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Nov 15

Free Agent Fun with Comps: the Third Basemen

PabloSandoval

This is part 5 of an ongoing series featuring a breakdown of the current free agent players at each position. Positions completed so far: catchers, first base, second base, and shortstop.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I’m assessing the current free agent players seeking their respective paydays by comparing each player with his historical comp. Then, after painstakingly looking over the numbers, I determine if I’d bet on the current free agent to perform better over the next few years or go with the comp.

It’s that simple.

All comparisons are pulled using the Similarity Score by age from Baseball-Reference and all free agents were borrowed from the listing at MLB Trade Rumors.

Today, I discuss the third basemen.

THIRD BASEMEN

If you’re a GM in serious need of a third basemen, break out the secret code to your owner’s Swiss bank account, go Ocean’s Eleven on some random Vegas hotel, or seek financial backing from Martin Jacobson because it’s going to get expensive. There are two legitimate difference makers in this group with Hanley Ramirez willing to move to third (or left or wherever the grass, and money, is greener) and the biennial postseason hero Pablo Sandoval. Also in this group is Chase Headley, and once outside of Petco Park’s offense destroying confines he proved to the baseball world that he’s still pretty darn good.

This year is something of a unique occurrence with this many (yes, two former All Stars and a couple of top 10 MVP finishers count) quality third basemen who are young enough to provide lasting value have hit the market together. Prior to ’14, the 2010 offseason (after both reestablishing their representative value by signing one-year deals in 2009) brought Adrian Beltre to Texas at 32 and Orlando Hudson, depending on how rose colored your glasses were, to Minnesota at 33. 2009, then, comes pretty close to the mark with Hudson and Chone Figgins coming off All Star appearances and Beltre available. With the 2014 class, there’s a potential superstar in Ramirez, who was Hall of Fame bound at one point, and with all three fairly safe bets to return 3-4 wins per year.

All players listed below are sorted by career bWAR

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Hanley Ramirez 31 Nomar Garciaparra Ryne Sandberg Ramirez
Chase Headley 31 Charlie Hayes Charlie Hayes Headley
Pablo Sandoval 28 Richie Hebner Robin Ventura Sandoval
Alberto Callaspo 32 Jim Davenport Ken Caminiti Davenport
Mark Reynolds 32 Jose Cruz Jose Cruz Reynolds
Jack Hannahan 35 Kurt Bevacqua Rick Schu Bevacqua
Donnie Murphy 32 Eric Munson Jayson Nix Munson
Chris Nelson 29 Hector Luna Geoff Blum Nelson
Kelly Johnson 33 Bill Hall Robby Thompson Johnson
Ed Lucas 33 Jack Saltzgaver Pete Orr Saltzgaver

Third Basemen by Comps

1.  Hanley Ramirez – covered with shortstops.

2.  Chase Headley – For those of us who didn’t watch a lot of the Padres over the last few years, Headley existed as something of a perpetual trade rumor, his name constantly floated with the promise of a prospect windfall to the fortunate Pads. It sort of became an indictment on Headley that the Padres’ windfall never materialized. Headley started 2013 on the DL after fracturing his thumb in spring training and then suffered through a torn meniscus to his left knee, making that 31 homer, 145 OPS+ of 2012 look like the MLB equivalent of Modern English.

Last season, Headley accumulated an assortment of injuries that included a calf strain, a herniated disc, and most notably being hit in the mouth by a Jake McGee fastball. Unlike Giancarlo Stanton, Headley was able to return after the injury, acquitting himself nicely with a .293/.420/.488 line in the Yankees final 13 games.

It’s still to be determined if Headley will ever reach those 30 home runs again, but outside of San Diego somewhere in the 15-20 range sounds doable. He might not be an early 30s Beltre at third, but Headley fields the position well (this, this, and this are but a few examples) and he’s averaged around 4 bWAR over the last five seasons. The other players that have done that have names such as Cabrera, Beltre, Longoria, and Wright.

After entering his 30s, Charlie Hayes had a few okay seasons, played on the 1996 Yankees championship team, and otherwise bounced around for five different teams. If Headley stays healthy, he surpasses Hayes’ final six seasons next year.

3.  Pablo Sandoval – Defensively, if you look at both UZR and Baseball-Reference’s dWAR, Sandoval is sort of all over the place. If you watched the Kung Fu Panda this postseason, you know him as the second coming of Brooks Robinson.

This one is for the Robinson fans.

Sandoval has played for three San Francisco championship teams, has absolutely destroyed the baseball in the last two of them, and he’s basically taken up residence on the bases when the October lights shine brightest.

