The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies aren't likely to be all that dissimilar from the 2009 version that came within two wins of taking home back-to-back World Series titles; 7 of the 8 starting field players return, along with the top 4 starters and much of the bullpen. Given that fact, it's obvious that general manager Ruben Amaro needn't do much to run out a title contender yet again next year.
Yet that single opening in the starting lineup is a glaring one: third base, where the Phillies haven't really found an acceptable solution since trading Scott Rolen away midway through the 2001 season. In a city where the greatest third baseman of all time plied his trade, this is certainly a disappointing development. Thankfully, third base appears to be Amaro's top priority this offseason, and while the term "buyer's market" may be a bit strong, the Phillies nonetheless look well-positioned to address this long-standing need.
So who's available? There are a number of free agents that fit the bill. Who knows how Amaro views these candidates -- TGP has disagreed fundamentally with Rube over free agent value before -- but for what it's worth, here's a look at the key free agent third basemen: Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins, Mark DeRosa, Placido Polanco, Miguel Tejada, Troy Glaus, and Melvin Mora.
Background: 31 years old, Type B free agent (most recent club: Seattle Mariners)
Upside: Beltre is the youngest of the free agent options, and he's also the best fielder. He's been worth 27 runs with the glove over the past 2 years (according to UZR), and he hasn't shown signs of slowing down. He's flashed decent power throughout his career (.183 ISO), and as a right-handed hitter, he should benefit immensely by moving from Safeco to OFJOAB.
Downside: Beltre won't make anyone forget about Pedro Feliz's impatience at the dish; he's a notorious hacker who has only walked in 7.1% of his career plate appearances. He was banged up this past year and only played 111 games, but the silver lining to that is that it could drive down his asking price. Prior to that, he had played 143 games or more in 7 straight years.
Quick take: He's the best of the free agent options unless Figgins drops his demands significantly.
Background: 32 years old, Type A free agent (most recent club: Los Angeles Angels)
Upside: Figgins has grown from super-utility guy extraordinaire to an excellent third baseman and leadoff man. A switch-hitter, Figgins drew walks in a career best 14.1% of his plate appearances this year, helping him to a career best .395 OBP. He's got good speed (42 SB this year, although 17 CS), and has grown into a great fielder at the hot corner, posting an astounding 16.7 UZR this year.
Downside: His career year has Figgins in line for a substantial payday, with his demands reported to be in the 5 years, $50 million range. As a slap hitter (career .388 SLG) whose game is built on speed, he's likely to have already peaked, and the downward career slope for such players is often quick and painful.
Quick take: Buying high on Figgins seems risky. If he'll lower his demands into the Ibanez range (3 years, $31.5 million), then maybe the Phils will have some interest, but that seems unlikely.
Background: 35 years old, Type B free agent (most recent club: St. Louis Cardinals)
Upside: DeRosa has made a nice career for himself as a right-handed super-utility guy capable of playing pretty much everywhere but catcher and center field. He's exhibited greater patience and power in recent years, and he was outstanding for the Cubs in 2008, hitting .285/.376/.481.
Downside: You mean, other than the fact that he's a 35-year old coming off wrist surgery, a .250/.319/.433 year, and he's a pretty poor defender at the hot corner (-8.7 UZR/150 in 2009)?
Quick take: The former Penn QB angle is nice for sportswriters, but unless the Phillies miss out on a bunch of targets and DeRosa lowers his demands, I'd pass.
Background: 35 years old, Type A free agent (most recent club: Detroit Tigers)
Upside: The former Phillie is a solid if unspectacular player, displaying great contact skills over the course of his career (a mere 7.1% K) that make him a tough out. He's been an excellent defender at second base over the years, and he's said that he'd consider moving to third base for a contender; his arm isn't ideal for the hot corner, but his career 9.9 UZR/150 at the position indicate that he'd likely be fine there.
Downside: He'd be nothing more than a 1- or 2-year stopgap, and if the Tigers offer him arbitration, there's no way I'd want to surrender a 1st round pick for him. His career BB% is just one tenth of a percent higher than Feliz (5.4% to 5.3%), and he has nearly as little power as Figgins (.111 career ISO), so while his batting average may look nice, he's not all that valuable of a hitter unless he maintains an above-average BABIP.
Quick take: Detroit has until December 1 to offer him arbitration, and if they don't, the Phillies could certainly do worse than Polanco as a low-cost stopgap if they miss out on some of their bigger targets.
Background: 35 years old, Type A free agent (most recent club: Houston Astros)
Upside: Like Polanco, Tejada would be switching positions, and no one's positive yet that Tejada won't find a gig masquerading as a shortstop somewhere. The power he flashed at his peak has receded, but he still posted a .298/.327/.435 line in Houston over the past two years. He's a contact-oriented free swinger, striking out just in just 9.8% of his at bats the past 3 years.
Downside: Tejada walked just 19 times in 674 plate appearances this year -- a mind-numbing 2.7% of the time. It's an open question how his subpar defense at short would translate to third base, and the Phillies seem to think that his reputation will command a contract that's beyond what they're looking to hand out.
Quick take: Sounds like the Phils will pass, which is a good idea given the rapid down slope of Tejada's production the past few years.
Background: 33 years old, Type B free agent (most recent club: St. Louis Cardinals)
Upside: When healthy, Glaus is a right-handed slugger who exhibits both patience and power. In 2008 with the Cardinals, he hit .270/.372/.483 with 27 HR and excellent control of the strike zone (13.8% K, 19.1% BB). And he's probably be available on a low-cost deal because...
Downside: ...he's not healthy. The Cardinals gave him only 4 starts all year at third base because they feared his surgically repaired shoulder just wasn't capable of making the throw across the diamond. Even healthy, he's not nearly as good a defender as the mainstream media would have you believe (career -5.4 UZR/150). The odds of him playing 130 games next year are, to be charitable, not good.
Quick take: There are simply too many medical red flags for the Phillies to entrust their third base job to Glaus.
Background: 38 years old, Type B free agent (most recent club: Baltimore Orioles)
Upside: He'd probably come cheaply. He's a career .278/.352/.436 hitter, but both his OBP and SLG have been down in recent years as he's adopted a more contact-oriented approach to compensate for the effects of aging.
Downside: He's an average at best defensive player (career -2.8 UZR/150 at third base), and... well, he's 38 years old. He could make some sense as a right-handed bench bat capable of playing all four corner positions, but his days as a first division starter are well behind.
Quick take: I will personally drive to Citizens Bank Park and heckle Ruben Amaro if he's even remotely considering Mora as a full-time starter at third base.
On Monday, we'll tackle the potential trade candidates at the hot corner. In the meantime, what do you think about the free agent bunch? Would you prefer the organization go for broke to sign Figgins, or sign one of the "lesser" options and spend the savings elsewhere? Or are you pleading the fifth until you see what's available on the trade market?