The Third Base Situation

Dave · June 29, 2009 at 3:18 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

So, Adrian Beltre’s gone for at least the next two months. That sucks. For a team with a lot of holes, losing a +3 win player that they don’t have any good internal candidates to replace is a pretty significant problem. Even those that are optimistic about this team’s playoff chances are hoping to steal the division by a game or two, and losing Beltre for two months takes a couple of expected wins from the team’s tally that they can’t really afford to lose.

Right now, the M’s are looking at replacing Beltre with Chris Woodward, either sticking him directly at third base or having him play second and shifting Lopez to third. Unfortunately for the Mariners, Woodward isn’t really a major league player.

In 2006, he got 253 plate appearances with the Mets and posted a .265 wOBA. In 2007, he got 151 plate appearances with the Braves and posted a .237 wOBA. In 2008, he split time between the Phillies and Brewers Triple-A squads, and posted a .312 wOBA. League average wOBA in the majors is about .330. Woodward couldn’t even match that against Triple-A pitching.

There’s a reason ZIPS projects a .274 wOBA from Chris Woodward over the rest of the 2009 season. That would maybe be an acceptable level of offense if Woodward was the best defensive shortstop in baseball, but unfortunately, he’s just a solid glove at 2B/3B, which makes the lack of offense a pretty significant problem.

As a team already running out replacement level players (or worse) at shortstop and catcher, and getting barely above replacement level performance from left field and designated hitter, the M’s can’t really afford to punt third base too. You can’t have five of your regular positions be offering performances that are Triple-A level in quality and expect to make a serious run at a playoff spot.

So, if Woodward’s not the answer (and he’s not), then what? Sticking Lopez at third could work if the team had a legitimate replacement at second base, but they don’t. The organization is bereft of talent at 2B-3B-SS, so shifting Lopez to third is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. It doesn’t fix anything.

That leaves the Mariners with three choices, essentially.

1. Move Russell Branyan to third base and play Mike Carp at first base. Branyan has significant experience at third base and hasn’t embarrassed himself there (though he’s far from good at the hot corner), but the team is reluctant to mess with the good thing that Russ has going right now by asking him to transition back across the diamond in mid-season. And, while it’s nice to see a kid come up from Tacoma who knows how to draw a walk, we also have to realize that Carp’s not likely to produce at a level much above replacement level either. ZIPS had him projected for a .315 wOBA before the season started, and while his strong performance in Triple-A should bump that up a bit, you’re still looking at a .320 to .330 expected wOBA from Carp. He’s not much of a defensive player either, so you’d be downgrading two infield defense spots in order to get a below average hitter in the line-up. It’s understandable why that’s not a very appealing option to the M’s.

2. Trade for a player who can handle second or third base for a couple of months. The guy they need isn’t in the organization right now, so if they want a credible replacement for Beltre to help the team stay in the race, they’ll have to go acquire him. This can be done, as they showed with the Langerhans deal after Chavez got hurt, but there isn’t quite as obvious a solution to the 3B problem as there was to the LF problem. The guys that I would recommend the M’s take a look would include guys like Bobby Scales (Cubs), Eric Patterson (A’s), Kevin Frandsen (Giants), Ruben Gotay (D’Backs), and Scott Moore (Orioles). All of them are more useful than Woodward, and none of them should cost too much to acquire (though more than Langerhans did, certainly), but the expected level of performance isn’t going to be particularly high, either. These guys are all replacement level or slightly above, so while they’re improvements over Chris Woodward, we’re talking about a magnitude of less than one win. How much should the team give up to add half a win to this season’s roster? Not much, I’d argue, and the cost for these types of players might be too rich considering the likely return.

3. Hope and pray for a fluke. Right now, this sounds like the way the team is leaning. Woodward and Wilson aren’t likely to hit, but in 200 at-bats, anything is possible. Bad hitters have good months. It happens. So, while it’s not a very good strategy, the M’s might look around and decide that the probability of adding a legitimate 2B/3B type isn’t very high, and they’ll just have to roll the dice with what they have and hope for the best. The problem with this scenario is that the team is simultaneously trying to win as many games as possible to stay in the AL West race, and the dropoff from Beltre to Woodward is going to be obvious very quickly.

