The M’s Should Not Trade For A Third Baseman
The 5-4 road trip, the latter portion coming with Adrian Beltre on the disabled list, can’t be construed as anything other than a huge success. No one thinks this is a great team, but they just played ball with three of the best teams in baseball, on the road, and didn’t embarrass themselves. Yes, there was some bounces going their way, but they put themselves in the position to have those lucky breaks translate into wins in a stretch of games where getting blown out early and often wouldn’t have been much of a shock.
Given the strong performance and the team’s place in the standings, just 3 1/2 games behind both Anaheim and Texas, the organization has ample reason to focus on improving the team they’re putting on the field and giving the 2009 team a chance to make a run at the playoffs. And, realistically, it’s pretty easy to identify the glaring weakness on this team right now. Chris Woodward seems like a nice enough guy, but when he’s your starting third baseman, you have a problem. Considering the M’s inconsistent production (or just total lack thereof) at other positions, they can’t afford to punt third base in a playoff race. Woodward has to be replaced if this team really wants to try to make a push for the AL West title.
That fact, obvious to most everyone, has led to speculation about which third baseman the Mariners could possibly acquire. Names tossed around include Mark Teahen, Garrett Atkins, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Ty Wigginton, and Blake DeWitt, as fans and reporters alike try to come up with some possible options for the club. For most people, the discussion simply comes down to which 3B the M’s should go after, but I’m of the belief that the best option is none of the above.
Making a move for a third baseman would provide an upgrade over Chris Woodward and improve the team’s ability to stay afloat while Adrian Beltre is on the shelf. I don’t disagree with any of that. However, what do you do with New Guy if Beltre is able to come back in September? Or, even better, what do you do with New Guy if the M’s actually pull this thing off and make it to the playoffs? There’s not a third baseman available in trade that you’d want in the line-up over a healthy Adrian Beltre, or even Beltre at 80% of his normal abilities. At that point, you’ve given up some presumably valuable asset(s) to help you for the next ~7 weeks and then improve your bench for the final month/playoffs. Meanwhile, the guy lining up next to Beltre would still be Ronny Cedeno or Yuniesky Betancourt.
That’s the real hole – shortstop. The M’s don’t have a single major league quality starting shortstop in the organization. Cedeno’s flashed the leather the last few weeks like we hoped he would earlier in the year, but there’s still too many problems with his offensive production to look at him as a real solution. Yuni, we’ve talked about to death. On a team trying to contend, both of these guys are bench players.
If we’re going to accept the premise that this team should be bolstering the roster for a run this year (for the purpose of this post, we are), we have to look beyond August 31st. The team only has so many trade chips that will bring them back assets in return, and using one or more of them to acquire a guy who may not have a full-time job for the last month of the season and any October baseball could be a mistake.
The team has to replace Woodward, but they don’t have to do it by acquiring a third baseman. Instead, if the team is going to aggressively pursue an upgrade on the roster, I’d suggest that shortstop is the position to target. If you can make a deal that brings back an SS, you still replace Woodward, but you do it by shifting Lopez to third and Cedeno/Yuni to second.
The starting 2B/3B/SS, in either scenario, will be Lopez-Cedeno/Betancourt-New Guy. How those players are deployed is the issue. And I’d argue that with Beltre potentially returning for September and beyond, it is in the organization’s best interests to make sure that New Guy can play next to Adrian down the stretch, rather than being displaced by him. You don’t want to give up assets for a two month player if you can get a three month (plus playoffs) player instead.
Thankfully for the Mariners, there are a pretty decent selection of shortstops who potentially could be acquired by the M’s. There’s a couple high rent district guys who would cost a lot but could also be terrific acquisitions (J.J. Hardy and Reid Brignac), the veteran rent-a-player option (Jack Wilson), and a trio of need-a-change-of-scenery players (Stephen Drew, Jhonny Peralta, and Yunel Escobar, the latter two of whom could potentially play third until Beltre came back, then shift over to shortstop).
Any possible deal involving Hardy or Brignac is going to cost you Erik Bedard (and then some), so he’d have to be lights out in his two starts this week in order to facilitate a move. More realistically, Wilson would cost significantly less in talent to acquire, thanks to his contract and the Pirates perpetual rebuilding phase, while providing a really good glove guy who isn’t an automatic out. The last three are all questionable gloves at short, but they have a track record of hitting well enough to make up for it – how much the M’s should give up for a guy who might have to move off the position after 2009 is a legitimate question, but they provide options at least.
The worst thing the M’s can do right now is overreact to the road trip and make the easy move that doesn’t help them enough for 2009 and costs them talent for 2010 and beyond. If they’re going to make a move to improve this club for the stretch run, it should be a move that can help them through the rest of the season, even after a potential Beltre return, and in an ideal world it would be a player with some value to this club in 2010 as well.
Replace Woodward, yes, but replace him with a shortstop.