Trade Targets: Third Base

The next installment in our Trade Target series involves third basemen. This is an area of opportunity for a few contenders, since there are quite a few above-average third basemen who could become available. Since the average third baseman hits just about the same as the average shortstop and the average second baseman, a trade for one of these candidates will provide a considerable positional advantage.

PLAYER: David Wright
TEAM: Mets
CONTRACT STATUS: $14 million in 2011, $15 million in 2012 and a $16 million 2013 option ($1 million buyout)
PROJECTED WAR: 1.5 to 2.5, depending on playing time and defense

ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin provided instant fodder for this installment when he reported that the Mets could choose to trade Wright this summer or in the offseason. Of course, he’ll have to get back on the field first. He suffered a stress fracture in his back earlier this year, and has been out since May 15th. The Mets won’t have a timetable until later this week, but he figures to be back soon enough. That allows him time to get back into a rhythm and shape up for a potential trade.

What are the real chances that the Mets trade Wright at the deadline? It’s hard to say, given the team’s financial situation and the payroll it currently holds. Do they want to keep Jose Reyes long term? Do they think they can unload part of Johan Santana’s contract? These are questions that play into the decision of whether to trade wright. If they do choose to, they’ll find a few suitors that can probably pick up the tab. The Rockies and the Tigers immediately come to mind, as they’re contending teams with virtual black holes at third base (.266 and .264 wOBAs, respectively). Wright would provide an enormous swing — especially in Colorado, where his bat would presumably play better.

On the issue of Wright’s defense, it does, on some level, reduce his WAR projection. But it’s a little curious that a guy who basically had a neutral UZR in the final four years at Shea Stadium all the sudden fell off a cliff when moving to a new ballpark. Put that way, Wright could use a change of scenery, both figuratively and literally.

PLAYER: Wilson Betemit
TEAM: Royals
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Tigers, White Sox, Cardinals, Marlins
CONTRACT STATUS: $1 million 2011 salary, free agent in the off-season

After a terrible 2009 during which the White Sox DFA’d him, Betemit bounced back with an excellent half-season in Kansas City, sporting a .285 wOBA in 315 PA. He’s again hitting well, though not quite as well, with a .348 wOBA through his first 181 PA. His rejuvenation still only covers 127 games, so it’s tough to tell how much of it is streak and how much of it is real. But ZiPS has updated his rest-of-season projection to a .340 wOBA, which seems like a reasonable enough place to start.

Betemit’s attractiveness comes from his price. An acquiring team won’t be on the hook for much at all, which brings all teams needing a third baseman into the fray. This works particularly well for the budget-conscious Marlins. They’re getting a .299 wOBA from their third basemen, and since they’re in the hunt they probably don’t want to throw top prospect Matt Dominguez into the fire if they can avoid it. The Cardinals, with their payroll hovering right around their budgetary constraints, could also be interested. David Freese might be swinging the bat, but by this point it has become difficult to rely on him for anything.

Really, any team seeking a third baseman will likely inquire on Betemit, since he presents little risk as a low-salary, short-term rental. The only way he’ll cost something significant in a trade is if many teams bid up the price. Even then, it’s difficult to see a team giving up a major prospect for a few months of his production, especially considering how inconsistent he’s been throughout his career. While Wright will provide the better production overall, Betemit might provide the best value of any available third baseman.

PLAYER: Aramis Ramirez
TEAM: Cubs
CONTRACT STATUS: $14.6 million in 2011 followed by $16 million 2012 option with $2 million buyout

After six straight seasons with a wRC+ of at least 124, Ramirez plummeted in 2010, producing a .321 wOBA and 0.3 WAR. This year, thanks to a slightly better, though still negative, UZR and a better, if powerless, performance at the plate, Ramirez has already produced 0.4 WAR. ZiPS pegs him for a .342 wOBA the rest of the way, which presumes a considerable uptick in power from his current .107 ISO. Maybe a new ballpark and a winning team will help matters.

Will the Cubs be interested in dealing Ramirez? They’re not in an ideal position right now, and they could use the opportunity to get something for him before they decline his 2012 option. They already have $72 million committed to six players in 2012, and that doesn’t count a third-year arbitration raise for Matt Garza and a second-year raise for Geovany Soto. Ramirez has been, no doubt, a disappointment for the last season and a half, so perhaps they’ll look for a trade with an eye on using that money to improve the club elsewhere.

The obstacle, however, is the same as Wright. His rest of season salary plus buyout will run a team between $8 and $10 million, depending on when he’s traded. Not many teams can afford that right now, though the Cubs are in a position where they could eat some money and perhaps get some better prospects in return. Again, Detroit seems like the big option here, with the Rockies entering the fray if they can expand payroll. Other 3B-light teams probably can’t afford him.

PLAYER: Casey Blake
TEAM: Dodgers
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Tigers, Rockies, White Sox
CONTRACT STATUS: $5.25 million 2011 salary, with a $1.25 million buyout on a $6 million 2012 option

Blake has had only 83 PA this year, but they’ve been a productive 83 PA, in which he has produced a .422 wOBA. Of course, there’s little to no chance that he sustains that production for much longer. Due to his age and below-expectations 2010, ZiPS pegs him at just a .325 wOBA the rest of the way. Even with solid defense to go along with that — which is not guaranteed at his age — he’s probably topping out at that 0.8 WAR mark. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him produce around 0.5 WAR the rest of the way, and that’s before we even attempt to peg his injury risk.

Even at a .325 wOBA he’d represent wholesale improvements for both the Tigers and the Rockies, without incurring the cost of Wright. We could see the White Sox, or even the Cardinals, step in here, too. The only thing holding them back would be budget limits, and there’s no way the Dodgers send any money in this deal. That cuts out a few logical destinations. The lack of salary relief combined with the risks Blake brings will limit the Dodgers maneuverability. Even if they find a partner, chances are they won’t get anything worthwhile in return. It would be a pure salary dump.

PLAYER: Mark Reynolds
TEAM: Orioles
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Tigers, Rockies, White Sox, Cardinals
CONTRACT STATUS: $5 million in 2011, $7.5 million in 2012, with an $11 million option and $0.5 million buyout for 2013

Reynolds has not worked out in the way the Orioles had hoped. When they acquired him this winter it was a buy low situation, where they thought that his numbers would rebound to somewhere between his 2008 and 2009 seasons. While he has cut down on his strikeouts, 30.7% this year compared to 38% for his career, he has hit for less power and has a BABIP that is even lower than his 2010 mark. ZiPS is kind enough to project him for a .338 wOBA going forward, which includes considerably more power and a .050 bump in BABIP. I’d speculate that perhaps he could find the missing production in another park, but he’s already tried that once in the last year.

Still, third base production is so bad for a few contending teams that they just might jump at this opportunity. Again, with the Sox and the Cards the budget issue comes into play. It really does for the Rox and the Tigers, too, but those teams seem a bit more able to take on salary. Would they go to that length for Reynolds and his strikeout-happy, declining production ways? Again, this will mean the Orioles will have to eat salary to make a deal remotely palatable, and they could choose to just hold onto Reynolds and hope for better in 2012.

We hoped you liked reading Trade Targets: Third Base by Joe Pawlikowski!

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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Sweet 8 pound 6 ounce baby Jesus all of those names scare me as a Tigers fan. That is, besides David Wright of course. He’s the only one I would ever consider wanting, and the only one I wouldn’t hate seeing brought in.