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Free Agent Market: Third Base

Posted By Wendy Thurm On October 18, 2011 @ 1:00 pm In Daily Graphings | 27 Comments

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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