Free Agent Market: Third Base

Aramis Ramirez.

That is all.

O.K., there’s a bit more to the 2012 free agent third basemen, but not much. Let’s take a look.

Aramis Ramirez
The Chicago Cubs held a $16.5 million option on Ramirez for 2012 but it was voidable at Ramirez’s election. According to his agent, Ramirez has elected to test the free agent market.

Many analysts, including the best ones at this fine internet establishment, have written that Ramirez was the most productive third baseman in the National League in 2011. I disagree. Ramirez was second, behind San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Granted, Sandoval played in only 117 games to Ramirez’s 149. But Sandoval ended the season with 5.5 WAR to Ramirez’s 3.6, outplaying him both offensively and defensively. Luckily for Ramirez, though, Sandoval is not a free agent, which makes Ramirez the most productive and highly-coveted third baseman available this off-season.

The 149 games played by Ramirez were the most for him since 2008 after injury-riddled seasons in 2009 and 2010. Ramirez batted .306/.361/.510 for an OPS of .871. Ramirez ended the season with a wRC+ of 133, his highest since 2005. His ISO was down compared to 2010, but so was his strikeout percentage. That’s the upside.

The downside is that Ramirez will turn 34 in June 2012 and is seeking a three-to-four year deal, taking him through his age 36 or 37 season. In the last 30 years, only three third basemen have posted an OPS of .871 or higher in at least two of their age 34, 35, 35 and/or 37 seasons : Chipper Jones, Rene Gonzalez and Mike Schmidt. Given Ramirez’s injury history and age, no team should expect him to produce offensive numbers like he did this year on a consistent basis over the next three or four years.

Ramirez’s defense — never his strong suit — also declined this year. Both his DRS and UZR/150 ratings in 2011 were the worst of his career.

Ramirez has been hot and cold on returning to the Cubs. He’s publicly expressed some interest in playing for new Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. He’s also been linked to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The scarcity of quality third baseman available on the free agent market certainly will enhance Ramirez’s value. It remains to be seen, though, whether any team will give Ramirez a three-to-four year deal at a price he wants.

Greg Dobbs
After four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, Greg Dobbs signed a one-year/$600,ooo contract with the Florida Marlins for 2011. The Marlins certainly got their money’s worth.

Dobbs logged more than 750 innings at third base and filled-in occasionally at first base and in the outfield. In 134 games, Dobbs accumulated 0.5 WAR. If 1 WAR is worth $5 million, that’s a $2.5 million value for $600,000. The question for Dobbs is whether he can turn his 2011 performance into a more lucrative contract for 2012.

At the plate, Dobbs posted a line of .275/.311/.389. His slugging percentage, while higher than the .331 he posted in 2010, reflects a significant decrease in ISO: from .135 in 2010 to .114 in 2011. On the other hand his wRC+ of 88 was his highest since 2008.

Defensively, Dobbs is versatile in that he can play more than one position, but he’s not particularly good at any of them. Neither DRS nor UZR liked Dobbs’ play at third base in 2011.

Like Ramirez, Dobbs is approaching his age 34 season. Given the Marlins potential interest in Ramirez coupled with the rise of Marlins prospect Matt Dominguez, we can expect to see Dobbs somewhere other than Miami for the 2012 season.

Nick Punto
Nick Punto played for the Minnesota Twins from 2004-2010 before signing a one-year/$750,000 contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. In his seven seasons with the Twins, Punto moved around the infield, playing second, third and short.

The Cardinals signed Punto largely to back up David Freese at third base, given Freese’s frequent injuries. But it was Punto who went down first, sustaining a sports hernia that required surgery early in spring training. Punto returned in April, only to sustain a right foreman strain in May and an oblique injury in July, each of which kept Punto on the disabled list more than a month.

In 166 plate appearances over 63 games, Punto batted .278/.388/.421 with a wOBA of .350 and a wRC+ of 133 — his best offensive output since 2006. Punto also was a whiz with the glove, particularly at second base, where he logged close to 250 innings. In less than a half a season, Punto accumulated 1.8 WAR.

Punto is also approaching is age 34 season. The Cardinals have been quiet on whether they intend to bring Punto back to St. Louis for 2012.

Wilson Betemit
When Brandon Inge went stone cold at the plate for the Detroit Tigers in early 2011, the Tigers obtained Wilson Betemit from the Kansas City Royals to play third and produce runs.

In 40 games for the Tigers, Betemit hit .292/.346/.595, showing considerably more power than he had with the Royals. Overall for the season, Betemit posted a line of .285/.343/.482 with a wOBA of .340 and a wRC+ of 116. Betemit benefited from a very high BABIP of .391, which likely counteracted his nearly 30% strikeout rate.

As with Dobbs, Betemit suffers from poor defensive play at the hot corner. For his nearly 700 innings logged at third base, he ended 2011 with -13 Defensive Runs Saved and -11.0 UZR/150. No wonder Tigers manager Jim Leyland played Inge over Betemit down the stretch and in the postseason once Inge started the swing the bat.

