.

Kevin Frandsen played very well in Polanco’s absence this season and likely enters the season as the positional frontrunner. Freddy Galvis is a superlative defender at a tougher position and should also see time at third base.  Ty Wigginton is, well, just a human being currently on the roster, and we’ll simply leave it at that.

While it’s sexier to discuss long-term solutions like Chase Headley or external stopgaps like Wilson Betemit or any of those Angels infielders, the Phillies can solve their third base dilemma by pairing their internal options with a talented and inexpensive free agent.

Eric Chavez cannot play everyday anymore, but he still hits righties. Formerly a gold glove defender, he remains passable at the position. The Yankees may make Alex Rodriguez available, and may offer to pick up most of the tab. In that case, he will surely be linked to the Phillies, a big-spending team with a clear need at third base. However, the Phillies are better off pursuing Chavez, A-Rod’s backup, as the righty meat in a platoon sandwich.

Chavez was on a Hall of Fame path in his early years as a great defender who hit for plenty of power in a hitter-unfriendly environment. He became a full-time starter in 2000, and ranged between 4.0-5.5 WAR from 2001-05. His 25.3 WAR over that five-year span places him in a virtual tie with Chipper Jones for 3rd among the 53 qualified third baseman. However, the Fangraphs leaderboard is a bit misleading in that it includes Alex Rodriguez, who only played third base in two of those five seasons. For that matter, Chipper played left field in 2002-03 when the Braves signed Vinny Castilla, so his inclusion is also questionable. A case could easily be made that Chavez was 2nd only to Scott Rolen among full-time third baseman for the first half of the last decade.

Then came the injuries. He tallied 3.4 WAR over 137 games in 2006, and combined for just 212 games from 2007-11. His 113 games played this season was his highest total in six seasons. He wasn’t impervious to injuries this year, either, but the Yankees managed his playing time relative to his strengths, maximizing both his availability and productivity. He turns 35 years old in December and probably won’t ever be a full-time player again, but he can benefit teams as a platoon player still capable of fielding his infield position.

The Yankees deployed the lefty-hitting Chavez almost exclusively against righties this season. In fact, 273 of his 312 plate appearances came against righties. In those PAs, he hit a gaudy .294/.366/.545, with a .387 wOBA and 144 wRC+. The latter metric measures how much better or worse a player was than the league, with 100 representing the league average. In other words, Chavez was 44 percent better than the league against right-handed pitchers, who, by the way, account for approximately 70 percent of all pitches thrown in a season.

His wOBA against righties ranked 12th in the American League among the 108 batters to face righties at least 250 times. It was a great season that fell mostly under the radar, but the injury risk and the inherent risks of aging and regression, will prevent him from a hefty payday. Chavez might sign a two-year deal — I mean, if Ty Wigginton got one… — but he won’t cost very much or require a lengthy commitment. And he’ll provide more than your typical bench or platoon player, because his best quality is an ability to hit righties, which is much tougher to find than is a lefty-crusher.

Frandsen had a terrific 2012 season, albeit one largely fueled by an unsustainable .366 BABIP. He might retain some level of his productivity, but expecting another .380 OBP and .450 SLG isn’t fair. One way to mitigate his expected regression is to tailor his playing time to situations in which he has a better chance to thrive. Playing him against lefties — against whom he hit .400/.426/.554 in 68 PA last year, and against whom his pre-2012 numbers indicate a substantially favorable split — is the most logical solution.

Playing Chavez when Frandsen sits also seems quite logical. Assuming the Phillies could sign Chavez for two years and $6 million, they could potentially cobble together 2.5-3 WAR for just $5 million next year (Frandsen/Galvis at ~$1 million, Chavez at $3 million and Polanco’s $1 million buyout), without blocking Asche or preventing the team from exploring the market next offseason. The Phillies won’t be the only team in on Chavez, but for all the talk about A-Rod potentially fitting here if he’s made available, it’s his backup that is probably a better fit and definitely a more realistic fit.

Avatar of Eric Seidman

About Eric Seidman

Eric Seidman has written 64 articles on Phillies Nation.

Eric offers his unique analytical perspective to Phillies Nation and is a regular contributor on FanGraphs.com.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 Phillies fan from Germany

    Definitely go for it but as you say, Chavez will have a number of suitors.

     
  • Posts: 0 Steve

    Chavez will either sign with the Yankees again or retire. He clearly stated this last off-season, and I’d imagine he feels the same way this off season. He really isn’t an option for the Phillies.

     
  • Posts: 0 Psujoe

    If RAJ can make it happen this would be a solid move.

