Diamondbacks: Who's On Third? I Don't Know!

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Despite Chris Johnson providing the team with seven home runs and a .503 slugging percentage in 44 games after being acquired from the Astros, GM Kevin Towers has said that he may acquire a third baseman this winter.

Well, if you read my shortstops piece, then you know the drill. In his post-mortem press conference, GM Kevin Towers stated that he is going to look into acquiring a third baseman this off-season, so it's time to go around the league and see where there are third basemen to be acquired. That said, we'll also need to consider how the primary incumbent, Chris Johnson, fits into the equation. Having Johnson in tow creates a twist in the market outlook, and changes the ideal type of player Arizona could look to acquire at third base:

- If Arizona keeps Johnson, the team would likely acquire a left-handed-hitting compliment (besides the inexperienced Ryan Wheeler) for Johnson rather than pay a premium for an everyday player and relegate Johnson to a bench role. Particularly since Johnson wouldn't make an ideal first base-third base backup since Paul Goldschmidt also hits right-handed, Johnson's value would be diminished by acquiring a full-time player. Preferably, the platoon partner would be one who is also more defensively-oriented in order to mesh with Johnson's skillset.

- Alternatively, Arizona could use Johnson as a trade chip to provide a team with a replacement for their incumbent third baseman. If a team with a young, cost-controlled everyday third baseman has a glaring team hole we could fill from an area of organizational strength - most notably a need for good young pitching - perhaps filling that hole could be used as incentive to downgrade to Johnson at the hot corner. With Arizona's bevy of young pitching, the D-backs could upgrade at third base for the long-term without sacrificing a big chunk of payroll or production elsewhere on the diamond.

***

NL West

Colorado - The Rockies had a timeshare at third with Jordan Pacheco and Chris Nelson, but they each look like contact hitting, poor-man's versions of Johnson, even down to hitting right-handed. Simply put, neither player represents a significant upgrade over Johnson, and would likely be downgrades.

Los Angeles - The Dodgers apparently played eight players at third base in 2012, with 28-year-old journeyman Luis Cruz the best among them, pulling off a 2.6 fWAR campaign in 78 games of action between shortstop and third base. The right-handed-hitting Cruz doesn't have enough of a track record to be considered a sure-fire upgrade over Johnson, and his right-handedness doesn't make him an ideal target for a platoon arrangement.

San Diego - Chase Headley is really good. Really good. That said, it just isn't going to happen, and I think we all understand why. Beyond that, acquiring Headley would likely mean that Johnson would be stuck on the bench or hung out as trade fodder, as I doubt the Padres would have much interest in a poor-glove, power-first guy like CJ - not exactly a prototypical Petco player.

San Francisco - As easy as it is to make fun of Pablo Sandoval, he's an awfully good player and isn't getting dealt in-division. Would it be nice to convince San Francisco that a platoon of Chris Johnson and Joaquin Arias provides a bat-first/glove-first duo that could match what the Panda offers? Sure. Is it going to happen? No. Besides, San Francisco has little need for one of our young arms.

***

NL Central

Chicago - The Cubs gave Ian Stewart a shot at third base this year after acquiring him from Colorado for Tyler Colvin, but the move hasn't worked out well for Chicago. Colvin surged in Colorado, while Stewart limped to a .201/.292/.335 line in 55 games before needing season-ending wrist surgery. Stewart is technically under control for two more years in arbitration, but his poor year and surgery make him a non-tender candidate. Stewart could perhaps audition to be a lefty-hitting platoon option for the D-backs on a make-good minor-league deal, as Arizona has been linked to Stewart in the past. Neither Josh Vitters nor journeyman Luis Valbuena represent an upgrade.

Cincinnati - As Scott Rolen's career winds down, the Reds look to go with youngster and Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Frazier at the hot corner in 2013. With few other in-house options available and a solid rotation, it's hard to see Arizona pulling off a deal that entices the Reds to take Johnson for Frazier unless the Reds are completely disenchanted with their combination of Chris Heisey and Drew Stubbs in center field, yet infatuated with Chris Young.

