Monday, November 21, 2011

Hello New Friend: Third Base

Mike Aviles - Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals
NOTE: The views expressed in this post are almost entirely my own opinion and are not based on any rumors or reports of the team's actual intent.

Red Sox fans got down on Theo Epstein for some of the high profile moves he made in his tenure in Boston. I don't need to run through the list because Dan Shaughnessy has used the list in each of his last 59 columns about the team. These free agent busts don't bother me so much because the team has the budget to absorb these contracts while they were also turning out high impact prospects. Two transactions that I want to focus on as Theo settles into the friendly confines involved the same player: Adrian Beltre.

Beltre was brought in on a make-good-1-year-deal after a disappointing final season in Seattle. Despite his down offensive numbers in that last season, Beltre was one of, if not, the best defensive third basemen in baseball and there were good indications that his right-handed power would play much better in Fenway Park than in Safeco Fielld. The gamble paid off as Beltre turned in the second best season of his career, leading the league in doubles and playing his usual amazing defense. Then Theo traded for Adrian Gonzalez to take over first base and he had a decision to make: pick up David Ortiz's one year option and move Kevin Youkilis back to his original position or decline the option and make an effort to bring Beltre back and play Youk full time at DH. Well, those of us who watched the playoffs this year and saw Beltre smash 5 home runs on the way to the AL Pennant know how that turned out.

So now, Theo's replacement, Ben Cherington, is left with another decision: allow Youk the Incumbant (that'd be a cool name for a modern day politician, kinda like Alexander the Great or Attila the Hun) to hold down the hot corner or shift him to DH where he can rest his aging body.

To examine the options, I am going to compare the players to Saturday Night Live cast members. With Eddie Murphy's recent resurgence (which appears to be short lived after Tower Heist bombed and Eddie decided to pull out of hosting the Oscars) I have been watching a lot of SNL, especially old ones. I have come to realize just how unfunny a lot of those episodes were even at the supposed heights of the original cast and Eddie's peak. Maybe it's just a sign of the times, but the Phil Hartman and Will Ferrell led casts were much more funny in my opinion. Anyway, onto the third base options.

Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
The current star of the internal options, Youk may follow Chevy Chase in being a one-year wonder. Chevy left SNL after just one year to pursue a lucrative (if brief) movie career. Youk may be wise to do the same. I've discussed it before, but he has the potential to mirror Edgar Martinez's career path if he makes the shift to DH full time this year. I really don't think his body is in the position to handle the rigors of playing third base, but he can still be an excellent hitter and a big part of this team. If I am calling the shots, I am planting his ass on the bench when the team takes the field.

Jed Lowrie, Red Sox
Lowrie is another guy I have written about before. He may not have been the savior I was saying he'd be, but he is very useful. Like Dan Aykroyd, Lowrie will probably never be a star, but he has a set of skills that allow him to be very valuable. Aykroyd is one of the most versatile actors ever to be on SNL, but was always left in the shadow of Chase, Belushi and Murray. Lowrie is similarly versatile and also shadowed by home grown stars like Ellsbury, Pedroia and Youkilis. His defense may be stretched thin at short, but at third it could be an asset. He's got a little bit of power and some on base abilities. His biggest problem is staying healthy so he may not be an option as the full time starter at third. But with Youk still around and the next guy on the list possibly hanging around as well, Lowrie could take the majority of the time and receive some days off to preserve his health.

Mike Aviles, Red Sox
Aviles gets the unwanted mantle of the Garrett Morris of the internal options. Some readers may not even know who Morris is because he was never given much to do besides being the token black guy on a TV show that existed in a still racist TV landscape. But he wasn't completely without his uses, especially the "News for the Hard of Hearing" sketch. Aviles also has his uses, namely his speed, power and versatility. I would not want him as the full time starter, but if someone can teach him how to run the bases, he could be a useful guy to have around as a super-utility player.