This is a problem with no easy solutions. Despite the desire by many to see the Branyan shift enabling Carp to play, there’s less upside and more downside with that move than you’d think. Ideally, the team would be able to go get a guy like Scales or Gotay for cheap in order to hold down the fort for a while, but that might not be possible. And if the other teams won’t cooperate in helping the M’s improve their roster, the team might just be stuck with a hole at third base.

We said before the season that Beltre, Ichiro, and Felix were the three guys this team couldn’t afford to lose. They just lost one of those three, and the options for filling the gap show why Beltre was so valuable to this particular team.


45 Responses to “The Third Base Situation”

  1. Zach Sanders on June 29th, 2009 3:34 pm

    What about Chris Shelton? He’s been playing third in Tacoma and hitting well. Is his defense at third bad enough to outway all of his potential offensive production?

  2. bat guano on June 29th, 2009 3:36 pm

    Thanks Dave, nice overview of this situation. I was wondering what you’d think the team should do and my gut was telling me that the best thing would not be to move Branyan to third or give up much future to try to win this year. Thanks for confirming that my instincts weren’t far off.

  3. djw on June 29th, 2009 3:48 pm

    It would seem the Branyan–>3B option would make a bit more sense with Shelton at 1B, as he projects to hit better than Carp right now. But that raises the question of why he didn’t get called up in the first place. Are they giving up on Shelton as a contributor for some reason?

  4. JMHawkins on June 29th, 2009 3:52 pm

    What about the Brignac plan? Bring him in to play SS and move Cedeno to 3B. Then when Yuni’s healthy, either go with the Cedeno/Brignac platoon at 3B, or maybe let Bentancourt and Brignac fight it out for playing time.

    It’ll take something to acquire Brignac, but he’s at least a potential part of the future and not just a stop-gap. It’s a gamble, but the M’s need to take a gamble to get anywhere this year anyway (the hope and pray plan is a gamble too – gambling on Woodward or Wilson to have two or three career months), so why not.

    If, for example, they could get Brignac for Bedard + Clement, well, would we rather gamble on Bedard’s health and Woodward’s bat or RRS and Brignac? Of course, with Bedard’s extended DL stink, stint, I’m not sure he’s much of a barganing chip anymore. Sigh.

  5. Sports on a Schtick on June 29th, 2009 3:58 pm

    Blake Dewitt is probably not the long-term solution at third but I’d see what the Dodgers would want for him.

  6. Paul B on June 29th, 2009 4:03 pm

    When Yuni comes back, how about Cedeno in the lineup instead of Woodward?

    OK, his first hundred at bats this year sucked, but I would argue that Cedeno has a more than 50% chance of being a better hitter for the next two months than Woodward. And he’s a better fielder, too, at either second or third.

    That said, the other option is to find a middle infielder for 2010, and solve the 2009 problem at the same time. This would likely be expensive, requiring a valuable player in trade and some money. But that is the real solution here, plug a hole for more than a couple of months.

  7. nickwest1976 on June 29th, 2009 4:07 pm

    Too bad the M’s didn’t acquire Adam Kennedy Dave like you advocated for. Kennedy at 2B and Lopez at 3B would be a nice solution right about now.

    With that said Dave, are there any potential 2B’s the M’s could trade for, allowing Lopez to move to 3B?

  8. georgmi on June 29th, 2009 4:11 pm

    We hear all the time about pitchers coming out of the independent leagues and doing, if not well, at least OK. Does this ever happen wit position players?

    Or is the pitcher thing a combination of small sample size inflated by publicity and the idea that a pitcher could potentially add a pitch to his repertoire, but a position player is significantly less likely to be able to add the bat and/or defense that kept him out of big league organizations in the first place?