Milwaukee - Aramis Ramirez was a phenomenal signing for Brewers GM Doug Melvin last off-season, with the slugger putting up one of the quietest .300/.360/.540 lines I've seen, with the buzz around Ramirez being stunted due to Ryan Braun soaking up the attention. Ramirez will be back for Milwaukee at the hot corner in 2013, as there aren't any internal options chomping at his heels.

Pittsburgh - Pedro Alvarez put things together in 2012 and posted the first above-average year of his career, launching 30 home runs in 149 games. While that home run total could rise even higher in Chase Field, I just can't see a deal happening. With poor defense and low OBPs, everything depends on the power for Alvarez, and his disastrous year at the dish in 2011 could make it difficult for the two clubs come to an agreement on his real value. I can't imagine Arizona parting with much more than Johnson and Patrick Corbin (perhaps with Matt Davidson?), and I can't imagine the Pirates accepting that offer.

St. Louis - The Cards have David Freese, who a) rakes, and b) has hometown kid and postseason heroics stories stuck to him like glue that would make it a PR pitfall to trade him. Even with the downfall of now-Miami Marlin Zack Cox, St. Louis still has Matt Carpenter, who played all over the diamond - including third base - while hitting .294/.365/.463 for St. Louis in 2012. That said, the Cardinals love having a deep bench and don't have a need young pitching, which limits the trade chips Arizona has to make a deal work.

***

NL East

Atlanta - As Chipper Jones finally rides off into the sunset, the Braves will probably simply slide Martin Prado back into the hot corner slot to take his place. This means that the lefty-hitting Juan Francisco could be expendable, but his .278 OBP in 2012 strikes me as a turn-off.

Miami - After dumping Hanley Ramirez on Los Angeles, the Marlins turned to a bevy of below-replacement-level flotsam to fill in at third for the rest of the season. Four of those players - Nick Green, Donnie Murphy, Gil Velazquez, and Greg Dobbs - combined for -1.6 fWAR on the year. Ironically enough, that means that five of their players to man third base in 2012 (including Ramirez's time in Miami) combined to be exactly replacement-level in 2012.

New York - The Mets hold a no-brainer option on David Wright, and are reportedly looking to lock up their star third baseman to a contract extension, perhaps by the start of the World Series. I don't want to know what the price tag on Wright would be. Plus, he hits right-handed, so he couldn't platoon with Johnson. : )

Philadelphia - The Phillies played Placido Polanco, Kevin Frandsen, and Mike Fontenot at third base in 2012. Frandsen somehow (by which I mean "due to a .366 BABIP) managed to hit .338/.383/.451 for the Phillies, but none of the players represents a significant upgrade.

Washington - Remember when the Nationals were going to have a logjam at third base with Ryan Zimmerman blocking Anthony Rendon? Well, Rendon has played in just ten more professional games than Trevor Bauer - a starting pitcher - has played in since they were both drafted in 2011. Zimmerman is here to stay for 2013, and the Nationals aren't in a position where they would have any desire to downgrade to Johnson.

***

AL West

Houston - Chris Johnson was the everyday third baseman for the Astros before he was dealt, so it goes without saying that he was probably their best option at the position before he was dealt. Houston added Matt Dominguez to the mix after the trade went down, but he won't be on Arizona's short list. Further, he's cheap and under control for a long time, so he has value to the rebuilding 'Stros as a once-top-prospect worth taking a flier on.

Los Angeles - The Angels were originally going to try Mark Trumbo out at third, but he quickly played himself into the outfield. The Angels then turned to Alberto Callaspo at the position, who fared nicely with a 2.7 fWAR campaign thanks to a solid walk rate and good defense (effectively making Callaspo the anti-Trumbo). Given that Callaspo's OBP skills play well in Angel Stadium while Johnson's power would be diminished by the park, I can't imagine that either club would be in favor of a deal.

