By Scott Barzilla

As the calendar approaches February, the number of significant free agents dwindles. There still are a few impact guys out there, but at third base there is really only one significant player left. It is debatable as to whether Brandon Inge is a regular at this point in his career, but we will get to him later. Let’s see how the market turned out.

1) Kevin Youkilis– New York Yankees

Fielding

Hitting

Running

TRI

2012

-2.8

1.5

-0.2

-1.5

2011

1.2

17.8

0.7

19.7

2010

0.8

34.0

1.3

36.1

2009

4.9

38.9

2.1

45.9

2008

8.3

36.7

1.9

46.9

It’s isn’t hard to decipher the direction that Youkilis’ career is going in. The fielding numbers are particularly telling, but we also have to keep in mind that first three seasons came at first base. That has little meaning for the Yankees since they are using him to cover for Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez just had hip surgery and won’t be back until at least the all-star break. The fact that Youkilis can play first is an added bonus.

Bonus or no bonus, Youkilis is quickly becoming a marginal player. The Yankees overpaid when they gave him twelve million dollars for one season, but the contract is only for one season. If Youkilis were smart he would have taken the two year deal from the Indians to play first base. He won’t be getting twelve million again.

2) Jeff Keppinger– Chicago White Sox

Fielding

Hitting

Running

TRI

2012

1.2

13.5

-0.7

14.0

2011

-5.7

-5.9

-0.9

-12.5

2010

-2.6

4.8

-2.5

-0.3

2009

-3.7

-5.4

-0.9

-10.0

2008

-11.1

-19.4

0.6

-29.9

Jeff Keppinger is a poor man’s Michael Young. Depending on who you ask, that is either a good thing or a bad thing. Sabermetricians know that Young’s value is wrapped up in his batting average. He is a sub-par defender, does not get on base outside of that batting average, and does not hit for a great deal of power. That also describes Keppinger, but Keppinger has never gotten an opportunity to play regularly for more than a year.

The Rays used him as a utility guy, and given his ability to play every infield position, that is his most valuable position. The White Sox showed their inability to track long-term performance when they gave him a long-term contract. His 2012 season is clearly out of context as compared to the rest of his career. He should be better than Brent Morel, but that’s about it.

3) Placido Polanco– Miami Marlins

Fielding

Hitting

Running

TRI

2012

3.9

-8.2

-1.2

-5.5

2011

13.2

-7.3

-1.0

4.9

2010

8.3

-0.8

1.9

9.4

2009

8.5

-6.1

1.1

3.5

2008

1.1

3.6

2.5

7.2

In comparison with the White Sox, the Marlins are practicing what we might call enlightened self-interest. Yes, Polanco is below average overall, but 2012 was clearly his worst season since he moved to third base. Whether he rebounds or not is not that important as long as he retains his advantage with the glove. Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez were butchers with the glove, so even if he continues to slip with the bat they will still come out ahead.

Given his career path, it is reasonable for them to hope for a turnaround. Whether he comes back to career norms with the glove (+10.0 runs per season between 2009-2011) or if he comes back to the pack with his bat, the chances are better that he rebounds than for Keppinger to sustain his 2012 performance.

4) Brandon Inge– Free Agent

Fielding

Hitting

Running

TRI

2012

5.6

-8.1

-0.5

-3.0

2011

4.8

-17.9

0.5

-12.6

2010

7.5

-3.3

-2.8

1.4

2009

4.1

-6.9

-1.5

-4.3

2008

4.3

-11.1

-1.3

-8.1

The fact that the Athletics did not re-sign Inge is pretty telling. He might end up going back there if the price is right. Last season was Inge’s best with the bat in terms of power, but he is still a substandard hitter. The A’s have Josh Donaldson manning third base. That might not inspire a lot of confidence, but Inge just isn’t capable of hitting over the long haul.

Inge is capable of playing a number of positions (catcher, left field, third base, and second base), so he should make it somewhere at least as a utility guy. He always seems to find his way into the lineup anyway. Some would chalk it up to luck, but Inge is a high character guy that is a plus defender no matter where you put him. That has a way of allowing teams to overlook the lack of offense. At least for a little while.

5) Eric Chavez– Arizona Diamondbacks

Fielding

Hitting

Running

TRI

2012

-0.3

9.8

-1.2

8.3

2011

0.8

-4.0

0.5

-2.7

2010

-0.1

-4.0

-0.4

-4.5

2009

-0.2

-5.5

-0.1

-5.8

2008

-0.1

-1.7

-0.2

-2.0

Chavez is entering perhaps the third phase of his career. His first phase lasted over a decade in Oakland as he served as one of the best third basemen in baseball when he was healthy. A lack of health threw him into the second phase of his career. He became a part-time player in New York and the numbers above indicate how his skills had deteriorated with age. Yet, last season brought about a renaissance and the Dbacks hope he is ready for phase three.

Now, they aren’t completely dumb. They aren’t hoping for all-star performance, but they are hoping he can play semi-regularly while they wait for prospects to develop. We might call their current situation a “roulette platoon.” Neither he nor Chris Johnson are really regular players, but the hope is that both can have stretches of play where they play like regulars. If they are lucky enough to alternate those stretches then the Dbacks could have the equivalent of one productive third baseman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scott Barzilla

Scott Barzilla is the editor in chief at hardballchat.com. He is also the author of four books, including The Hall of Fame Index. The Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical innovation in 2011.

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