  9. stevie_j13 on June 29th, 2009 4:20 pm

    I think the M’s have one more option – moving Branyan to 3B and trading for a 1B, preferably Nick Johnson. Johnson is in the last year of his deal, is exactly the kind of hitter the M’s need right now, and is a better defender at 1B than Branyan. There is an issue of what happens with Griffey if Beltre comes back in September and the M’s are in it, but that issue is lessened because of the Chavez injury, allowing Griffey to play a couple of days a week in LF. The M’s currently have excess relief pitchers and outfielders in their system, and the Nationals need everything right now. Furthermore, this would be a clear buyer’s move, but if July turns out to be a terrible month, the M’s can turn right around and trade Johnson, put Tui at 3B when he is healthy, and move Branyan back to 1B. I don’t think trading for someone slightly better than Woodward does this team any good – they should either go for it or don’t.

    As for trading for Brignac or DeWitt – first, I would be surprised if the Rays would trade with a team that is part of their Wild Card competition right now. They also have the same issue as the Dodgers – if they are giving up their prospects, it will only be to make their big league clubs better now, and the M’s don’t have that piece. Unless you are selling three games out of first place with one of the ten best AL pitchers this year coming off of the DL this week.

  10. rmnixon on June 29th, 2009 4:21 pm

    wonder if Beane would give us Orlando Cabrera for a bucket of piss and a case of batting practice balls.

  11. shortbus on June 29th, 2009 4:24 pm

    I’m having a hard time locating information on the current status of Matt Tuiasosopo. The most recent articles I can find say he had elbow surgery on May 20th and would be out “three to six weeks.” Is he not expected to return this season at all? Or could he possibly be back a few weeks before Beltre and contribute?

    If there’s any notion of Tui returning in the next month, I’d be even more strongly against trading away anything of value to fill 3B.

  12. jephdood on June 29th, 2009 4:29 pm

    I would think a guy like Batista could net a servicable 3rd baseman.. or, 2nd base and move Lopez to 3rd for awhile.

  13. jro on June 29th, 2009 4:35 pm

    Talk about a rock and hard place. It’s hard to add anyone of significant value without paying a pretty good price.

    Seems like Beltre just moved up the buyer/seller decision for Jack Z.

  14. Joe C on June 29th, 2009 4:37 pm

    If we were trying to fill a third base void for the Aquasox, Batista might net a servicable 2nd or 3rd baseman with a low upside.

  15. bat guano on June 29th, 2009 4:38 pm

    I’ve read somewhere that the Dodgers may have interest in Washburn. I think Washburn for Blake Dewitt might be logical for both teams.

  16. Slurve on June 29th, 2009 4:56 pm

    Mike Fontenot time? Well it sounds like it’s Lopez to third for now though.

  17. JMHawkins on June 29th, 2009 5:14 pm

    Talk about a rock and hard place. It’s hard to add anyone of significant value without paying a pretty good price.

    Well, that’s why I say they’ll have to gamble on some group of guys, it’s just a matter of who. Do you roll the dice on Woodward, Yuni, Bedard and Washburn, or on RRS, Morrow, Olson and whatever infielders they can pick up for Bedard and Washburn plus parts.

    The Morse-Langerhans deal sure makes Wlad look like trade bait…

  18. et_blankenship on June 29th, 2009 5:19 pm

    Did the DeRosa trade create a roster opportunity for Andy Marte? If not, that might be an option worth exploring, especially if the Indians are still collecting bullpen arms.

  19. Mere Tantalisers on June 29th, 2009 5:23 pm

    Quite the pickle we’re in here. I wonder what people think about going after a 2B instead of a 3B.

    Given that Lopez to third is already on the menu and being mulled over, and there seems to be more depth at 2B than 3B at the moment around the majors, perhaps we should be looking for a long term solution to out 2B problem, and have Lopez man the hot corner until he can be traded away this winter.

    We would certainly have to give up some serious pieced to get a quality 2B, but it would not be a rent-a-replacement 3B. Rather, it would be a regular for hopefully a few years yet.

  20. Breadbaker on June 29th, 2009 5:23 pm

    I think the M’s have one more option – moving Branyan to 3B and trading for a 1B, preferably Nick Johnson.

