Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. needs a third baseman for next season.
Amaro told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb that he recently discussed how difficult the position is to fill with several of his fellow GMs. The Phillies have even considered the possibility of playing catcher Carlos Ruiz at third base for some games next season. It wouldn't be a permanent switch. The intention would be to give Ruiz's knees a rests while keeping his bat in the lineup.
However, just the fact that the Phillies have discussed such a possibility speaks to their desperation. Quality third basemen are not easy to find. Those teams that have one aren't very likely to trade him away. It's a treasured commodity around baseball.
Yet Amaro should have plenty of options for next season if he casts a wide net. The question is whether he'll pursue a long-term solution for third base during the offseason or perhaps look at a one-year, temporary stopgap at the position.
If Amaro wants to go big, he may want to wait one year and see if the New York Mets sign David Wright to a contract extension. If the Mets decide they can't give out that kind of contract, however, or if Wright decides he wants to play someplace else, the Phillies will surely be one of the teams ready to pounce.
Bringing in a placeholder will certainly be easier (and cheaper). But it seems increasingly apparent that Amaro is tired of worrying about third base and wants a reliable player who can man the position for multiple seasons.
Here are nine players that Amaro should have on his shopping list when he begins calling his colleagues around baseball after the season.
This should be the Phillies' top offseason target, though Ruben Amaro, Jr. insists that outfielders will be the priority.
Chase Headley has one more season of arbitration eligibility remaining, which should keep his salary manageable. (MLB Trade Rumors projects Headley to make $6.1 million next season through the arbitration process.)
That could make Headley a bit more expensive in trade, but the Padres don't have as much leverage than if they had dealt him this season. The Phillies might be hesitant to give up top prospects for a player who could be a free agency after 2013.
But this would give Amaro the opportunity to present a contract extension that he may have offered to Headley in free agency. At 28 years old, Headley is in his prime. As of Aug. 15, he's batting .275/.369/.462 with 19 home runs and 73 RBI.
That's with playing his home games at the very pitcher-friendly Petco Park too. Citizens Bank Park is a more neutral ballpark, according to ESPN.com's park factors, but Headley would presumably put up even better numbers hitting in Philadelphia.
Getting Headley could even improve the outfield if Amaro still wants to pursue a third baseman for 2013 or 2014. During his career, Headley has played 196 games in left field, though he hasn't been at that position since 2009.
If the Phillies are looking for a one-year stopgap, Kevin Youkilis could be their best option at third base.
While Youkilis isn't the player he once was and actually seems older than 33, getting away from the Boston Red Sox circus has rejuvenated his career.
In 176 plate appearances with the Chicago White Sox, Youkilis is batting .245/.364/.483 with 10 home runs and 29 RBI. That would certainly be an upgrade from the .247 batting average and .608 OPS the Phillies are currently getting from their third basemen.
While the White Sox could pick up Youkilis' option for 2013 and then try to trade him, it's doubtful they'll find any teams willing to take on a $13 million salary for a player with diminishing skills. According to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, the White Sox have essentially decided to decline the 2013 option and give Youkilis a $1 million buyout.
If Amaro prefers not to trade any prospects for a third baseman, preferring to devote his resources to upgrading the outfield, Youkilis would only cost the Phillies money—and probably not all that much.
With Youkilis' injury history, however, might the Phillies front office be concerned about having another Placido Polanco on its hands?
If the Phillies are looking for some versatility from any infielder they bring in for 2013, Maicer Izturis might give them the most flexibility.
Izturis can play third base, shortstop and second base. According to Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, he plays all three positions well too. Presumably, Izturis would get the majority of his time in the field at third, but gives the Phillies a reliable option when Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley needs a day off.
This season, Izturis is batting .248/.313/.322 with two home runs and 17 RBI in 254 plate appearances. He's been sort of the odd man out in the Los Angeles Angels' infield with Erick Aybar at shortstop and Alberto Callaspo at third base.
Izturis is a career .273 hitter with a .720 OPS. That might be less production than the Phillies want at third base, especially from a power standpoint. Izturis is certainly no slugger and Philadelphia might want more pop at that position in the long term.
But Amaro has said that he might be willing to settle for less of a bat and a better glove at third base if he can get that offense in the outfield.
Bringing in Stephen Drew to play third base could be a risk for the Phillies.
For one thing, Drew is a career shortstop. But more importantly, he's coming off a broken ankle and still hasn't shown that he's ready for full-time play. His bat certainly hasn't made the recovery yet.
In 140 plate appearances, Drew is hitting .213/.307/.344 with two home runs and 11 RBI. Those numbers are far below his career norms of a .267 batting average, .767 OPS, 15 homers and 70 RBI.
But that will probably keep Drew's price down in free agency. The Diamondbacks are almost certain to let Drew walk after this season. He has a mutual $10 million option on his contract for next year.
As reported by the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro, owner Ken Kendrick has publicly stated his displeasure with Drew's recovery from his ankle injury. In Kendrick's view, Drew should have come back sooner and seems more concerned with saving himself for free agency rather than playing all out for the D-Backs. Those are strong words that have very likely ended the team's relationship with Drew.
One other thing, though this is surely not a serious concern: Would Phillies fans embrace the brother of J.D. Drew, who famously refused to play in Philadelphia after he was drafted in 1997? Would Drew want to play in Philly, knowing how his brother was treated there? Remember, Phillies fans threw batteries at J.D. Drew. That's probably come up a few times at Drew family gatherings.
