But Asche is no Whitey. Ashburn's on base percentage was a hair under .400 for his career. He was a superior, if not excellent defender at a premier position. Asche is neither of those things. Nor is he Michael Martinez or Wilson Valdez.
Asche is not elite with the bat or the glove. His benefits start and end largely with his non-resemblance to Michael Young. He is a chocolate with the gooey pink stuff in a Whitman's Sampler. He looks nice, and you can choke him down without spitting him out, and at least you didn't spend too much on him.
In the wings is Maikel Franco, who is fielding better than I had hoped he would but who has not yet proved that he can hit MLB pitching. In fact, Franco is less "in the wings" and more "on stage, pushing Asche off" pending that whole, "but can he hit" thing.
I started writing this Asche article earlier this year, but fell into a pit of post-Rolen Phillies third base hell. I took that as a sign that I should wait for more evidence on Asche and Franco by the end of the year, but it really didn't help. I still don't know what the Phillies should do to resolve the Asche/Franco dilemma. In some respect, the lack of an answer suggests that the answer is "stand pat on both and let one of them win the job." It is not like this team has a World Series to win next year or anything. May as well play with the new toys and see what they can do.
Asche has proven that he can play third in the majors. He is not great, nor is he an utter embarrassment. He would have been an upgrade to many past Phillies teams that were carried by the offense generated in the middle of the diamond, but the Phillies are not that team anymore. On a team where the strengths at second and short are rapidly fading, the Phillies no longer have the option to put someone on the field at third who is cheaper and below average with the bat and glove.
Asche's ceiling is not what Franco's is, so the Phillies should give Franco every chance to win the job. If Franco falters, Asche is there to hold the job down until a better option comes along, and Asche will be...okay. He won't be a tire fire, like Ryan Howard is at first right now. If Franco wins the job outright, Asche represents a cheap, solid bench piece, especially if he could play a little outfield. Alternatively, he could be parleyed as part of a trade, perhaps with a bullpen piece, for much-needed help in the outfield. Someone described Asche to me as a plus-plus Greg Dobbs. If only he could play second as well as third. If only.
Asche in many ways represents the last few years of Phillies development process: he was a 4th round pick in the 2011 draft who made the majors in 2013. He got to the show fast, and what do you really expect from a 4th round pick? They got a major league regular. Not a great or good one, but they did get a useful MLB player. He is representative because the Phillies have found a host of players from post-WFC drafts who have made it to the majors. The failure, though, is that none of them have really been impact players. Asche might be the best example.
Earlier this year, I had hoped that Asche might still develop, as he is still just 24. Most of the improvement on the age curve should have been seen by now, though. While decline won't kick in for a few years, neither will an average 24 year old player improve much between 24 and 27. Asche may surprise us, though - players are human individuals, not statistical aggregates, even though that is the way we should plan and bet. If Asche does surprise us, he will need to play better defense, walk more, and hit for more power. Just take care of those little things on the "to do list" is all. While it is possible, I am not holding my breath for that after six hundred plate appearances over a year and a half.
During an up-and-down year, his first half was better than his second half, even with his terrible June, and largely on the back of an excellent May. Still, there didn't appear to be a ton of momentum with that weaker second half concluding with the Franco call-up and losing innings to him in September.
At this stage, the likely Asche scenarios that I see are:
- Franco insurance
- Role/bench player
- Trade piece
None of these are bad things. What would be a bad thing is if the Phillies had to rely on Cody Asche for the long term at third base and he remains what he has shown over the last year and a half. For this team to turn things around, it needs more production from third base. A below average fielder and a below average hitter as a regular at third base will impede a turnaround rather than helping it, so we'd all better cheer for Franco and hope that Asche gets put to what is likely his best use, which is as part of a strong, inexpensive bench. I'd be really happy with that outcome..