Oakland - Brandon Inge's season was ended early due to a shoulder injury, and the A's replaced Inge primarily with Josh Donaldson, a 26-year-old rookie who hit .241/.289/.398 for the A's in 75 games of action in 2012.

Seattle - Youngster Kyle Seager hit 20 home runs for the Mariners in 2012, and with the latest word that the M's are bringing in the outfield fences at Safeco Field, he could absolutely explode in 2013. Further, with Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton on the farm, they likely wouldn't be wooed by offers of young pitching for Seager, even if the latter two of those young arms just had down years in 2012.

Texas - With Adrian Beltre and his out-of-this-world glove cemented at third base for the foreseeable future, the Rangers could seriously entertain offers for third base prospect Mike Olt this off-season. Olt's right-handed bat wouldn't compliment Chris Johnson well, but Arizona could try to move Johnson in a separate deal if they're feeling risky and manage to pry Olt from the Rangers to be their everyday player in 2013 (perhaps with Chris Young, to replace Josh Hamilton in center field?). Olt could completely bust and it wouldn't be a huge surprise given his minor-league strikeout rates. That said, it would offer Arizona a chance at cashing in big-time at the hot corner, while also using Johnson to try to fill a hole elsewhere.

***

AL Central

Chicago - The White Sox weren't getting any sort of offense out of young Brent Morel and were desperate for third base production, so they acquired Kevin Youkilis from the Red Sox in late-June. The White Sox face an interesting dilemma in Youkilis' $13MM club option (w/ a $1MM buyout), and while that number might seem high, their lack of other internal options might encourage them to exercise it. Arizona had an opportunity to pursue Youkilis at mid-season this year and chose not to due to his age and mobility, so I wouldn't anticipate them targeting him this off-season.

Cleveland - The Indians actually sport a pair of lefty-hitting third basemen in Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall, and might look to move one of them this off-season. I wouldn't want to depend on either player as a full-time option, with Hannahan's career 84 wRC+ and Chisenhall's heavy platoon splits, and I doubt the Indians would give up on Chisenhall so soon. Hannahan, however, fits the good-glove, lefty-bat mold for a possible platoon partner with Chris Johnson. Perhaps a deal involving Ryan Wheeler could interest in the Indians, who are in desperate need of right-handed hitting, and who could create a third base platoon of their own with Wheeler and Chisenhall.

Detroit - Let's be real here: Miguel Cabrera belongs at another position. Cabrera didn't want to become a DH (where the Tigers played Delmon Young and his .267/.296/.411 batting line for -0.7 fWAR), but with Nick Castellanos on the way at third, it might be time for the club to tell him or Prince Fielder (with Cabrera moving to first) to make the move for the good of the team. Failing that, the club could choose to deal Castellanos, but his lack of experience and top prospect price tag will likely lead Arizona to explore other options.

Kansas City - As mentioned at the beginning of the post, the Royals have no real in-house option at third behind Mike Moustakas, but they do have a gaping hole that might just convince them to downgrade from Moustakas to Johnson: a desperate need for young pitching. Arizona would probably need to secure a veteran starter for their rotation before being willing to part with one of one of their stable of young arms in a Moustakas deal, but they certainly have the type of pieces that Kansas City would love to obtain if they were to consider dealing their third baseman.

What Moustakas represents is a young (2012 was his age-23 season), excellent defender at third base with the kind of raw power that could make him a 35-40 HR threat in his prime at Chase Field (and out of Kauffman Stadium). I can understand being squeamish about trading one of Trevor Bauer or Tyler Skaggs along with Johnson for a player with a career .301 OBP and 18% line drive rate, but I doubt Kansas City would settle for Patrick Corbin in a deal. An interesting, though risky, alternative could be parting with Johnson and Trevor Cahill and going with an inexperienced rotation if Arizona is looking to save some money. However, that is a lot of cash for Kansas City to take on while also parting with perhaps the best player of the deal.

