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Hot Corner Hot Stove

The Daily News today runs a couple stories under the somehow Beavis and Butthead-ish brand "Getting to Third Base." They focus on the possibility of the Phillies landing free agent to be Mike Lowell, emotionally bound to the team through a Mike Schmidt Burger King connection from the `70s, or trading for Colorado's Garrett Atkins, who has other things on his mind right now but is close buds with Chase Utley. But while both players offer a lot, there are downsides with each as well--as is the case with every imaginable third base option for the 2008 Phillies. Let's go through the possibilities.

  • Alex Rodriguez: It. Ain't. Happening. Yes, the thought of Rodriguez blasting away at the short left field in OFJOAB could give a castrato wood, and you could make the case that his assault on the all-time homer record might raise enough revenue to potentially offset the astronomical salary he'll command. But this isn't how the Phillies roll, and the more I think about this, the more I understand it. The only way a team without nearly unlimited resources--everyone but the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Angels and Dodgers--can afford a $25-30 million player is to get every other little decision right, to fill out the back of the rotation, bench and last four spots in the bullpen with minimum-salaried guys who perform. To do that, you need absolute confidence in your scouts, a loaded minor-league system, and outstanding front-office leadership. And it still might not work; it certainly wasn't A-Rod's fault that the Rangers were so bad while he was there, but his expense left them no margin for error. Let it go, folks.

  • Miguel Cabrera. Yes, he's potentially available, and all things equal you'd probably rather have him even than Rodriguez. It would be interesting to see if the Marlins would consider a package of, say, Shane Victorino, Kyle Kendrick, Adrian Cardenas and Jason Jaramillo--two low-salaried big-leaguers with upside, a top prospect, and a low-ceiling but trustworthy MLB-ready second prospect--for the Babyfaced Assassin. If so, then you have to think about whether such a deal would be worth it for the Phillies. The conclusion I've reached is, "Yes, but only if they're willing to spend $120 million to win next year." Without Kendrick, you need two starters, not one and without Victorino, you almost have to keep Aaron Rowand. Add in that you've now got much less depth--or "inventory," to use Pat Gillick's word--and the decision to make that deal pushes the Phils deep into the murky waters of free agency. It's a high-risk, high-reward strategy, and as cool as it would be run out an infield of Howard/Utley/Rollins/Cabrera, I have trouble seeing them choose to go in that direction.

  • (On the other hand, I'd at least ask if the Marlins would send Cabrera and troubled but talented pitcher Scott Olsen for Ryan Howard, who's older than Cabrera but will be $5 million cheaper for 2008 and presumably would sell more tickets in Florida. You move Pat Burrell to first base, find another outfielder, and take your chances signing Cabrera long-term. But that's probably a pipe dream too. A sweet, sweet pipe dream.)
  • Garrett Atkins. I'd love to see the Phillies trade for Atkins, but I have a lot of trouble imagining why Colorado would choose to deal him. Yeah, they've got two other prospects, Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker, who can play third, but neither figures to be as good as Atkins. And yes, he's arbitration-eligible this winter, but you have to figure that the revenue infusion of the Rockies' historic run this October has kicked up enough dough to cover the extra $3 million or so he'll make in 2008. Also, what do the Rockies need? It's a young team with no clear weaknesses; I guess they could use another starter, but we don't really have that to offer. I don't see a fit.

  • Mike Lowell. Here's the first possibility that's somewhat realistic. The veteran loves Philly, he loves OFJOAB, his righty power would be a good fit for the Phils lineup, his defense is excellent. But Lowell's in his mid-30s, and this would be a rather extreme case of buying high. There's also reason to think he hit in pretty good fortune in 2007 (.356 BABIP). A long-term, big-dollar commitment could be crippling if he falls back to his David Bell-ish 2005 performance (.236/.298/.360).

  • Joe Crede. The injured White Sox third-sacker is another high-risk, high-reward possibility. When healthy, he's a superb defender with legitimate 25-30 home run power. He doesn't walk, or at least hasn't walked, but I suspect Manuel and Thompson would improve that, and batting 7th he wouldn't need to carry the offense. But Crede's health issue is the back, and after Bell this is just a frightening notion. Definitely worth a medical inquiry, and he probably wouldn't command much in trade if Chicago deigned to move him.

  • Mike Lamb. It's certainly not his fault, and it might not be accurate or fair, but Lamb reminds me powerfully of Wes Helms, lefty version: some power, some patience, some versatility, awful glove at third. If there's a difference, it's that Lamb isn't coming off a career year like Helms' 2006. Lamb actually doesn't have an enormous platoon split (.770 career OPS vs. RHP, .747 vs. LHP), providing some marginal edge late in games, and he's played all four corners in his career, improving his value as a bench player.  As I said, he's the lefty Helms.

  • Morgan Ensberg.The guy Lamb always battled for playing time in Houston showed up with the Padres down the stretch in 2007 and bopped four homers in 58 at-bats, but found himself strictly confined to the bench over the last three weeks of the season. He's a likely non-tender candidate in San Diego, and shouldn't cost a lot. Ensberg's actually a pretty good defender, but the question is whether he's in irreversible offensive decline at age 32: from his monster 2005 (.283/.388/.557), he's lost 50 points of batting average and 150 of slugging. Still, he might be nearly as good a bet as Lowell going forward, at something like a sixth of the cost.

  • Pedro Feliz. Ugh. I can't really write too much about this guy without messing up my digestion for the whole day. Basically, if you like him, the argument is that he's a very good defender who has 20-25 home run power. But his utter lack of patience means that he's a top candidate to resurrect the Black Hole of Outs at the bottom of the Phillies lineup, also known as The Bell Hole, into which so many potential rallies disappeared from 2003-2006.  Oh, and he'll probably want something like two years, $13-14 million. And he'll be 33 next April. And he'll probably cost a draft pick.

  • The status quo. The Dobbs/Helms platoon wasn't really all that good, but it also didn't kill the team the way Bell did. (Yeah, I'm a little bitter. Still.) Helms is a better hitter than he showed in 2007, and a rebound to about the midpoint between his amazing '06 and his awful '07 would yield a serviceable player. Dobbs didn't hit well as a third baseman, but was a positive contributor overall. What's missing is the third piece of the puzzle, the since-released Abraham Nunez. Much as Noonerz drove us all crazy with his atrocious hitting, his glove was an asset and a necessity given the other two guys.

If there's an easy or obvious call here, I don't see it. Cabrera and Atkins would be superb additions, but it's hard to imagine the deal that would land either. Lowell will incur a heavy cost and a fair amount of risk. The lower-profile options all have their upsides and downsides. I don't envy Pat Gillick and his team making this decision.


Of the realistic options, who should the Phillies pursue at third base for 2008?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Mike Lowell
    (63 votes)
  • 11%
    Joe Crede
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    Mike Lamb
    (3 votes)
  • 15%
    Morgan Ensberg
    (17 votes)
  • 1%
    Pedro Feliz
    (2 votes)
  • 10%
    (12 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now