Amaro doesn't have many options at third for Phillies in 2013

Posted: August 11, 2012

When Ruben Amaro Jr. recently engaged a few of his rival general managers in discussions, the topic of third base arose, and they all reached one conclusion: It is a difficult position to fill.

"Somebody's going to play there," Amaro said. "We'll have to try to figure it out."

The Phillies, theoretically, have three lineup holes to fill for 2013. Amaro has effectively guaranteed Domonic Brown one of the outfield jobs, leaving two others, plus third base. The rest of the infield is locked up, assuming the team exercises catcher Carlos Ruiz's $5 million option.

There is no easy answer at third base, a position that last year actually had a worse OPS across baseball than second base. The free-agent market is so barren that Amaro actually talked about pursuing a second baseman or shortstop who could be moved to third.

Last week, when Amaro dealt Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to increase his flexibility this winter and replenish a depleted farm system, he said he preferred to address his club's needs through free agency and not by trading more prospects.

He conceded Wednesday a trade may be the only way to fill third base.

Amaro believes there is enough minor-league talent to land a quality third baseman. Two scouts who regularly cover the Phillies' system agreed. Entering the season, Baseball America ranked the Phillies' entire system 27th in the majors.

"I'm not all that anxious to move young players," Amaro said. "But I think with a couple of the moves we've made, we have added some talent to our system. It may allow us to do some things we maybe wouldn't have thought about doing earlier in the year. We have some catching depth now. We have some more pitching depth. We may be able to deal from a position of strength."

What Amaro did make clear is that outfield will be his top priority once free agency begins five days after the last out of the World Series. There are decent free-agent options there.

Whether he values offense or defense more at third is dependent on what outfield acquisitions are made.

"If we get very offensive players in the outfield, maybe we can afford to go with a more defensive player [at third]," Amaro said. "Ideally, you'd like to get both."

Of the available third basemen, the Chicago White Sox' Kevin Youkilis has the highest OPS (minimum 250 plate appearances) at .777. He has a $13 million option for 2013 that the White Sox are expected to decline. Youkilis has been energized since departing Boston, but he turns 34 next March and is not without his injury concerns.

It will be difficult for the Phillies to not secure an offensive upgrade. They have the worst production from third base - a .601 OPS - in the National League. Placido Polanco is responsible for most of that.

Because of the dearth of solutions, Amaro did not rule out exercising Polanco's $5.5 million option for 2013. But Polanco turns 37 in October, and his games played have decreased every subsequent season while with the Phillies.

"Age has something to do with it, no question," Amaro said.

Amaro said Jimmy Rollins is not an option at third. He did mention Freddy Galvis because of his defensive capabilities.

"It's not a coincidence that with our poor defense we have a poor record," Amaro said. "That's something we have to get better at. That's why Freddy may become a very important element of what we're going to do. He's as good of a defender as we have in the infield."

But Galvis, who is out with a fracture in his back, is not a prototypical third baseman in terms of offensive production.

"Nobody dreamed he would be our second baseman for the beginning of the year," Amaro said. "He made himself one of the best second basemen in baseball, as far as I'm concerned. He was outstanding. That doesn't mean he can't do it at third. Now, is he perfect for that position because it's a power position? No."

Then again, Amaro is well aware the ideal solution may never present itself.


Who's on Third?

There is much to be desired when projecting the free-agent market for third base. Here are some of the top (no, seriously) options. The player's 2013 age is in parentheses:

Eric Chavez (35): He has resurrected his career as a part-time player in New York. It's hard to believe he's anything more than that.

Mark DeRosa (38): The Penn graduate has played 107 games in the last three seasons combined. Oh, he's currently on the disabled list.

Brandon Inge (36): After hitting .197 a year ago, there is improvement. And by improvement, we mean he has cracked the Mendoza Line.

Maicer Izturis (32): He is known as a good defender but provides little in the way of power.

Jeff Keppinger (33): A middle infielder by trade, Keppinger has spent much of his time in 2012 at third. He's probably a platoon player at best.

Jose Lopez (29): He was released by Cleveland this week after hitting .249 in 66 games.

Placido Polanco (37): His current .255 batting average would be a career low.

Mark Reynolds (29): Baltimore has an $11 million option for 2013. He stopped playing third in May because his defense was such a liability.

Scott Rolen (38): He played in 65 games last season and 63 so far this season.

Marco Scutaro (37): He has played only 109 career games at third, but San Francisco is trying him there now.

Kevin Youkilis (34): His health is always in question, but a trade to Chicago appears to have rejuvenated him.

- Matt Gelb


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @magelb.

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