As a final note, I believe someone on the 'Pit has already been dangling Moustakas' name about lately, and I initially shot it down due to the whole Tony Abreu problem I listed in the intro. However, credit to you for first acknowledging KC's need for pitching and our supply of it - if the Royals accept Johnson as a stop-gap, this idea could work.

Minnesota - The Twins suffered through 34 games of Danny Valencia before turning to Trevor Plouffe, who turned in 24 home runs in 119 games for Minnesota but remains a player without a real defensive home. Plouffe's glove and OBP leave a lot to be desired, and he has less of a track record of sustaining the one-tool third baseman thing that is also Johnson's M.O., and Plouffe's price tag is probably higher than Arizona's valuation of him after a 24-homer season.

***

AL East

Baltimore - The O's finally got tired of Mark Reynolds' defense at third base, and brought up stud prospect Manny Machado to man the hot corner down the stretch and into the post-season. They might stick with Machado at third for 2013, but likely will want to move him to shortstop in the long-run. With J.J. Hardy in tow, though, there isn't a rush to move Machado off third, or to acquire an alternate third baseman. On the other hand, if Arizona can pick up an everyday third baseman somehow without moving Johnson, perhaps a deal involving Johnson could be swung to net Hardy from the O's to fill Arizona's shortstop hole.

Boston - Kevin Youkilis struggled in his 42 games in Boston this year to the tune of a .233/.315/.377 triple-slash line amid controversy between him and manager Bobby Valentine before being dealt to the South Side Sox. That deal saved Boston $2MM and netted them a pair of young players in Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge, but perhaps most importantly opened up playing time for young Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks posted a solid 122 wRC+ before suffering a broken wrist on a hit-by-pitch, but remains Boston's third baseman of the future. Boston does need pitching, but I can't see Arizona moving Johnson and one of its better young arms - Cahill, Bauer, Skaggs, Miley, Corbin, or Archie - for Middlebrooks, and I can't see Boston settling for Ian Kennedy or David Holmberg in a deal.

New York - Alex Rodriguez can hit, but... yeah, let's move on. The other options the Yankees employed at the hot corner when A-Rod missed time are either about to be free agents or right-handed-hitting backup options.

Tampa Bay - Evan Longoria might have the most team-friendly contract in all of baseball, and he's going nowhere. It goes without saying that Ryan Roberts isn't an option for the D-backs, and Sean Rodriguez is more of a second baseman than a third baseman.

Toronto - The Jays do need pitching, as their only starter to post a sub-4 ERA in 2012 was young stud Brandon Morrow. If the Jays are willing to downgrade from third baseman Brett Lawrie to Chris Johnson in order to obtain one of Arizona's young pitchers. At the same time, Lawrie's temper could be a turn-off for the D-backs, especially if there are other everyday options available at a similar cost.

***

Free Agency

After looking through an underwhelming shortstop free agent market in the last market analysis post, I would understand entering this one with low expectations. Unfortunately, the biggest name on MLB Trade Rumors' list of potential 2013 free agent third basemen isn't going to hit the market - David Wright's club option will be exercised if the Mets can't ink him to an extension beforehand. Additionally, the second big name on the list, Youkilis, has been passed up by the D-backs once already. That said, there are still some good names left:

Eric Chavez - Chavez isn't as fleet-footed as he once was at the hot corner, but when he's healthy, he can still really hit. When Alex Rodriguez missed a good chunk of time with injury, Chavez stepped up and hit .281/.348/.496 in 313 plate appearances. At his age, the left-handed-hitting Chavez won't be looking for an everyday job, but his left-handed power could thrive in Chase Field and he would get regular time off with Chris Johnson hitting from the right side.

Maicer Izturis - The switch-hitting Izturis has swung the bat better as a lefty throughout his career, and offers quality defense at both second and third base, giving the team some more flexibility around the diamond. That said, the D-backs already have Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald locked up for 2013, so they might not be able to really get the most out of what Izturis provides.