Getting to October is the tricky part, and keeping Sandoval in the lineup hasn’t always been easy. He’s had surgery to the hamate bone in both wrists in two separate years and has also missed additional time due to various ailments. Last season was the first he’d seen 150+ games in a season since 2010. There’s also the matter of his ever troublesome weight, though the switch hitter has apparently dedicated himself to keeping trim. Oh, and about that switch hitting thing: last season, Sandoval hit just .199 as a right hander, a huge drop off from his career average of .270 and perhaps just a blip in an otherwise respectable career from the right side. He won’t hit with power there, but at least he could hit.

After turning 29, Richie Hebner hit double digit home runs five times and averaged around two wins until he was 33. He was then moved around the diamond, playing first for the Tigers, then as a part time outfielder for the Pirates and Cubs.

The postseason is too fresh for me to pick Hebner, but this one is tougher than it sounds. Will Sandoval stay healthy? Was last season just a goofy season from the right side? Is he destined to be a DH somewhere?

Los Angeles Angels third baseman Alberto  Callaspo (6)4.  Alberto Callaspo – With the Angels Callaspo earned 3.4 bWAR in 2011 and ’12 while starting at third with an occasional spot start at second. He had a pretty good eye, took some walks, and hovered around league average or just above with the bat and a solid glove. I don’t know where that Callaspo has gone, but he’s been MIA since ’12. Was it the platoon at second with Eric Sogard that did it? Was it the hamstring strain in July that led to his .197/.248/.246 second half swoon last year? His wRC+ of 42 in the second half put him firmly in the Darwin Barney category of unplayable.

Occasionally, he did make a play in the field. That’s pretty cool.

Jim Davenport had one decent and one really good season left in him after reaching 32, earning 1.2 and 3.5 bWAR in 1966-67. He was at a replacement level after that. Judging the last two seasons, I’d take Davenport’s certainty.

5.  Mark Reynolds – covered with first basemen.

6.  Jack Hannahan – Hannahan never played one game at third last season for the Reds (there was a more pressing need at first with Joey Votto out), but he’s on my list. Go figure. He did play there in 2013, so I didn’t arbitrarily assign him here. He missed 103 games due to a torn labrum that required surgery, and in the 26 games he did appear in he hit an underwhelming .188/.220/.250. Not exactly the scenario a soon to be 35-year old free agent dreams about when trying to secure that one last payday.

For his career, Hannahan has had just two seasons where he’s earned more than one win (2.5 bWAR in both 2008 and 2011), and he’s been in the red the last two, but we can probably give a pass for 2014.

He bats left-handed, so there’s always a bench role somewhere, but he doesn’t hit righties particularly well. He does play a decent third base, so we’re back to a bench / spot starter role.

Kurt Bevacqua earned -0.6 bWAR total in his final four seasons after turning 35. He had a sweet mustache, though, so he’s my pick.

7.  Donnie Murphy – Murphy was drafted in 2002 by the Royals and has essentially bounced around the minors since, appearing in the Majors for 40 or so starts each year and usually coming in at or just below replacement. He’s had moments of brilliance, particularly in ’13 with the Cubs when he hit eight home runs in August and 11 total in 46 games and last year when he hit two homers (half his season output) for the Rangers in a June outing against Oakland. Maybe he finished the year with .196/.268/.330 batting line, but he crushed that first home run to centerfield.

He’s also nimble on the bases.

Eric Munson was out of the game after appearing in one game at 31. Maybe Murphy hits another hot streak, but I’m betting on the under.

8.  Chris Nelson – The 2004 amateur draft is now the Justin Verlander draft, unless you’re the Padres who selected Matt Bush. Chris Nelson was drafted ninth in that draft by the Rockies, with players such as Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, and Gio Gonzalez drafted after. Of the players to reach the Majors from that first round, Nelson’s -2.3 career bWAR is the lowest.

It will probably not surprise you that Nelson spends his time moving between Triple-A and the Majors, playing around 30 games a year. He’s been known to hit a home run from time to time, but for the most part, he’s a useful player to have in the system when you trade your starting third basemen to the Yankees.

Hector Luna spent his age 29 year in the minors, was a pinch hitter for the Marlins in 2010, spent another year in the minors, and spent 2012 in a few games with the Phillies. He was worth around -0.5 bWAR over that time.

Nelson is probably good for replacement level.

9.  Kelly Johnson – covered with second basemen.

10.  Ed Lucas – covered with second basemen.

Running count of players appearing most in similarity lists:

Player Count Position
Mike Macfarlane 3 Catchers
Scott Servais 3 Catchers
Ben Oglivie 3 1B
Robby Thompson 2 2B
Johnny Berardino 2 SS
All unique 1 3B

Similar Players by Count

Next, I discuss the left fielders.

Pablo Sandoval photo credit: phoca2004 via photopin cc

Alberto Callaspo photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

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