    We’re playing Shelton at third base in Tacoma because we have ten thousand first base options, why would we get another first baseman into the system? If none of these guys could play first in the majors, why would we keep them all around?

  21. marc w on June 29th, 2009 5:26 pm

    Wonder what Adam Heether would cost… he’s a guy Zduriencik drafted in Milwaukee, which means he’s probably already inquired about him.

    Of course, his defense would have to be good enough to overcome the gap Shelton’s got on him offensively.

  22. Mike Honcho on June 29th, 2009 5:35 pm

    What about the Brignac plan? Bring him in to play SS and move Cedeno to 3B. Then when Yuni’s healthy, either go with the Cedeno/Brignac platoon at 3B, or maybe let Bentancourt and Brignac fight it out for playing time.

    Mike Fontenot time?

    I think the M’s have one more option – moving Branyan to 3B and trading for a 1B, preferably Nick Johnson.

    All good ideas. I’d add a couple more names to the list: Kelly Johnson and Alexi Casilla.

    I think the FO can look at this as an internal fix (Woodward, Cedeno, Carp, Shelton), or they can get a stopgap (Nick Johnson, Josh Fields), or they can be a bit more aggressive, and get a present AND future middle IF (K. Johnson, Casilla, Brignac).

    I think I’d prefer Lopez to move to 3B, though…

  23. joser on June 29th, 2009 5:40 pm

    Well, something else to consider is that Beltre may be gone, period — because he might not be back before the end of the season, and he very well may be playing elsewhere next year. So unless you think Tui is the answer going forward (and you think he’ll be back in peak health soon), you’re not necessarily looking for a stopgap.

    As for Brignac, if he’s available you’re probably looking at giving up Aardsma plus Balentien/Clement/somebody. That’s a reasonable move for ’10, but do you want to try the closer experiment with… I don’t know, Kelley?

  24. JMHawkins on June 29th, 2009 5:49 pm

    As for Brignac, if he’s available you’re probably looking at giving up Aardsma plus Balentien/Clement/somebody. That’s a reasonable move for ‘10, but do you want to try the closer experiment with… I don’t know, Kelley?

    Sure. Maybe Kelley, maybe someone else. I’m okay with experimental closers. Hell, stick Bedard in the closer roll and give RRS his rotation spot if we aren’t going to trade him. Might keep him off the DL.

    I think there are more options for patching bullpen holes than middle infield holes, and those middle infield holes will exist next year too.

  25. stevie_j13 on June 29th, 2009 6:02 pm

    We’re playing Shelton at third base in Tacoma because we have ten thousand first base options, why would we get another first baseman into the system? If none of these guys could play first in the majors, why would we keep them all around?

    The reason you trade for Johnson is a) he is way better right now than any of your minor league 1B, and b) he is a free agent at the end of the season, meaning the future is not compromised by bringing him on. Johnson would be a rent-a-player, not a long-term fix. Johnson is too much of an injury risk long-term, anyway.

  26. stevie_j13 on June 29th, 2009 6:03 pm

    Sorry, screwed up the block quote thing. Haven’t done it before. The first paragraph should be the block quote.

  27. Puffy on June 29th, 2009 8:18 pm

    I think it’s silly to discuss Nick Johnson as a stopgap. He’s having a very good year and Washington is likely to demand a ransom for him. Contender teams (such as Boston) will be in the mix, as the Red Sox reportedly turned down a Manny Delcarmen for Johnson trade earlier this season. Would the Mariners be willing to trade a Delcarmen equivalent (something slightly less than Morrow) for a 1/2 season stopgap…?

    The real question is are the Mariners playing for this year, the future, or trying to do both?

  28. Breadbaker on June 29th, 2009 8:25 pm

    They are not choosing to play Branyan at third because they don’t have other options at first, they are doing it because they don’t want to move him to third. So why would you give up anything to get a first basemen when you have first basemen in the system when you still don’t have anyone to play third?

