The 2022 Replacement-Level Killers: Third Base & Center Field

© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Again, the focus of this series remains on teams that meet the loose definition of contenders (a .500 record or Playoff Odds of at least 10%), and that have gotten about 0.6 WAR or less thus far, which prorates to 1.0 WAR over a full season. With most contenders reasonably well-situated at third base, I’ve loosened the criteria a bit for reasons that will become clear. As noted previously, some of these situations are more dire than others, particularly when taken in the context of the rest of their roster. I don’t expect every team on these lists to upgrade before the August 2 deadline, and I’m less concerned with the solutions – many of which have more moving parts involved than a single trade — than the problems.

2022 Replacement-Level Killers: Third Base
Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR ROS WAR Tot WAR
Twins .265 .312 .436 110 4.5 -5.3 -7.7 0.6 1.2 1.8
Phillies .266 .306 .382 90 -4.5 0.0 -3.0 0.8 1.1 1.9
Statistics through July 26. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.

Twins

After never hitting a lick in parts of his first three major league seasons with Cleveland and Toronto, Gio Urshela donned the Yankee pinstripes and raked in 2019-20 (.310/.358/.523, 132 wRC+) while providing flashy defense that didn’t always translate to the metrics. After slipping to a 96 wRC+ with 0.7 WAR in 116 games last year, the 30-year-old third baseman was sent to Minnesota as part of the mid-March trade that brought Josh Donaldson to New York. So far, he’s produced at something closer to his 2021 version, batting .265/.312/.422 (106 wRC+) with mixed reviews on defense (1 DRS, 0.7 UZR, -5 RAA) while starting 79 of the team’s 97 games.

The Twins, who at 52-45 lead the AL Central by 2.5 games, could easily let Urshela keep going, but they may have a more productive alternative in-house already in Jose Miranda, a 24-year-old rookie who placed 85th on our Top 100 Prospects list this spring. A contact-oriented hitter with a compact swing, Miranda has slashed .271/.313/.457 (117 wRC+) with eight homers in 211 PA while playing more first base (37 games) than third (19 games). As a prospect, he was considered bat-first; while he has experience at all four infield positions, he’s rough around the edges defensively (grades of 40 present, 45 future). With the Twins’ corner infield picture further crowded by the return of Miguel Sanó from left knee surgery, his emergence would allow the team to trade Urshela, who has one more year of control remaining, to fill other needs while giving Miranda the full-time job.

Phillies

Via the defensive metrics we use at FanGraphs, the Phillies clear the cutoff I usually use for inclusion among the Replacement Level Killers. However, the wide range of Alec Bohm’s various defensive metrics (-1.5 UZR, -4 RAA, and -13 DRS in just 679.1 innings) suggests that he and his team probably belong here; the defensive inputs make up most of the difference between his 0.6 fWAR and his 0.0 bWAR.

After hitting a sizzling .338/.400/.481 (138 wRC+) in 180 PA as a rookie in 2020, Bohm sank to .247/.305/.342 (75 wRC+) in ’21 with a similarly wide spread in defensive metrics (-13 DRS, -1.0 UZR, -2 RAA) that even at their most conservative knocked him down to -0.2 fWAR. He’s rebounded at the plate this year, trimming his strikeout rate from 26.6% to 19.3% and his groundball rate from 52.7% to 45%, so despite a 2.2-mph drop in his average exit velocity (from 92.0 to 89.8) and about an eight-point drop in hard-hit rate (49.5% to 41.6%), his Statcast expected numbers are actually better than last year; his .449 xSLG is a 57-point improvement. Yet with his problems in the field, he’s still a liability.

The Phillies have used four other players at third base, the most experienced of whom is Johan Camargo. The 28-year-old utilityman homered 19 times and produced 3.0 WAR as the Braves’ regular third baseman (and occasional shortstop) in 2018, but netted -0.8 WAR from ’19-21. He hasn’t done much to impress in Philadelphia, batting .242/.302/.322 (77 wRC+) overall while playing 13 games at third and 22 at shortstop, where Didi Gregorius‘ play led to their inclusion among the Killers.

Speaking of which, I should have mentioned Nick Maton in that context, but here will also do for the 25-year-old former prospect, who exhausted his rookie eligibility based on roster days last year, though with fewer than 130 at-bats, some prospect lists included him this year. Maton hit .256/.323/.385 (91 wRC+) in 131 PA for the Phillies last year, but after spending April and May at Triple-A Lehigh, he played just two games for the big club in early June before suffering a right shoulder sprain; after finishing his rehab assignment, he was optioned back to Lehigh on Tuesday. He has 22 games at the hot corner in his minor league career, but as a power-over-hit type, is probably better suited to a bench role. If the Phillies want to shuffle the deck chairs, maybe he improves upon what Bohm gives them, but a more proven option would be better. The Reds’ Brandon Drury, who’s hitting .271/.330/.517 with 19 homers and solid defense, would be a good target, and it wouldn’t be a shock if Urshela wound up here.