Betemit will be in his age-30 season in 2012.

Edwin Encarnacion
The Toronto Blue Jays hold a $3.5 million option on Encarnacion and word is that the Blue Jays are likely to exercise it and play Encarnacion mostly at first base. That would be a good thing for all concerned. Encarnacion split time in 2011 between first base and third base. And while he’s weak defensively at both positions, third base was pretty close to a disaster: eight errors, -5 Defensive Runs Saved and -37.0 UZR/150.

Encarnacion will turn 29 in January 2012.

Other Options
Kevin Kouzmanoff, Andy LaRoche, Jose Lopez and Felipe Lopez were all designated for assignment at some point in 2011 and are available. Eric Chavez and Casey Blake are discussing retirement due to injuries.

Mark DeRosa could be an interesting option for one or more teams. DeRosa is coming off two injury-plagued seasons with the Giants. DeRosa saw action in only 73 games in all of 2010 and 2011 combined. But after rehabbing his left wrist (again) in mid-2011, DeRosa came back to hit over .350 in August and September as the Giants made a push for the postseason.

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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and You can find her work at and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

27 Responses to “Free Agent Market: Third Base”

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  1. Rob says:

    Mark DeRosa sounds like the token Ned Colletti scrap heap reclamation project for 2012. Injury history? Check. Former Giant? Check. Likely to be a monumental disaster? Check.

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  2. That guy says:

    Hate to be him, but this article is curiously lacking in pronouns…

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  3. That guy says:

    Well, honestly, some people can be ridiculous when it comes to pointing out errors in these posts, which is what I mean by ‘that guy’ but this one just reads awkwardly. Players’ names are repeated over and over and over.

    Whatever. Just sayin.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I think it was a result of going into auto pilot for the author. I’ve been guilty of the same in the past. If you do a ctrl-f for ‘him,’ you’ll find that the A-Ram section has a few, and then the rest of the article completely lacks for them. And as it turned out (and least the way I experienced the article), the A-Ram section was the part with life. This is understandable, it’s quite literally a waste of time to write about Greg Dobbs – Free Agent At Large.

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  4. MikeS says:

    It’s unlikely that Ramirez returns to the Cubs. Many fans see him as a guy who only performs after the team is out of it, is injured too much and is bad defensively.

    More importantly, 2009 was a 0.4 WAR year and they have so much bad money tied up in Zambrano and Soriano. I don’t think the Cubs are interested in signing another guy to a high 8 figure contract to a guy through his mid 30’s again.

    Then again, they haven’t asked me what I think, they aren’t likely to and stranger things have happened.

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  5. indyralph says:

    “The Marlins certainly got their money’s worth…Dobbs accumulated 0.5 WAR. If 1 WAR is worth $5 million, that’s a $2.5 million value for $600,000.”

    I wish I had more time to study it myself, but all this seems to suggest is that WAR and value do not have a linear relationship. First, 0.5 WAR players are only slightly less common than replacement players and much more common than 4 or 5 or especially 8 WAR players. The supply matters. Second, it seems like a strong premise that wins are not linearly valued at the team level. The next win for the Braves or Red Sox was worth much, much more than for the A’s or Reds or even Blue Jays. You get those marginal team wins by adding WAR at each of the 9 starting positions. So each additional player WAR at a given starting position is worth significantly more than adding an additional player with that same WAR. Having a starting 3B accumulate 0.5 WAR is not any kind of value to be proud of (well, maybe for the Marlins)- it’s a wasted position.

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    • MikeS says:

      I think you are right, but then value is also going to vary with how good a team is (the value of a marginal win thing which has been discussed) as well as the market and budget. I think the value of a WAR is better applied in the other direction. For example, dividing the total WAR by total dollars paid just to sort of get an idea of what the market is willing to pay in general. Obviously if you have a wealthy team just on the cusp and a good player available to fill their one gaping hole then that team might be willing to pay more than $5M/WAR and it might be completely justified because a post season berth or WS championship will reap a windfall that will offset the cost.

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  6. delv says:

    Just noticed the writer of this article (and a few others prior) is female. Way to go; I look forward to reading your work!

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  7. Chair says:

    When was Ramirez linked to the Dodgers? Anyone have any info on that?

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  8. The Nicker says:

    Sign me up for the Kevin Kouzmanoff band wagon. He’s gotta rebound, right? RIGHT?

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  9. TK says:

    I know you have to pick a cutoff, and I’m sure .871 fit the narrative you are trying to sell, but that is awfully high. For example, Dustin Pedroia’s OPS was under .871 this year and he had a .377 wOBA, which was #31 in all of baseball. A 3rd baseman could easily be a 3-5 win player with a sub-.871 OPS.

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    • TK says:

      I guess it’s not arbitrary because it is what he hit, but I think the point remains that it is awfully high and to say that he likely won’t hit above it in the future is different than saying he would not be valuable to a team.