  29. Puffy on June 29th, 2009 8:27 pm

    Basically, what I was saying is this: A major league quality 3rd baseman is going to cost a lot via a mid-season trade. This is why the best teams attempt to build depth and roster flexibility during the off-season. The market for starting lineup-ready third basemen (or second basemen for that matter) will be driven by teams in contention with serious playoff hopes (ie the St. Louis trade for DeRosa). The Mariners would be overpaying for a mid-season fix like DeRosa, or Nick Johnson, unless they are certain they want to spend capital to win today at the expense of the future.

    Seattle can’t really have it both ways right now. A major league replacement for Beltre will cost valuable talent and the tough decision for the brass will be whether or not they want to expend the capital in 2009 or stock up for 2010 and beyond.

    This is why I expect the M’s to try out their in-house options first and make crucial decisions closer to the deadline. If the Mariners must be sellers, they can gauge interest in their veterans and get a suitable package back. They needed to replace Beltre anyway (and maybe Lopez, Yuni, and 1st base). You’d expect they are looking for infield talent already…

  30. dirk on June 29th, 2009 8:35 pm

    Other options:
    2B Kaz Matsui – Gives us another LH option, decent fielder, who could be had for half full bucket of balls.

    2B Felipe Lopez: Another switch hitter, not sure what he’s worth to the D-Backs.

    SS Cristian Guzman: Getting a stick at SS would allow us to suck at either 2B or 3B. Again, no idea what he’s worth to the hopeless Nats.

  31. Puffy on June 29th, 2009 8:40 pm

    If we’re really going to go the “warm body” route, why not call Mark Grudzielanek or Ray Durham? Both played a passable major league second base last year and could be had without sacrificing valuable talent, since they are both currently free agents. I believe both are looking for a major league deal.

    Honestly, why try to trade for Kaz Matsui when you could just get one of these warm bodies, or another Shea Hillenbrand-type free agent to tide you over till the deadline and you have a better idea of whether to be buyers or sellers.

    Mark Grudzielanek was fine for the Royals last year.

    Obviously both Grudzielanek and Durham would involve moving Lopez to third, another factor to consider…

  32. wabbles on June 29th, 2009 8:46 pm

    “The real question is are the Mariners playing for this year, the future, or trying to do both?”

    We were trying to do both but then injuries to Beltre and Bedard kinda screwed that pooch. The trick now is trying to fill the hole without blowing open a hole somewhere else. No more Doyle plus Fruto for Turbo plus an albatross contract deals, please.

  33. Puffy on June 29th, 2009 8:48 pm

    The injuries to Bedard and Beltre simultaneously screwed the pooch on playing for this year and robbed the Ms of 2 of their best deadline trading chips.

  34. wabbles on June 29th, 2009 8:54 pm

    Personally I like the hope for a fluke route. When the Seahawks lost Brian Bosworth to injury in 1987, they plugged in an unknown (Fredd Young) who became an All-Star. Diaz and Amaral subbed OK for Junior in 1995. There’s always hope.

  35. Puffy on June 29th, 2009 9:04 pm

    Also Adam Heether on the Brewers, as a AAAA player having a good year or two. 27 years old with patience and power. Shouldn’t cost too much.

  36. nickwest1976 on June 29th, 2009 9:06 pm

    I personally think that if Lopez is going to be with this team long-term, he has a better chance of doing so at 3B than 2B. My guess is he would be a better defender at 3B as you don’t need quite as much range there and he is showing some power upside to warrant batting at 3B.

    I don’t like the idea of Lopez at 2B at all, he just doesn’t have the range to play that position defensively.

    I think moving Lopez to 3B now gives the team the opportunity to get a solid replacement bat to 3B for Beltre while also giving Lopez a look there to see if he can play the position defensively. It does then mean the team needs to get a 2B but we do know that Woodward or Cedeno are at least upgrades defensively at 2B over Lopez.

  37. Breadbaker on June 29th, 2009 11:31 pm

    When the Seahawks lost Brian Bosworth to injury in 1987, they plugged in an unknown (Fredd Young) who became an All-Star

    You mean, besides having appeared as the AFC special teams player for each of the prior three seasons? Yes, it would be great if the M’s could find someone like that for free lying around.