     
  • Posts: 0 George

    I don’t like the injury history. I wouldn’t want yet another 3rd baseman on the DL most of the time, being paid to sit.

    The power and defense would be nice and it could work. But it’d be risky. With other aging infielders, the Phils could end up with utility men everywhere. I don’t want to see an infield where Who’s on first, What’s on second, and I-don’t-know on third.

     
  • Posts: 0 schmenkman

    Here’s an article on Chavez that I thought was interesting: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444358404577607693781282070.html

    Highlights:
    - has considered retiring the last two off-seasons
    - wants to manage when he retires
    - knows it won’t be easy to get a job (article mentions that Ryne Sandberg “has unsuccessfully tried to get a major-league job for years”)

     
  • Posts: 0 hk

    Eric,

    Thanks for including Wilson Betemit as an option. Do I still get a Betemit shirsey if the Phils acquire him?

    I like the idea of a Chavez / Frandsen platoon. The ’93 Phillies benefited from platoons at a number of positions and I think the ’13 Phillies could also do this at 3B and at one or two OF positions with some combination of Dom, Schierholtz, Mayberry and Ruf.

     
  • Posts: 0 Philliefan

    keep polly, good glove has done the phillies right on mulitple occasions. We need to go after pitchers for the bullpen and more solid outfeilders.

     
    • Posts: 0 George

      It’s not worth picking up Polanco’s option, because his injuries keep him off the field too much. The Phils could presumably try to sign him for a cheaper rate, but so could any other team. He’s just no longer a good choice.

      The ‘pen could probably use one more pitcher for the eighth, but with the end-of-season performance of the young guys, they probably don’t need more.

      The outfield could definitely use someone proven, but 3rd base will need more than an oft-injured Polanco who is no longer hitting well.

       
  • Posts: 4388 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Not an exciting, or bad idea. I guess the idea of waiting for Asche is what bothers me. Reports are so mixed on him, particularly defensively. So if he is not all that great, then what? Just another 3-4 years of this club not having an archetypical third baseman (unless Maikel Franco steps up more rapidly than expected)

    I don’t know, our premier staters won’t be here forever. I think I’d rather see at least a slightly more aggressive move to shore up the position.

     
  • Posts: 0 ETruxal

    Honestly – it made sense to abandon the Utley-to-3B move *during* the season this past year, but does that necessarily kill the idea for the future? Having a solid bad and we’ll see about a steady glove/arm at 3B seems like a good thing, especially if it’s easier to find a suitable 2B that can improve us a notch on defense as Utley gets older. Galvis or another solution at 2B with Utley giving 3B a legit shot seems to make as much sense any anything else – as long as it’s done in the offseason with spring training to properly prepare.

     
    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      Utley will no doubt decline defensively some day, but he was still very good this year.

      So you either have
      1) Utley at 3B, new guy at 2B,
      OR
      2) new guy at 3B, Utley at 2B

      Either way, Utley is in the lineup, and then you either get a new 2B or a new 3B.

      Moving Utley to 3rd makes sense only if you can get a second baseman who is a better HITTER than whatever third baseman you can get, which does not seem likely (especially if Galvis is the 2B).

       
  • Posts: 0 ETruxal

    THEN – Frandsen become the valuable utility man that he really can be – to back up at 2-3 positions and provide a good contact hitter off the bench. There’s a reason he’s never been an everyday player at the MLB level – he’s no 5-tool player, but we may have found a niche for Frandsen~

     
    • Posts: 0 psujoe

      I’d actually prefer utley at 2b, Frandsen at 3b and Galvis as the utility guy. if they can get a major upgrade at 3b I’m all for using Frandsen and Galvis as Utility guys with Mayberry as a 4th OF and back up 1st baseman. Need a stud set-up mand and CF that can defend and get on base. Going to be an interesting off season. I like Keppinger, but he had a career year so you’d be signing high.

       
  • Posts: 0 Paul

    I believe that Frandsen is a fine choice. We won the World Series in 2008 without a star third basemen. We also won with a left-fielder who wasn’t a great fielder who was almost like Darrin Ruf and Mayberry has proven his worth as a center fielder time and time again. The Phillies have assembled an amazing team. What they truely need is to have a few good backups and try to get injured less. I have no clue why all the focus is on 3B. They just need to keep the moral up and follow Ruiz’s example.

     
  • Posts: 0 Jason

    Anyone talking about Tori Hunter on a 1 year deal if we can get him on the cheapside. Still got some pop 16 HR and 313BA. Great fielder too

     
 
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