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      • Wendy Thurm says:

        I didn’t state or suggest that Ramirez wouldn’t be valuable going forward. I said only that whatever team signs him shouldn’t expect the same level of offensive production over the next 3-4 years as he provided this year given his age and injury history.

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  10. jpg says:

    If there was ever a time for my Mets to explore what David Wright is worth now would seem to be the time. They aren’t going to contend anytime soon, andhe do a lot of His stock isn’t the greatest after a poor, injury riddled season but he’s still fairly young (Will be 29 Opening Day 2012) and is light years better than guys like Dobbs, Punto, and E5.

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  11. jpg says:

    Yike that’s why I hate posting from my cell phone…meant to say he’s do a lot of money but not a crazy amount ($15 mil)

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    What the BABIP happened to Felipe Lopez?

    I wouldn;t mind seeing him at 2B in StL in 2012.

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  13. Robbie G. says:

    Can somebody remind me who Rene Gonzalez is/was?

    Why does Aramis Ramirez think that anybody is going to pay him more than $16.5 mil in 2012? Or really anything close to $16.5 mil? Even if someone were to give him, say, three years, $30 mil, he’s looking at a $6.5 mil paycut in 2012 (assuming it’s $10 mil even each year), and I have kind of a tough time believing that he couldn’t get more than a two-year, $13.5 mil deal NEXT offseason ($30 mil – $16.5 mil = $13.5 mil). The only way that he wouldn’t get more than two years, $13.5 mil during the 2012-13 offseason is if he is pretty worthless in 2012. Which is very possible and ultimately the reason why I don’t see teams bending over backwards to sign the guy to a particularly large contract.

    I am a little worried that Philly overreacts to their early postseason exit, their zero run performance in Game 5, and Placido Polanco’s extremely rapid aging process and puts in a lofty bid for Ramirez. This is a team that is not as averse to giving relatively large contracts to aging players as they should be as well as a team in win-now/desperation mode. I can see them talking themselves into giving Ramirez something like three years, $30 mil, especially with Ryan Howard possibly out for a pretty good while. Certainly the Phillies make more sense as a Ramirez destination than the infamously dirt-cheap Marlins or the complete mess that is the L.A. Dodgers at the moment. I can kind of see Detroit making the guy a pretty decent offer, as well; here’s another team that is thinking that it’s maybe one guy away, has some money to burn, and wanting a pretty dramatic boost to their offense.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Why does Aramis Ramirez think that anybody is going to pay him more than $16.5 mil in 2012?

      He may have just wanted out of Chicago, although for 16M,he could probably tolerate it for another year.

      IMHO, what Aramis is wanting is YEARS, not necessarily the highest amount in 2012.

      We all know how Ramirez has battled injuries in recent years. If he has an injury plagued 2012, the amount he would command in FA is probably much less than he could command now … and he’s also the biggest name free agent out there (and probably the best player f the 3B FA’s).

      I think your last 2 comments are pretty much spot on. Teams like the Phils and Tigers are in need of a 3B (DET more than PHL), and as we’ve discussed here … the quality of ML 3B’s is not what it used to be.

      Look at it like this …

      ARamirez WAR
      04: 4.4
      05: 3.6
      06: 4.2
      07: 5.1
      08: 4.7
      09: 2.2 (1/2 season)
      10: 0.4
      11: 3.6

      It seems reasonable to me that ARam and agent could convince a team that he “is back” and that 2010 was an outlier season.

      Even if he’s on the decline and averages 2.5-3 WAR over the next 3 seasons, he’s worth 30-36M. I think some team will pay him, not 16M for one year like he had in CHC, but 30-36M over 3 years … which is overall more money than he might make if 2012 is a down year or injured year in CHC … and he gets to play for a team that feels it is one piece away from serious contention, and not enduring what could be a horrible 2012 season.

      Aramis is in a fortunate situation that might not occur in 2012. I think he knows this, which is why he turned down a single year’s salary of 16M.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        To reinforce the above point, think about this scenario.

        You’re a baseball player, you love playing the game and you get paid a lot of money for it. But you’re getting up in years and have on-going health issues.

        After two injury plagued seasons, you bounce back with a strong season. You have the choice of getting paid $16.5 mil for one year or entering free agency as the only non-backup at your position. You cannot hope to make $16.5 mil in one season, but you can target a total contract worth $40-50 over 3-4 years. Which do you choose?

        Personally, I think I would gain the most from the long term deal. There’s a strong possibility that playing out the current contract could re-expose my injury problems and change my future value from $40-50 to $16.5+maybe an $8 million reclamation deal like Lance Berkman.

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      • ofMontreal says:

        I’m late to this, but ARam is terrible at third. Unless the ball is hit right at him. Has anyone ever floated the idea of him at first? Would he be just as atrocious?

        Also, half the American League could use him rotating for health between DH-3B-1B(?). Any National team is out of their minds to sign him.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      The Phillies aren’t going to bid on Ramirez. He simply doesn’t fit with what they are trying to do with the roster (specifically make it less injury prone).

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