Analyzing the Third Base Candidates: Trade Targets

On Friday, we tackled the free agent possibilities at the hot corner.  Ruben Amaro is said to be leaning toward signing a free agent, but due diligence dictates a look at potential trade targets as well.  I've tried to limit the discussion to third basemen who might actually be available (so you won't see Ryan Zimmerman listed below, sorry).

Without further ado, here's a look at how the trade market for third basemen shapes up: Brandon Wood, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Garrett Atkins, Andy LaRoche, Dan Uggla, and Alex Gordon.

Brandon Wood
Background: 25 years old, 1 year of service time (current club: Los Angeles Angels)

Upside: A former top prospect, Wood has never been given a fair shot in Anaheim.  He developed as a shortstop and can probably still be functional there (a la former Phillies prospect Jason Donald), so third base isn't a problem for him defensively.  His .286/.354/.541 line across 7 minor league seasons is impressive, perhaps most of all for the .255 ISO and 160 HR that accompany it.  He seems like the perfect candidate to unlock his potential under the tutelage of Charlie Manuel and Milt Thompson.  Plus, he's cost-controlled for 5 years.

Downside: He's struggled mightily in the majors, though it's been a mere 236 plate appearances and he doesn't turn 25 until next March.  Wood has struck out a significant amount throughout his career (33.0% in the majors, 26.1% in the minors), but he made adjustments in Triple-A in 2009, striking out just 20.7% of the time while still posting a .264 ISO and 22 HR in 99 games.

Quick take: If the Angels lose Figgins and fail to sign Beltre, they may just hold onto Wood.  Still, their reluctance to give him an extended run of at bats means they could be disenchanted with him at this point, and it makes him a great buy low candidate.  It wouldn't be without risks, but dealing for Wood has fantastic potential rewards.

Kevin Kouzmanoff
Background: 28 years old, 3 years of service time (current club: San Diego Padres)

Upside: Kouz is good with the leather, posting a career best 10.7 UZR/150 this year. He's got some pop, too, with a career .174 ISO, and as a right-handed hitter, he'd reap the rewards of moving from Petco Park to CBP.

Downside: His career .308 OBP is a good place to start.  He's essentially a younger Pedro Feliz with less contact ability, more power, and the same good glove/aversion to walks profile.  Additionally, he'll get a substantial raise this year, as he's arbitration eligible for the first time.

Quick take: Kouzmanoff for free, as a 1- or 2-year stopgap, wouldn't be the absolute worst thing in the world.  But the cost in prospects and salary simply can't be justified for a guy who is, at best, a very minor upgrade over Feliz.

Garrett Atkins
Background: 30 years old, 5 years of service time (current club: Colorado Rockies)

Upside: Atkins is listed here because he hasn't accrued enough service time to be eligible for free agency, but he's likely to be non-tendered by the Rockies, so a trade is probably unnecessary.  At his best, Atkins was a .301/.364/.482 hitter during his four-year peak from 2005 to 2008.  Plus, he's friends with Chase Utley!

Downside: Atkins has been regressing as a hitter for three straight years, culminating in an atrocious .226/.308/.342 line in 2009.  It's not just bad luck on balls in play, either -- his line drive ratio was almost 6% lower than his career average, power has almost vanished (.116 ISO) and his contact rate has been steadily slipping as well.  He was roughly average with the glove in 2009 (-0.7 UZR/150), but he's been a first baseman waiting to happen throughout his career (career -5.0 UZR/150).

Quick take: If Charlie and Milt want a challenge, Atkins could be their reclamation project of choice.  Still, with a poor glove and rapidly slipping offensive peripherals, the upside doesn't appear to be all that great with Atkins.  I'm sure he's on Amaro's radar, but the reigning NL champs can do a lot better.

Andy LaRoche
Background: 27 26 years old, 2 years of service time (current club: Pittsburgh Pirates)

Upside: After years of being stuck in the Dodgers organization, LaRoche finally got an extended run of playing time with Pittsburgh in 2009, and responded with a solid if unspectacular .258/.330/.401 campaign.  He exhibited excellent control of the strike zone during his minor league career (243 BB, 294 K), and was plus with the glove in 2009 (5.1 UZR/150).  With top prospect Pedro Alvarez in line for a call up in 2010, dealing LaRoche would make room at the hot corner in Pittsburgh.

Downside: At 27, LaRoche should be entering his statistical peak, and he's yet to live up to the promise that he showed in the minors.  He was even in danger of losing his starting job in 2009 before a hot September.  And, as the only worthwhile piece the Pirates received from the Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez deal (unless you're a believer in Craig Hansen suddenly finding his command), Pittsburgh may be reluctant to deal him.

Quick take: LaRoche certainly isn't a top shelf option, but depending on the cost, he's more desirable than the DeRosas, Tejadas, and Atkins of the world.

Dan Uggla
Background: 30 years old, 4 years of service time (current club: Florida Marlins)

Upside: He's a right-handed power threat who has never hit fewer than 27 home runs in 4 major league seasons.  Uggla has even developed greater patience as he's grown accustomed to the majors, drawing walks in an impressive 14.0% of his plate appearances last year.  And since he's (1) arbitration eligible and (2) a Marlin, you know he's eminently available.

Downside: Uggla hasn't played third base since he was in Double-A back in 2004, and it sounds like he doesn't want that to change.  Even if he acquiesces, his .929 career fielding percentage at the hot corner means he'd probably be subpar defensively at best, and Ryan Braun-level bad at worst.  He's shown a strange reverse platoon split throughout his career, OPSing 86 points lower against southpaws.  Plus, he's due a substantial raise on the $5.35 million he made in 2009.

Quick take: The defensive concerns and the escalating salary outweigh the potential benefits here.

Alex Gordon
Background: 26 years old, 2+ years of service time (current club: Kansas City Royals)

Upside: Okay, so Gordon is the one name on this list who's probably not really on the trading block.  There's been speculation as to his availability since the Royals manipulated his service time with a demotion in 2009, and the club did just trade for Josh Fields (although they claim they'll keep Gordon at third and play Fields in left).  If available, Gordon's a former top prospect with a career .325/.432/.583 minor league line; he likely only needs regular at bats to improve on his major league .250/.331/.451 line.

Downside: If Gordon really is available, he wouldn't come particularly cheap; an educated guess would have the Phillies parting with at least Michael Taylor to get a deal done. Scouts remain puzzled as to why he's struggled in the majors so far, though it's probably attributable to a hip injury suffered last year.  He's eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, so he's in line for a pay bump.  Finally, he's left-handed, which would really, seriously unbalance the Phillies lineup.

Quick take: No harm in making the call -- Dayton Moore isn't exactly the sharpest of GMs, after all -- but it sounds like the Royals are smart enough to hang onto Gordon for the time being.

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There you have it.  Of the above, Atkins seems the most likely to don red pinstripes next year, while Wood and Gordon offer the most upside.  I'll go on record now to say that Beltre and Wood are my top two choices, and that Kouzmanoff joins Tejada and Mora on the list of guys I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.

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