***

tl;dr

Let's run through the final list of options for the D-backs. Here are the options discovered above, listed in order of my most-preferred to least-preferred, as well as their contract status:

Mike Moustakas - Under team control through 2017. Snagging Moustakas from the Royals won't be easy, as his five years of remaining team control and minimum salary for 2013 make him an immensely valuable asset. However, the Royals have a big need for starting pitching, and Arizona has plenty of young, top-level pitching that just might inspire the Royals to part with Moustakas. If Arizona can also offer a stop-gap at third in Chris Johnson alongside one of their young arms, Moustakas and his big power bat might be headed to the desert for 2013.

Eric Chavez - Free Agent. Chavez offers a platoon option with a big left-handed bat to compliment Johnson at the hot corner. With his age and injury history, Chavez is a risky choice at third base, but this risk is what might give Arizona a chance to acquire Chavez in the first place. Arizona can offer regular playing time (and regular time off), a hitter-friendly park, and a chance to compete for a division title on a guaranteed one-year deal.

Maicer Izturis - Free Agent. Izturis isn't flashy, but he's a solid player who provides above-average defense at second and third, and bats from both sides of the plate with slightly better career results as a left-handed hitter. The D-backs already have their fair share of backup infielders, but Izturis could provide a platoon for Chris Johnson and an occasional day off for Aaron Hill while hitting for a nice average, drawing his share of walks, and stealing 10-15 bases at a high efficiency. An all-around nice player to have who does a lot of things well.

Jack Hannahan - Under team control through 2014, made $1.135MM in 2012. Hannahan is coming off a down year in 2012, but still has a solid glove at third base and a left-handed bat that could provide Arizona platoon and defensive replacement possibilities at the hot corner. With his underwhelming season, Hannahan could come cheap for the D-backs, and provide a platoon partner for both Chris Johnson in 2013 and Matt Davidson in 2014.

Brett Lawrie - Under team control through 2017. Like Moustakas and Kansas City, Lawrie is an option for the D-backs largely because Toronto is in need of starting pitching. But why is the talented Lawrie listed so far down? To me, Moustakas is a better fit for the D-backs due to his big raw power that would play well in home-run-happy Chase Field and reports of much-improved defense in 2012 for Chase's hard infield. Simply put, the Royals' need for pitching is greater, and I can't see the Jays accepting a package for Lawrie that the Royals wouldn't accept for Moustakas, and I would rather have Moose. Further, Lawrie's attitude could be an additional turn-off for the D-backs.

Mike Olt - Under team control through 2018. Olt is a solid defender at third base with big raw power who is blocked by star Adrian Beltre at third base in Texas, and thus has found himself named in a lot of trade rumors. That said, his age (he turned 24 in August) and high strikeout rate at Double-A Frisco this year (24%) are big red flags, and it needs to be wondered whether or not he'd be an upgrade over Matt Davidson at third base over the next six years.

Ian Stewart - Non-tender Candidate. Stewart would be more of a make-good candidate for third base if he were non-tendered by the Cubs than someone worth acquiring via trade. Further, I would expect Stewart to go somewhere else with more available playing time if he were non-tendered - perhaps even back to Chicago on a lower-salary deal. In spite of his many flaws, he can hit for power and plays a valuable position on the diamond.

***

The options listed above provide not just a wide variety of player types, but of overall strategies to solving the third base dilemma. Whether choosing to surrender significant assets in a big-ticket trade for the long-term or to piece together a new platoon as a stop-gap, Arizona has options available to upgrade its hot corner situation.

What all of these options have in common, though, is that they are low-budget moves. Among the trade options, only Hannahan will have reached arbitration in 2013, and I would guess that Chavez and Izturis will command salaries of around $4MM for 2013 on short-term deals. In short, finances won't limit Arizona's ability to make a significant upgrade at third base for 2013. The question that's more important than money available is whether or not the club views third base a pressing enough issue to part with one of its precious stockpile of young arms or create an infield logjam.

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