The Third Base Problem
A few months ago, the M’s off-season priorities seemed pretty obvious – the team was devoid of interesting left field options, and they needed to at least get a competent DH to help stimulate the offense. Since then, however, they’ve acquired Casper Wells and Trayvon Robinson and Mike Carp has shown enough power to at least be considered in the mix for playing time at 1B/DH next year. What were total organizational holes are now more question marks, where the team could make a case that it’s worth investing playing time in guys like Wells and Carp to see if they can find reasonably productive players who make no money, which would let them allocate their resources elsewhere when looking to upgrade the roster.
If the team decided to go that direction, that would leave third base and catcher as the glaring organizational holes, and the likely spots to target for upgrades this winter. The problem with trying to upgrade at catcher is two-fold, however – the organization already is paying Miguel Olivo $3.5 million next year, and they seem to actually like what he brings to the table. There’s also the fact that there are no good hitting catchers that are likely to be available, and it’s tough to see the M’s investing significant money on a non-impact guy to make Olivo a back-up. They might spend a few million to get another veteran to split time with him, but I doubt we’ll see Olivo forced into a strict backup role.
So, that leaves third base as the position where the team could focus their resources on improving. Chone Figgins is basically out of the picture at this point, having performed so poorly that I doubt anyone really wants to see him report to Peoria next spring. Kyle Seager still profiles more as a utility infielder than an everyday guy, and is certainly not going to be the kind of thumping big bat that the organization would like to add to the line-up. Alex Liddi has some power but isn’t really a Major League player at this point (and might not ever be), and after that, there just isn’t really anyone internally that the organization could point to and say that he’s the third baseman of the future.
So, despite the Figgins flop, it seems like the team may be in a position to spend some money to get an established third baseman this winter. The problem – I have no idea who they’d actually go after. Look at the list of the best third baseman in baseball this year – it’s not a very pretty sight. Kevin Youkilis is headed into the final year of his contract, probably can’t play 3B much longer, and there’s no reason for Boston to trade him. Pablo Sandoval is the Giants only decent hitter. Adrian Beltre just signed a huge contract with the Rangers. A-Rod? Longoria? Zimmerman? Not happening.
League wide, the third base position is just in a funk. There aren’t many good young 3Bs coming up, and the ones that have established themselves as quality players aren’t available. The 3B market this winter is basically going to be an aging Aramis Ramirez (if the Cubs don’t pick up his option) and a bunch of guys who wouldn’t make a difference.
So, the M’s have a hole that won’t be easy to fill. If they’re going to upgrade at third base this winter, they’re going to have to be creative. And if they decide not to upgrade at third base, but instead decide to stay in house, it’s tough to see exactly where they would spend the money they’ll have available.
All of the sudden, what was a pretty obvious off-season plan is now kind of murky. I don’t envy Jack Z.