Signing Eric Chavez would almost certainly be a one-year stopgap for the Phillies, unless Amaro made the inexplicable mistake of thinking Chavez's success this year could continue for the long-term.
Chavez has been a fine replacement at third base while Alex Rodriguez recovers from a broken hand. In 220 plate appearances, he's batting .293/.350/.540 with 13 home runs and 30 RBI. With that kind of performance, it seems more likely that the Yankees would bring him back next year as a low-cost reserve.
But the Phillies could make things interesting by offering Chavez a bit more money if they thought he could be a full-time solution at third base next season.
Yet there's the rub with Chavez. He's not a full-time player anymore. He's showing what he can do this season when fully healthy, but his injury history hardly makes him a reliable option. Chavez probably realizes that himself and is comfortable in his role with the Yankees.
Still, a full-time role would be difficult to turn down if it was presented to him. If the Phillies wanted to keep third base warm for a better option down the line, they could do worse than Chavez for a one-year fill-in.
If the Phillies wanted a younger player that could be their third baseman for years to come, the Arizona Diamondbacks might have their best option.
Ryan Wheeler was having an outstanding year at Triple-A Reno before the D-Backs called him up to the majors in late July. The 23-year-old compiled a .351/.388/.572 slash average in 399 plate appearances with 15 home runs and 90 RBI.
However, Reno—and the Pacific Coast League, in general—has a reputation of being very hitter-friendly with warmer temperatures and higher altitudes. So there may be some doubt as to how Wheeler's production might translate to the major leagues.
The D-Backs showed their reservations about Wheeler when they acquired third baseman Chris Johnson from the Houston Astros before the July 31 trade deadline. Johnson has gotten off to an explosive start in Arizona, which has certainly raised eyebrows. Between that and him being under team control through 2016, Johnson looks like a solid long-term option for the D-Backs.
That would seem to make Wheeler expendable, though in a Q&A with fans, team president Derrick Hall said they like having Wheeler for depth at first and third base in addition to providing a left-handed bat off the bench.
The Phillies also might not have the prospects that would interest the D-Backs. While Amaro has young pitching to offer, Arizona is loaded with young pitching talent and likely prefers some future prospects for the middle infield.
Marco Scutaro has played for six different teams over his 11-year career. So why not add one more to his resume?
Scutaro has been a model of consistency since 2006. He's been a solid contributor since his 2009 breakout with the Toronto Blue Jays. Put him down for about a .280 batting average, .725 OPS, 10 home runs and 60 RBI. In addition, count on reliable defense at second base, third base and shortstop.
The Phillies probably wouldn't want to sign the 36-year-old Scutaro to a multi-year deal. Perhaps a one-year deal with an option would be preferable. But as we've said with several of these suggestions, if Philadelphia is looking for a one-year stopgap at third base, Scutaro would be an excellent option.
Playing for a postseason contender certainly seems to have rejuvenated him. In just 18 games with the Giants, Scutaro is batting .329/.370/.438 with 15 RBI. That's half as many as he had in 95 games with the Colorado Rockies before he was traded.
Obviously, that RBI total is based on Scutaro playing for a better team that gets runners on base and creates run-producing opportunities. But this demonstrates what Scutaro can contribute to a good team. The Phillies would surely love that sort of production at third base next season.
Signing a career .234 hitter probably wouldn't get Phillies fans excited. In fact, it might incite outrage.
But Brandon Inge looked like he was finished as a major leaguer when the Detroit Tigers designated him for assignment at the end of April. At the time, he was hitting .100 with an OPS of .400.
Showing how badly they needed a third baseman, the Oakland Athletics signed Inge, and he's contributed 11 home runs and 50 RBI for them in 309 plate appearances. He's still hitting .224, but that's just the player that Inge is at this point. He'll provide sneaky, surprising power and flashy defense at third base. Just don't expect a high batting average.
However, that might be enough for the Phillies if they're looking for a short-term solution for one season at third base. Philadelphia has only gotten four homers and 28 RBI from the position as of Aug. 15.
Inge has also been rejuvenated in the field. He's always been considered one of the elite defenders at the hot corner, but advanced metrics hadn't supported that reputation over the past couple of seasons. This year, however, he's flashy a slick glove again.
Fangraphs' UZR isn't as reliable a measure with a partial season's worth of data. But to this point, the numbers say Inge is the second-best defensive third baseman in baseball. If the Phillies are willing to overlook offense for a great glove, Inge might be the man best suited for the job.
Though the Phillies seem like they're ready to move on from the Placido Polanco era at third base, Amaro may decide he's the best option if they prefer a one-year placeholder while pursuing an upgrade for 2014.
Polanco has dealt with frequent injuries since signing with Philadelphia as a free agent and will be 37 years old next season. That doesn't bode well for him staying healthy, and the Phillies might prefer someone who can be relied upon to stay on the field.
The Phillies might want a player who can hit better too. Polanco is batting .255/.300/.328 in 314 plate appearances this season.
However, Polanco wouldn't cost the Phillies as much as another free-agent third baseman might. He has a $5.5 million mutual option on his contract for 2013, and Amaro might consider that enough of a bargain to keep around for one more year.
Even if they brought back Polanco, the Phillies would probably still need a player to supplement him at the position for 30-40 games.
Do they already have that guy in Ty Wigginton? Wigginton has a $4 million option for next season. That could be a suitable pairing at third base for next season if Amaro makes upgrading the outfield a priority.
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