Yesterday, we kicked off our week-long State of the Phillies series by breaking down the past, present and future of the first base and second base positions. Our mission over these next few days is to identify where, exactly, the Phillies can improve this roster. The lesson from yesterday was that any improvement won't come at first or second base. Or, for that matter, anywhere in the infield, a point that Ryan Lawrence expands upon in today's paper.
The Phillies do have a vacancy at third base, but they don't have much in the way of options for filling that vacancy. The free agent market is thin, as is the trade market (forget David Wright). In other words, it is business as usual for the organization.
The last time Phillies third basemen finished a season with better than a .697 OPS was 2004, when David Bell hit .289/.362/.455 to lead the position. The only similarity between the position then and the position now is that Placido Polanco played it. Of course, Polanco had as many home runs in 50 plate appearances that season as he had in 315 plate appearances this season: two.
I. 2012 production, Phillies third basemen (NL rank out of 16 teams in parentheses)
AVG: .272 (9)
OBP: .315 (11)
SLG: .357 (15)
OPS: .672 (15)
HR: 5 (16)
RBI: 42 (16)
RS: 50 (13)
BREAKDOWN: The above numbers pretty much tell the story. Placido Polanco was once again beset by injuries and is clearly winding down his career. In 78 games, he posted a .259/.301/.331 batting line. Ty Wigginton hit just .184 when playing the position and was not much better on defense. The one bright spot was Kevin Frandsen, who made the most of his opportunity, hitting .335/.377/.450 in 205 plate appearances at third base.
II. Future salary commitments (luxury tax threshold $178 million in 2013, increases to $189 million in 2014)
2012: $7.25 million, 3.37 percent of luxury tax threshold (Placido Polanco, 36 years old)
FLEXIBILITY: The Phillies have plenty of flexibility to add personnel at the position. The $7.25 million salary listed above for Polanco include a $1 million buyout on a mutual option that is a formality at this point.
III. 2013 Organizational Depth Chart
- Freddy Galvis, 23, pre-Arb (1.000 service time) under club control through at least 2017.
- Kevin Frandsen, 31, arbitration eligible (est. 4.000 ST) under club control through at least 2014
- Cody Asche, 23, AA
BREAKDOWN: There are no easy answers at this position. Barring an unforeseen trade, Galvis figures to enter the season as the top defensive option at the position. The Phillies have yet to give an indication that they view Frandsen as an everyday player at the hot corner, talking about his prospects for 2013 more in the terms of a utility man or platoon player. The problem with a platoon is that Frandsen is a right-handed hitter who mashed lefties this year, and slick-fielding rookie Galvis was much better as a right-handed hitter. Galvis has never played third base, but he has shown he can play shortstop and second base and the Phillies are confident he would do the same at third. The big question is whether he can hit well enough to justify an everyday spot in a contending major league lineup. In 58 games before a back injury and PED suspension, Galvis hit just .226/.254/.363 with three home runs, 24 RBI and 14 runs. A repeat of those numbers would mean the Phillies actually got worse offensively at the position. Asche is the one hope for the future. He hit .324/.369/.481 with 12 home runs in 559 plate appearances at high-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, but he will have to prove that he can field the position without being a glaring liability before he gets a shot in the majors. We should see him in big league spring training, but there is no way the Phillies can base their Opening Day plans for the position around Asche.
IV. Potential for personnel upgrades
TRADE POTENTIAL: There have been rumblings all season that the Padres are open to parting with veteran third baseman Chase Headley, whose plate approach and power potential would provide a perfect fit for this lineup. But the Padres also have a news ownership team that has locked up Carlos Quentin and Huston Street, and their strong finish to the season has tempered expectations that Headley will be traded. Houston's Jed Lowrie, who has 52 career starts at third base, is another player who you could at least envision being traded, given the Astros frequent activity in the trade market. That being said, the Astros probably wouldn't have much financial motivation to trade Lowrie, who made just $1.15 million 2012 as a first-time arbitration-eligible player. That means any team hoping to acquire him would likely have to overpay for a player who has never cracked 400 plate appearances in a season and whose career batting line is .250/.326/.417. Lowrie did hit 16 home runs in 387 plate appearances this season. There are no indications that the Mets are willing to trade David Wright. The Brewers made a late run at the postseason thanks in part to a .901 OPS and 27 home runs out of Aramis Ramirez, so it does not seem logical that they would trade the veteran. Plus, the Phillies could've signed Ramirez themselves last offseason if they viewed him as a solution at third base, although their philosophy was likely affected by the presence of Polanco.
FREE AGENT MARKET: Jeff Keppinger played third base for a playoff contender in Tampa Bay this season, posting an .806 OPS and .367 on base percentage. That being said, he had a .698 OPS in the four seasons prior. Kevin Youkilis, who had a solid run with the White Sox after Boston traded him away, could become a free agent if Chicago declines his $13 million extension. Eric Chavez had a solid season for the Yankees, but there is reason to doubt that he would hold up physically as an everyday third baseman. Same goes for Youkilis.
V. Third base, in conclusion
We'd have Galvis as our early favorite to enter the season as the regular third baseman, with Frandsen getting 300 to 400 at-bats, depending on whether he plays his way into more time. It would not be surprising to see the Phillies get creative at the position, but I have spent most of the season trying to figure out a creative way that they might fill the void and have failed to come up with a potential trade scenario. The likely scenario is rolling with Galvis and a low-cost veteran (perhaps Frandsen) and hoping they get lucky like the Rays did with Keppinger. With the rest of the holes that need to be filled, particularly in center field and perhaps one of the corner outfield spots. The Phillies can't afford to significantly overpay for the production they will receive, particularly if there are health concerns with the signee.