  38. rick m on June 29th, 2009 11:44 pm

    I like the Scott Moore option. He carries the added benefit of having left handed power. Not showing much of it right now, but he has raked in the past in AA and AAA.

  39. stevie_j13 on June 30th, 2009 1:44 am

    I really do not understand the fascination with AAAA players as a stopgap. Why make a deal at all? Will a AAAA player really help the M’s catch the Angels? Instead, this sounds to me like a lot of people really believe that the M’s should be sellers right now, which is fine (the Angels have gotten really hot and will definitely add before the deadline). I am not sure who they would sell other than Washburn and relief pitching, but whatever.

    If the M’s are going to buy, they have to buy an expensive commodity (Johnson as one example), because that is what it will take for them to keep up. By expensive, I mean that it will take a solid return package to attain the player. I think they have to outfield and relief pitching assets to make it happen without overly compromising the future. Just because Bavasi was bad at it does not by itself mean that the M’s should not be buyers. But half-measures like Scott Moore or Adam Heether will do little to help the team now. Also, the reason I’ve focused on Johnson is because I can’t find a good third baseman that will help the team now and is potentially available (Garrett Atkins?).

  40. edclayton on June 30th, 2009 5:12 am

    Billy Beane just called and said that Eric Chavez is still available.

  41. msb on June 30th, 2009 8:23 am

    Larry Stone writes about filling the hole at 3rd today, and Greg Johns wonders if the Ms should bring AB back.

    Oh and McGrath suggest trading Batista for the Dobber.

  42. joser on June 30th, 2009 8:57 am

    Atkins… hmmm, not a big fan of his diet.

    Seriously, Atkins is almost certainly available: even though he’s got a little more playing time lately, he seems to have lost his job to Stewart. And the Rockies might be willing to swap him for some cheap relief pitching. But he’s going to have 5 years of MLB service in the offseason, and already got a $7M contract for this year (avoiding arbitration). For a guy who’s been a .285 wOBA so far this year — and about a -10 UZR/150 over the past 3 years at 3B — that’s pretty rich. ZIPS still projects him to raise his wOBA to .329 (his BABiP this year has been just .240, well below his career average of about .314) but so far this year he’s been “worth” a net -$3.5M beyond his salary. Unless you think he’ll benefit from a change in scenery and/or you think he’s due to regress to the mean (which is possible given the BABIP) I wouldn’t want to give up much for him.

  43. mymrbig on June 30th, 2009 10:19 am

    Puffy said:

    If we’re really going to go the “warm body” route, why not call Mark Grudzielanek or Ray Durham?

    We must share a brain, because that was literally the first thing that jumped into my mind.

    From 2005-2008, Grudzielanek was worth 3.0, 2.6, 2.7, and 1.7 WAR. And his 2008 numbers are diminished because of an injury. Over the same years, Ray Durham was worth 3.3, 4.0, -.8, and 2.6 WAR. Both guys would be solid stop-gaps options at 2nd with Lopez shifting to 3rd. Seems like one of them could be had for a reasonable price (maybe a million bucks?).

    Really the big question is what kind of shape they are in. Seems like a best-case scenario (they’ve been working out and taking BP, but no live pitching) would probably require a couple weeks in the minors. I’d get them both in for workouts and see where they stand.

    Another trade candidate might be Jose Bautista with the Jays. Totally uninspiring and not the best fit, but he’s probably fairly cheap (in terms of talent).

    Too bad the Yankees just acquired Eric Hinske for a bad of peanuts. His defense might not inspire much confidence, but his LH bat that will take a walk and has some pop would have been a nice fit!

  44. Steve Nelson on June 30th, 2009 10:21 am

    How about Leone for Third? (More than just an old name for the blog that became Lookout Landing.)

  45. nvn8vbryce on June 30th, 2009 3:34 pm

    After seeing Gotay last night at the Reno – Tacoma game, I don’t know why Jack Z hasn’t traded for him yet.

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