Will Middlebrooks, Minor Leaguer
Murray was not an original cast member. He was brought in to replace Chevy, which he did better than anyone could have hoped. Middlebrooks really broke out this year, hitting 23 homers in just 439 at bats. He will be just 23 this season and struggled in a brief appearance in AAA. My guess is he starts the season there this year, but we could see him in September. He has some OBP issues and he strikes out a lot so he may never become a valuable Major Leaguer, but the power appears to be real so he is worth keeping an eye on. For now, he is a not ready for prime time player.

Aramis Ramirez, Free Agent
That picture is of Michael McKean. He joined the cast in 1994 after already having a long and well established career (Laverne and Shirley, This is Spinal Tap, Clue, Short Circuit 2). He was 47 years old when he became a full time player. Ramirez has had a long and well established career as well. The Cubs basically stole him from the Pirates as a 25 year old who already had a 34 HR season under his belt. For 8 years, he was one of the best hitters in the Cubs lineup and last year bounced back after a tough 2010. He could go on to have some good years in the twilight of his career (like McKean did with Best in Show and A Mighty Wind), but he seems too risky to me and his defense at third is very sub par.

Michael Cuddyer, Free Agent
That picture is of Harry Shearer (and Martin Short) in one of my favorite ever SNL sketches, the "Men's Synchronized Swimming" sketch. Shearer is even more versatile than Aykroyd because of his incredible voice. He is one of the main voice actors on The Simpsons and has partnered with McKean and Christopher Guest to basically invent and perfect the "mockumentary." But he is definitely not a well known star. I wrote about Cuddyer in my right field analysis and the same holds true here. Love the versatility, but I don't think his bat plays well in a corner position and I think he will be paid more than he is really worth. I also would not be surprised if the Sox brought him on board.

Martin Prado, Braves
Anthony Michael Hall had 4 successful movies (16 Candles, Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Vacation) before joining SNL at just 17 years old. Martin Prado has had 3 successful seasons (2008-2010 OPS+ 18% above league average) and is just 28 years old. Some similarities there, but the key similarity comes in the fact that Hall was a terrible fit for SNL and Prado would be an equally bad fit as the new Sox third baseman. Prado is a good player and he has that key word "versatility" I keep mentioning, but his career high in HR is 15 and walks is 40. This is not the profile of a third baseman for a top offense. He has been mentioned in a lot of trade rumors (not involving the Sox, though) and has plenty of experience at third, but I just can't see it. In fact, after his down season last year, he may follow Hall in another way: falling into complete obscurity.

David Wright, Mets
As the best player on this list, I was tempted to give Wright the Eddie Murphy spot. But let's be honest, unless we are talking Mike Schmidt or George Brett, no third baseman can compare to Eddie's SNL stint. So instead we will go with the man who was rejected from SNL originally only to return almost 10 years later after a successful stand-up career and a star turn on Soap. For the first 5 years of his career, everything pointed toward Wright being an all time great. He hit over .300 every full season, increased his home run totals almost every year, stayed healthy and played excellent defense. Then, when Citi Field opened, he posted 10 HR in a full season. The next year, the power returned but the average and elite OBP took a tumble. The next year, the health disappeared as well. Now we don't know what to expect of this once steady and amazing player. With the Mets not bringing Jose Reyes back and facing financial issues thanks to the Wilpons and Bernie Madoff, Wright could be had for the right package. I'm just not sure the Sox would have what it takes to bring him on board. If the Mets get desperate I would definitely try to trade for him, but I don't know if that will ever come. My guess is any potential package would start with Jose Iglesias, but with the way the short stop market looks right now the team can't afford to give that up.

What to do, what to do?
Once again, I think the option is to stay internal (boring, I know). I really don't like the free agent options and I think Wright would cost too much in talent to bring on board. The best options as I see them is either give Youk one more chance to prove he can handle the position (I doubt he can though) or shift him to DH and let Lowrie and Aviles take the job. The position may take a hit on offense in that event, but the improvements that Lowrie and Aviles may offer on defense, plus a healthy and productive Youk at DH should make the move a net zero. We have to remember that this team should have won between 95 and 98 games last year, so we do not need to make big improvements. As long as we hold steady at most positions while improving some intangibles, those 95 wins (and thus a playoff spot) should still be within reach.

Here is a funny video from this past week's SNL with host Jason Seigel:

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