The Philadelphia Phillies had problems up and down their lineup for much of the 2012 season, but no position gave them headaches quite like third base.
The Phillies had a revolving cast of misfits at the hot corner for pretty much the entire season. Placido Polanco was too banged up to play for the most part, leaving Charlie Manuel no choice but to take what he could get from the likes of Kevin Frandsen and Ty Wigginton.
Ultimately, Phillies third basemen combined to post a .672 OPS, the lowest of any position on the team outside of pitcher. Phillies third basemen hit as many homers (five) as the team got from assorted pinch-hitters throughout the course of the season.
It's fairly obvious that an upgrade is needed, especially now that Polanco and Wigginton have hit the road as free agents. The Phillies know this as well as anyone, and the word from Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com is that they're going to leave no stone unturned this winter:
#Phillies "wide open" in their search for a third baseman. Could look at multi-position types like Scutaro/Keppinger as well as Youk, etc.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 13, 2012
Marco Scutaro, you say?
The notion of the Phillies making a move for Scutaro this time last season wouldn't have been all that intriguing. He was coming off a good, but not great, year with the Boston Red Sox, and his billing was as a mediocre everyday shortstop. And an aging one at that.
Much has changed over the last 12 months. Scutaro made quite the name for himself after he was traded by the Colorado Rockies to the San Francisco Giants in July, hitting .362 with an .859 OPS and 44 RBI in 61 games down the stretch before having a terrific postseason. He hit .328 during the Giants' run through the playoffs, and he came up with big hit after big hit in the NLCS and the World Series.
Scutaro also got to show off his versatility in 2012, as he logged significant innings at third base, second base and shortstop.
Sounds like a guy the Phillies could use, don't you think?
I'd have to say the answer is yes, but the idea of the Phillies making a play for Scutaro isn't that much of a slam dunk. They'd be signing a good role player, but they wouldn't be getting the same star who helped lead the Giants to a second World Series title in three years.
Scutaro isn't as good as he was with the Giants down the stretch and in the postseason. In fact, he was having a downright poor season when he was on the Rockies, as he was hitting just .271/.324/.361 despite the fact he was playing half his games at Coors Field.
Scutaro entered the 2012 season as a .270/.338/.389 hitter for his career. He had posted an OPS over .780 in two of the last three seasons, to be sure, but that seemed to be the high-water mark for his hitting abilities before he went on a tear upon joining the Giants.
I'm guessing you don't need me to tell you that the tear Scutaro went on isn't something we're likely to see again, but I'll say it anyway. He's not going to post a .366 BABIP again seeing as how his career BABIP is right around .300, and he's probably not going to be the same kind of clutch game-changer that he was down the stretch. He posted a higher RE24—a stat that essentially tracks how a given hitter altered run expectancies depending on the situations he faced—in his 61 games with the Giants than Miguel Cabrera did in his final 61 games.
Regardless of where he ends up, a fair expectation for Scutaro in 2013 will be for him to go back to being a slightly above-average offensive producer. His batting average will come close to .300, but his on-base and slugging totals will likely leave his OPS short of .800.
But if I'm Ruben Amaro, Jr., this is a thought that doesn't concern me all that much. Not so long as I'm looking to find a third baseman who can merely do better than a .672 OPS, anyway. Any upgrade will do so long as said upgrade isn't too expensive, as the Phillies already have over $136 million in salaries committed for the 2013 season, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.
And Scutaro shouldn't be too expensive. He's likely looking for a raise on the $6 million he made in 2012, but he's in no position to demand a contract worth seven figures per year. My best guess is that he'd settle for something like $8 million per year over two years, which sounds pretty reasonable for the Phillies seeing as how they spent over $10 million on Polanco and Wigginton in 2012.
In terms of value, the Phillies could expect to get an fWAR somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0 from Scutaro. That's generally where he's been ever since he became an everyday player in 2008, as the only year in which he's ever posted an fWAR higher than 2.9 was in 2009, according to FanGraphs. The 2.5-3.0 range suits him because his hitting, defense and baserunning are only ever solid (i.e. close to "good" and short of "great").
But once again, we're talking about a clear upgrade for the Phillies. Frandsen posted a decent 1.6 fWAR for them despite getting limited playing time, but Polanco managed a mere 0.6 fWAR and Wigginton had a -0.7 fWAR.
And indeed, Scutaro also comes with certain attributes that can't be quantified. It became clear enough during his time with the Giants that he's got great intangibles. As the season went along and the Giants went deeper and deeper into the postseason, you started to hear more and more about what a great teammate and clubhouse presence Scutaro is, and he certainly led by example when he refused to stop playing after Matt Holliday obliterated him in Game 2 of the NLCS.
Scutaro has actually had this reputation for a while. While he was garnering acclaim for the role he was playing for the Giants in the playoffs, Alex Speier of WEEI.com noted that he was watching basically the same player that he got to know while Scutaro was on the Red Sox: "a player who managed to stay on the field and contribute even when fighting through injuries, a respected member of the clubhouse."
The Phillies already seem to have a pretty good clubhouse atmosphere, but they're just one of many teams that would love to have a guy like Scutaro join the fray. He'd assimilate into the new environment with little trouble, and his competitive drive would very much come in handy seeing as how the Phillies will be out to bounce back from a lost year in 2013.
Scutaro would surely endear himself to his teammates even more by occasionally stepping in at second base to spell Chase Utley. The fresher his legs are kept, the more likely the Phillies are to get a good season's worth of production out of him.
So, all things considered, how much of a contender would Scutaro make the Phillies?
I feel like I may actually be in the minority here, but I think the Phillies already have the look of a contender. They have their share of needs that need to be addressed, but they have three very good starting pitchers in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to lean on, and their offense isn't as hopeless as a lot of people probably think.
Though he's far from the hitter he used to be, Jimmy Rollins is still a threat. Carlos Ruiz has gotten a little better as a hitter every year, and he'll enter 2013 fresh off a season that saw him hit .325 with a .935 OPS. Utley and Ryan Howard will at least be able to provide some good pop if they can stay on the field, and the Phillies have a couple of promising youngsters in the mix in Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf.
In the grand scheme of things, the upgrades Scutaro's skills would mean for the Phillies would be modest. His offensive production at third base would be better than what they got in 2013, but his defense and baserunning would likely be no better than league-average.
But as he did with the Giants, Scutaro could make a huge difference just with his intangibles. If the Phillies are in contention late in the 2013 season, they could look to Scutaro to emerge as a spark plug and a team leader. It would be great if he were to hit .360 in the stretch run again, but he could be a valuable cog on the Phillies even if he were to hit .260. His energy alone could give the them an edge.
Bear in mind that the Phillies are likely to need as many edges as they can possibly get in 2013. The NL East is going to have at least two other legit contenders in the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves, and it could have a third if the New York Mets retain R.A. Dickey and David Wright and then find a way to recapture the magic they had in the first half of the 2012 season.
All three of these teams gave the Phillies fits in 2012. Philadelphia went 9-9 against the Nats, and finished with sub .500 records against the Braves and Mets in their head-to-head matchups. Though they did shape up towards the end of the year, the Phillies left the Nats, Braves and Mets with little reason to think they're still the dominant power in the NL East.
Provided they stay healthy, the Phillies will redeem themselves in 2013. If they sign Scutaro and he does for them what he did for the Giants, the division could fall under their control once again.
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