2022 Replacement-Level Killers: Center Field
Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Bat BsR Fld WAR ROS WAR Tot WAR
Phillies .201 .252 .293 52 -20.2 2.0 0.8 -0.4 0.9 0.5
Brewers .211 .270 .307 62 -16.4 2.2 1.8 0.2 1.0 1.2
Red Sox .231 .286 .369 80 -10.0 -0.2 -0.9 0.4 1.1 1.5
Padres .185 .277 .315 73 -12.6 2.8 -2.0 0.4 1.3 1.7
Rays .193 .262 .310 68 -13.5 5.2 0.5 0.5 0.8 1.3
Statistics through July 26. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.

Phillies

Both Odúbel Herrera and Matt Vierling have had their chances to stake a claim on the Phillies’ center field job, but neither has played well enough to hold onto it. The 30-year-old Herrera, who missed the season’s first two weeks due to an oblique strain, has started there 40 times, but just six of those starts have come after June 26. Including his time in the outfield corners, where he’s mostly served as a defensive caddy for Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos (18 games but just five starts and 66 total innings), he’s hit just .240/.280/.389 (84 wRC+) with solid enough defense to net 0.6 WAR. Vierling, who has started 30 times in center field, has hit .227/.296/.333 (77 wRC+) with -0.1 WAR overall while making 55 total appearances at the three outfield positions plus 10 more at three infield positions (all but shortstop). Mickey Moniak and Roman Quinn have both been even worse hitters in justifiably smaller samples; the latter is now a Ray (stay tuned).

Particularly given the (in)abilities of Schwarber and Castellanos afield, an adept defender who can also hit would be a big boon for the Phillies. The Royals’ Michael A. Taylor is having a big year with the bat (.276/.348/.400, 113 wRC+) accompanied by solid-to-good defensive metrics (7 DRS, 2 UZR and 0 RAA). The Cubs’ Ian Happ hasn’t played the position much this year (just 12 innings) and is a bit below average there for his career (-5 DRS, -4 RAA, -2.2 UZR in 1,626 innings) but can make an impact with his bat (.282/.366/.446, 127 wRC+ this year). Both have a year of control and aren’t going to just be given away; the former is signed for $4.5 million plus incentives, while the latter has one more year of arbitration eligibility and stands to increase this year’s $6.9 million salary.

Brewers

Age and injuries sapped the skills of Lorenzo Cain, who started in center field 40 times but was 0.7 wins below replacement before being designated for assignment in mid-June, just after reaching 10 full years of service time. Both Tyrone Taylor and Jonathan Davis have played a bit better than Cain, which isn’t saying much. The 28-year-old Taylor has hit .227/.273/.424 (91 wRC+) with 0.7 WAR overall while starting 35 times in center and 25 at the corners; that’s a big step down from last year’s .247/.321/.457 (106 wRC+), though his Statcast numbers are nearly identical. The 30-year-old Davis has hit a very odd-looking .242/.365/.258 in 75 PA, which is at least better than his career .187/.293/.250 (56 wRC+) line in 333 PA since 2018.

They’re unlikely to get Happ via an intradivisional trade, but Michael A. Taylor makes sense, and with better defenders in the corners than the Phillies (a Venn diagram that might include 29 teams), the Brewers could add a more questionable defender such as Oakland’s Ramón Laureano, who has hit .227/.310/.402 (108 wRC+) with ugly metrics in 24 games in center (-7 DRS, -3.0 UZR, -3 RAA) but better ones in 51 games in right (3 DRS, 2.7 UZR, 0 RAA). He’s under club control through 2024, but the A’s seem intent upon tearing down the entire operation, and given how thin the market is for center field upgrades, the 28-year-old fly-chaser seems likely to change uniforms.

Red Sox

In his first year with Boston last year, Enrique Hernández set a career high with 4.1 WAR while bashing 20 homers, hitting for a 110 wRC+, and playing stellar defense. He has scarcely resembled that player this year, at least on the offensive side, hitting just .209/.273/.340 (69 wRC+) before going on the injured list with a right hip flexor strain on June 8. While the Red Sox hoped the stint would be a short one, Hernández had to pause his rehab stint as of July 12, shortly before receiving a PRP injection. Placed on the 60-day IL, he’s sidelined until at least August 7.

