Phillies Transition at Third: From Pete Happy To Mr. Peanut Head
This article originally appeared on PhillyFanComplex.com .
My earliest memories of Phillies baseball were of muggy, rain-delayed July games at Veterans Stadium, with the season already a lost cause, and where the few thousand (drunk) fans in attendance huddled in the dark concrete concourses of the Vet.
Waiting out rain delays was a part of the bad-baseball experience in those days, the period between the 1993 World Series loss and the latter years of the Larry Bowa era, when draft picks finally started to develop into competent players.
In those dark days, Scott Rolen manned the concrete turf at third base, making diving stop after diving stop and punctuating the play with a bullet to first for the out. He was basically all the Phillies had of any worth, and the one person who gave Harry Kalas anything positive to call.
So when the Phillies traded the always-disgruntled Rolen to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith on July 29, 2002, it was the auctioning of a major piece for what appeared to be an underwhelming return. Much like in the infamous Curt Schilling deal, appearances proved to be accurate in this case. Polanco turned out to be the only piece of any worth in the deal, but he was far from equal value to Rolen in his prime.
The trade marked the beginning of Polanco's first stint with the Phillies. He moved to second base in 2003—the team signed David Bell to "play" third base—and started there primarily for the next two seasons. In June 2005, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. Five years later, he is back with the Phillies, after signing a three-year, $18 million contract with the Philadelphia to replace Pedro Feliz.
The numbers show us Polanco is a better fit in the Phillies' lineup than the free-swinging Feliz. There is little to complain about with a team fresh off back-to-back NL pennants, but we persevere to find a way. Strikeouts and inconsistent bats are the main problem for the Phils' offense, and the reliance on the long ball leads to frustrating slumps.
Polanco will fit perfectly in the two-hole for the Phils. Jimmy Rollins has never, and will never be, best suited for the leadoff role, but he does so many things well that it is hard to complain about his shortcomings.
Shane Victorino, primarily slotted behind Rollins in the lineup the last two seasons, is too much like Rollins to get maximum productivity out of the core of the order. He too will benefit from Polanco batting second, as dropping to seventh in the lineup will present plenty of opportunities to drive in Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez.
In 2009, Polanco had superior numbers to Feliz in the categories he's expected to help boost.
Compared to Feliz, he had a higher average (.285-.266) and on-base percentage (.331-.308), more hits (176-154), more total bases (245-224), and, perhaps most importantly, fewer strikeouts (46-68). Equaling those numbers alone will be a boon to the Phils' offense, but one would expect Polanco to improve upon them batting in front of Utley and Howard.
The only argument that could be made for Polanco as a downgrade from Feliz is defensively. There is no doubting Feliz's impact in the field, as he had great range with a cannon for an arm, but his play did slip last year, with 15 errors. Though it was at second base, Polanco was nearly perfect in 2009—only one more error (two) than Gold Glove (one) last season—and he should be more than adequate in the field.
Polanco has not played third base regularly since he was last with the Phillies, and a part of the reason he was traded to the Tigers was his desire to play second. The Phillies obviously had Utley ready to play everyday, and swung Polanco to Detroit for machete connoisseur Ugueth Urbina (currently serving a 14-year sentence in a Venezuelan prison as a result of his affinity for threatening farmhands with the aforementioned machetes).
Beyond Polanco, there is no indication of where the Phillies will turn at third base, but that is of little concern this season and the next. Polanco was brought in to help this team now, and the next third baseman for the franchise will likely be a part of a youth movement away from the core of Rollins, Utley, and Howard, and to Dominic Brown and Co.
In 2010, we look forward to Polanco's large noggin crossing the plate more than 100 times.
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