The Hot Stove Corner, Part 5: Third Base

          BA  AB  R HR RBI BB   K  OBP  SLG  OPS 
Glaus   .261 529 77 36  94 84 140 .366 .524 .890 
Cintron .345  87 11  1  18  2  10 .356 .483 .838 

2005 review
Our big free-agent acquisition for 2005 was at third-base. Troy Glaus was signed from the Anaheim Angels to a four-year, $45m contract as our big bopper, replacing Richie Sexson who went off to Seattle to be on a contending team [how'd that work out, Richie?]. This move allowed Tracy and his poor throws to shift across to first, and free 3B up for Glaus, who'd seen both 2003 + 2004 seasons shortened by injury.

He did appear in 149 games, hitting 37 home runs, good enough for third on the franchise list, and he led the club in walks. His average of .258 was about what was expected, but Glaus received a lot of criticism for his poor performance with runners in scoring position, though debate raged over the "meaningfulness" of this statistic. Glaus soldiered on, despite almost continuous problems with his left knee, which required cortisone injections with increasing frequency throughout the season, and may have had affected his play. It certainly affected his running, which was often painful to watch.

Glaus had some big blows with the bat: after two sweet homers in an exhibition game vs. Boston helped us rally from a 6-0 first innings deficit (courtesy Russ Ortiz, of course), I briefly expected 50 homers. That wasn't quite to be, and Glaus was unimpressive with the glove, falling just short of the franchise record for errors, set by Tracy at 3B in 2004.

Maybe his injury hampered him, or his size simply meant his best chance in blocking drives was if it pinged off a limb. Perhaps the best description was Levski's comment over at Diamondbacks Bullpen: "Imagine one of the big walking/talking trees from Lord of the Rings playing 3B. That was Glaus." Though as another writer pointed out, the Ents had better range.

2006 Possibilities

Free Agents
This wasn't an area which was explored very much: either Glaus was staying, or Tracy was taking over. But a quick sweep around what was on offer is merited, if perhaps only to show why we ignored them completely. The pick of the bunch - though I used the word "pick" in an almost-nasal sense - was probably Bill Mueller. A 35-year old with career highs of 19 HR and 85 RBIs (10 and 62 last season), he still managed to get a two-year, $9.5m contract from the Dodgers

Also up for grabs were Joe Randa (one year, $4m from the Pirates) and Geoff Blum (one year, $650K for the Padres) - I'm prepared to bet Chad Tracy will provide better production than any of these, and at a fraction of the cost. If you go beyond that Unholy Trinity, you're engaging in barrel-scraping of Olympic proportions, unless you think Jose Valentin or Wes Helms are what your team needs. You will understand why Arizona was not exactly active in the marketplace.

Trades
The signs were on the wall early. When it came to unclogging the corners, Glaus was easily the most - today's word of the day - fungible asset: the others were either untradeable (Green) or untouchable (Quentin, Jackson, Tracy). So it wasn't long before suggestions started seeping out.

Early November rumours, which seem to have started in the LA Times, linked Glaus with a trade for Boston's Manny Ramirez. In this three-way deal, also involving the Angels and Darren Erstad, Glaus would end up in Boston, playing 1B. Though the details remained vague - it was never made clear what prospects were supposedly coming to Arizona - the idea was rapidly squashed by Josh Byrnes.

However, the little foreshocks continued to rumble: here's a sampling of the myths and legends that kept us occupied around the hot-stove:

  • To Boston in a straight trade for Pat Burrell and third baseman David Bell
  • To Boston for Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo.
  • To New York, for Kris Benson and a wife of questionable morals to be named later (Javier Vazquez was an alternate D'back in that trade).
  • The White Sox were apparently interested, until resigning Konerko.
  • Or Detroit, as part of a blockbuster package with Vazquez, in exchange for center fielder Curtis Granderson and right-hander Joel Zumaya, two of the Tigers' top prospects.

None of which happened, of course. For in the end, Glaus headed north of the border, waiving his no-trade clause to join the Blue Jays, once he was assured their playing surface wouldn't destroy his knees. In exchange, Miguel Batista returned to the fold in Arizona, to help shore up the rotation. And more importantly, we got the Golden Glove of Orlando Hudson, whom some projections have as a more valuable player than Glaus, once defense is taken into account, at a fraction of the cost.

Prospects
In contrast to short-stop, third-base doesn't offer as much excitement or amazing riches to come, as it perhaps seemed to a year or so back. However, with Chad Tracy currently occupying the slot in the majors, and looking set for several years, there is no immediate need. It's also possible that someone could slide over from another position to fill any future requirement we might have there.

Of the current "genuine" farmboys, the most immediate candidate is Brian Barden. In 2005, he hit .307 for Tucson, and has batted over .300 during his four minor league seasons. His 15 HR last season was a career high, and is something he'll need to develop if he's to stick at 3B, but his defense at the hot corner is excellent. It might be no surprise if he was traded for an equivalent pitcher, but he was left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, and no-one bit.

Jamie D'Antona was similarly unprotected and unwanted. He was picked just after Quentin and Jackson during the second round of the 2003 draft, but his progress since has been somewhat slower. John Sickels of Minor League Ball rated him our #8 prospect before last season, but he's now likely marginal top 25 material. Coming back from injury, D'Antona hit only .249 with a disappointing 9 HR at Tennessee, and will likely stay there to begin 2005. He may need to move positions, with his range and footwork suspect.

Further down the line is Rusty Ryal, said by some to be our best 3B prospect, though he was only a 14th round pick last year. Still, he raked at Missoula, posting a .333 average in 72 games. Ricardo Sosa was originally scouted in a Miami backyard, but only played 32 games at Yakima last year, batting .254. Finally, there's Agustin Murillo, who has spent the last two years at South Bend, and was markedly better last year, with a .296 average and 17 homers.

Summary + Prediction
There seems no doubt that Tracy will be the everyday third baseman this year: the key questions are, will he continue the offensive improvement shown in his sophomore season, and how will his defense (very weak in 2004) hold up on his return to the position? Most guesses seem to lurk around the same level of production as 2005, which would be fine by me: I like to think that with another full season under his belt, Tracy's arm might be better, but cheerfully admit to having no real grounds to believe this will be the case. However, he still probably won't be much worse in the field than Troy Glaus.

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