Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Offseason Outlook: Third Base

With the exception of one year, third base has been a bit of a joke during the Doug Melvin regime. Wes Helms, Russell Branyan, Craig Counsell, an old Jeff Cirillo... do I need to continue? The lone bright spot (RoY Ryan Braun) was so awful on defense, the club had to shuffle their outfield just to find a position for him to play. Last year, the combined offensive production of the three man third base platoon was one of the worst in the National League. And the normally sure-handed Bill Hall committed 17 errors in 113 games with a fielding percentage of .939. Third base is a position that Doug Melvin will have to address in the offseason.
The incumbent: Bill Hall. With the departure of Craig Counsell and Russell Branyan to free agency, Bill Hall is the only player on the roster that saw time at third during the 2008 season. Since Hall's breakout year in 2006 when he hit 35 home runs with 85 RBI, Hall has been a huge disappointment. Some circles credit his offensive struggles to having to adjust to center field (2007) and then adjusting back to third base this year. And believe it or not, some attribute his struggles to being uncomfortable with contact lenses (I've never seen anyone have the training staff attend to their contacts more than him) and he plans to have Lasik surgery in the offseason. Regardless, if Bill Hall is going to be the guy in 2009, he needs to do some soul searching to find out what kind of player he is going to be.

2009 outlook: There has been some talk of moving JJ Hardy to allow room for budding star Alcides Escobar at shortstop, and the two most logical choices would be second or third base. I'm going to argue that the best position to move him to is third. He has limited range, which doesn't impair you at third, and a canon for an arm (extremely accurate as well) which is a key asset to a gold glove third baseman. JJ has also shown that he can consistently be a 20-25 home run producer, which would fit well in a position typically defined by power.

Another option is fellow top prospect Mat Gamel. Gamel tore apart pitching at Huntsville this year but fell off dramatically during the last 2 months of the season. Initially, I began to worry that pitchers had finally figured him out and he struggled to adapt. However, it was later revealed that Mat was struggling with right elbow tendinitis. Hopefully that injury played a part in his terrible defense as well. From all the reports and scouting that I've heard, Gamel does not struggle with gloving the ball, it's making the throw to first that is an issue. While I love Gamel's offensive production, if our starting rotation ends up being Gallardo, Parra, Suppan, Bush and McClung/Villanueva, we are going to need all the defense we can get to support this below average rotation. While Gallardo and Parra are big strikeout guys, Suppan puts the ball in play, Bush challenges hitters in the strike zone, and Parra has a tendency to walk a lot of batters as well. Moral of the story is our defense is going to have to bail out our pitchers more often than not and can not allow the opposition to get additional outs. In conclusion, Gamel is still a year+ away from being an everyday third baseman in MLB.

Free Agent of choice: Joe Crede. There are only two things that turn me off about Crede: Scott and Boras. But there are a couple of things working against Boras getting his client overpaid. First off, Crede has battled injuries over the past two years, limiting production even when he was on the field. A career .256 hitter, Crede isn't going to tear the cover off the ball but he has 25-30 home run potential and consistently puts together solid at-bats. He is also a very dependable third baseman. Also, with the signing of Crede, this would allow Hardy to slide over to second base which would vastly improve the overall defense of the infield. The other thing working against Crede is the economy. Bud Selig addressed GMs at the GM Meetings and warned them of the difficult economic times we live in. This will not affect top-tier free agents like Sabathia, Texiera and Burnett. But mid-level free agents, like Crede, will find that teams don't have rooms in their budget to give huge over-valued contracts. This could help the Brewers two-fold. A) They could get Crede at a reasonable price per year and B) Crede might be interested in a short term deal to prove that he can be healthy, and also get another shot at a max-contract when the economy turns around. While he may not be a gold glover or silver slugger, Crede just might be the best value on the market and is certainly an upgrade from Bill Hall and a more than adequate stop-gap at third until Gamel is ready.

Final Word: If no move is made, in either a trade or free agency, Hardy is the no-brainer choice at third. Though for the overall improvement of the team offensively but mainly defensively, I like our chances with Crede. Choice 1A: Crede, choice 1B: Hardy.
On Deck: The Bullpen


upofan said...

Jeff Cirillo was a great third baseman...even during his second tour with the Crew. He also would have batted over .300 and taken more pitches than Hall. Also, don't forget Corey Koskie. That guy was amazing at third base and would smack doubles like Overbay used to. Can't blame Melvin for a freak injury that pretty much ended Koskie's career.

Justin said...

While I agree that Jeff Cirillo was a great third baseman his first time around, he was merely a spot starter or defensive substitution on his second tour of duty. And although Koskie was good, when healthy, so is Ben Sheets, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find many Brewers fans that believe his contract was worth it. Overall, purely looking at numbers, the Koskie signing was bad. Not Melvin's fault, but still bad.

upofan said...

The Blue Jays paid most of Koskie's salary because they didn't have a spot for him on the team. We didn't pay a lot for him at all.

Justin said...

That's true, I forgot about that fact... But when you look at what we gave up for him, Brian Wolfe, he has been a reliable middle reliever for the Jays with a career 2.81 ERA and over a 2-to-1 K-to-BB ratio. I don't blame Doug for trying to fill a need, I just wish it turned out better.

JD said...

What are your thoughts on Adrian Beltre? I have heard rumors he may be available.

Justin said...

Beltre is basically a healthy version of Joe Crede when you compare the numbers and even though Beltre has a gold glove, Crede has a higher fielding percentage. I like Beltre as a player but I don't like his $12 million salary. Jack Z is probably chomping at the bit to get his hands on some of his prospects but he's going to have to assume a big chunk of Beltre's money to get Doug interested, but the prospect cost will be higher in that trade scenario. All in all I still view Crede as a better choice.