Manager Alex Cora has used Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jarren Duran to fill in for Hernández, but Bradley has been terrible offensively, “hitting” .169/.183/.220 in 60 PA as a center fielder, and just .210/.259/.319 (58 wRC+) in 276 PA overall while playing 66 games in right field as well as 26 in center. Durran, a 25-year-old rookie, has hit .250/.301/.403 (94 wRC+), but he’s striking out 28.6% of the time, and as for his defense…

…it leaves something to be desired, to say the least. The same could be said for a team that followed up a 20-6 June that put the club 10 games above .500 (43-33) and into the top AL Wild Card spot with a 6-16 July that has it back at .500 (49-49) and four games out of the last Wild Card spot.

With a $220 million payroll and a talent base that still gives them a 26.8% chance of making the postseason, the Sox should be pursuing a playoff spot, but there’s a growing chance they wind up selling instead of buying. If they choose not to sell, they could pursue some of the controllable players listed thus far in hopes of a boost this year and next; Hernández is a pending free agent, and won’t be an impediment in their longer-term planning.

Padres

San Diego’s outfield has combined for just 2.3 WAR, with everybody but left fielder Jurickson Profar netting a combined 0.1. Trent Grisham, who has taken about 89% of the team’s plate appearances as a center fielder, appears to have forgotten how to hit after producing a 109 wRC+ and 4.4 WAR in 2020-21. He’s batting just .188/.288/.334 (82 wRC+), and his defense has fallen off a bit as well.

Given Grisham’s struggles and the solid job Ha-Seong Kim has done at shortstop in Fernando Tatis Jr.’s absence, the Padres have mulled the idea of moving Tatis to center field again; he played seven games there and 20 in right field last year after returning from a bout of left shoulder inflammation. At last report, however, he had yet to work out in the outfield, and only on Tuesday did he progress to taking batting practice on the field. A rehab assignment, likely at Double-A San Antonio, could begin later this week.

Tatis’ position once he returns may well be determined by what happens at the deadline. The Padres are known to be interested in acquiring Happ and catcher Willson Contreras, and they’re thought to be a potential destination for Juan Soto, perhaps “as likely as the other 28 teams combined,” as one executive recently told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

If the Padres don’t land a center fielder and don’t use Tatis there, their other internal options include 21-year-old rookie shortstop C.J. Abrams and 23-year-old speedster Esteury Ruiz. Abrams has hit just .231/.280/.322 while playing shortstop, second base and even three games in right field, but he’s trending upwards with a .300/.313/.433 line in July. Ruiz was called up earlier this month after hitting .333/.467/.560 with 13 homers and a minors-leading 60 steals (in 69 attempts) in 77 games split between San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso. Of course, it’s also possible one or both youngsters are outbound in trades because, hey, Padres.

Rays

Kevin Kiermaier has been the Rays’ regular center fielder since 2015, winning three Gold Gloves and putting up stellar defensive numbers along the way. His offense was down (.228/.281/.369, 90 wRC+) before he landed on the IL for the second time this season due to left hip inflammation earlier this month; on Monday, the Tampa Bay Times‘ Mark Topkin reported that he had opted to undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn hip labrum.

Kiermaier’s loss is just one of several injuries the team is contending with. Catcher Mike Zunino is out for the year due to surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, Wander Franco is out until late August or so as he recovers from surgery to repair a broken hamate, and likewise for Manuel Margot as he recovers from a patellar tendon strain and hopes to avoid surgery. Harold Ramírez is out with a broken thumb and Francisco Mejía was just sidelined by a shoulder injury.

Given those absences, the Rays have lately been using Brett Phillips and Josh Lowe in center in place of Kiermaier, but neither has hit a lick (.146/.227/.253, 43 wRC+ for the former, .202/.260/.327, 69 wRC+ for the latter). Quinn, who was just signed as a free agent after being released by both the Phillies and the Royals, owns a career 77 wRC+ and isn’t likely to provide the answer either. The Rays, who currently occupy the third AL Wild Card spot, are likely to pursue a more substantial replacement, and given their injuries and the depth of their minor league system, they’ll have many paths open to them. With Kiermaier a pending free agent, it wouldn’t be a surprise if their next center fielder is someone who sticks around.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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diamonddoresmember
1 month ago

gosh the Red Sox are so bad at the corner infield spots

Francoeursteinmember
1 month ago
Reply to  diamonddores

Outfield? Devers it elite.