Friday, March 1, 2013

What Has Happened to the Hot Corner?

Barry made a comment about Middlebrooks’ wrist injury under our “What Position Should Xander Bogaerts Play?” post that got me thinking.  And since it’s Friday and I’m sitting at my desk counting down the minutes until 2:20, I thought I might as well blow my thoughts up into a post of their own.  So here goes:

Barry’s point might be moot now, but it was that if Middlebrooks were to miss the entire 2013 season (and I say thank you, Jobu, for fixing Willie’s wrist.  I give Jobu cigar.  And rum.  He will keep Willie’s wrist safe.  I digress...) or even most of it, that the Red Sox would have to make a trade for a starting 3B at the major league level.  Let’s take a gander first at the in-house options to replace Willie Middle at the hot corner:

Xander Bogaerts
Brian Butterfield

Egads.  A couple of AAAA nomads (Ciriaco, Sutton), a couple of potentially-ready-but-not-really-hot-prospects (Holt, Gomez), one stud prospect who has never had an at bat above AA and is supposedly a shortstop (Bogaerts), and a couple of jokes.  Although I bet former Orono High School Red Riot Brian Butterfield could snag a few at the hot sack.  Clearly, if Middlebrooks goes down, the Sox are screwed at 3B.  Could you imagine having Brock Holt or Pedro Ciriaco as our everyday 3B hitting 8th?  Could you imagine if Pedro Ciriaco and Jose Iglesias were the left side of our infield (with the inevitable Drew DL stint)?  Hello AL East basement!  I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but maybe we should have held onto Nick Punto?  Oh god.  Clearly, Barry is right about needing to swing a trade if this happens.....but not so fast.  Come with me, if you will, on a trip around the MLB, and see how putrid the third base position has become.

The Best Player of His Generation as Long as You Keep Him Away From Tequila:

Franchise Cornerstones:

All-Star Caliber:
Hanley Ramirez (probably a SS unless Dee Gordon learns how to hit a little), LAD

You’re Feeling Good With These Guys:

Could Be Good, but Too Young to Tell:

Veterans Who Probably Don't Suck Yet:
Kevin Youkilis (actually, he might suck.  It’s up in the air), NYY

Craptastic Replacement Level Players:

Who Are These F***ing Guys?:

As best I can tell, these will be the 30 starting third basemen in 2013 barring injury.  And so I’ll channel my inner Paula Cole (do do do, do do do, do do do, do do do) and ask, where have all the hot corner boys gone?  By that list, nine teams will be starting either a replacement level player or a player I’ve never heard of.   Two more will start old creaky veterans, and seven more start talented but unproven youngsters.  Two questions emerge:
  1. What the hell has happened to the third base position?
  2. What the hell would the Red Sox do if Middlebrooks did miss most or all of 2013?

Let’s tackle the first one first.  Has the third base position been devalued?  Is there a higher risk of injury for third basemen since they line up so close to the plate (it ain’t called the hot corner for nothin’) so front offices are steering prospects away from the position?  Are budding third basemen either steered towards first base (by their agents, since 1B is where the big money infield contracts are) or short stop (where the positional value is highest)?  Is it just a temporary blip in the road?  If I went through and broke down every position like I did with 3B, would a similar breakdown occur with only 12-15 solid players?  I have so many questions.  Here’s my favorite theory:

Front offices and agents have steered prospects towards either 1B or SS because of either money or positional trade value, but this steering has resulted in a positional deficiency at 3B.  Sensing this deficiency, front offices and agents have now begun swinging the other way with their draft picks and prospects, actually steering them towards the hot corner in order to get them to the big leagues faster to fill a position with a cheap player (or get a bigger contract faster if you're an agent) and to have an advantage over their competition at a position that contains the aforementioned deficiency.  This has resulted in a wave of young, talented 3B cracking in to the bigs (Machado, Middlebrooks, Moustakas, Alvarez, etc.)  Thank you, and please drive through.

Now, question #2.  What the hell would the Red Sox do?  Look at that list again.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Who are we going to trade for on that list?  Aramis Ramirez? Michael Young?  For the most part, guys on that list would either demand too much in return, or aren’t good enough to trade for in the first place.  So what would the Red Sox do?  I would say they would get by with the troika of Criaco, Holt, and Gomez for a month or two while Bogaerts gets 3B reps and at bats at Pawtucket, then call him up in June if the Sox are in contention.  

Got an answer for what the Sox would do without Willie Middle?  Have a theory as to why the 3B position sucks around the MLB?  Let’s discuss in the comments section below.

5 comments:

  1. I have so many thoughts and so little time to cram them all into one big comment. So, I'll give you my answer to question # 1 and then I'll save some of my other thoughts for comments that I'll add while I watch the Red Sox in Grapefruit League action tonight on NESN.

    Answer to #1: In my opinion these things go in cycles. A decade ago there was talk about the lack of good young pitching. That lead to a concentrated effort for players, coaches, front office types and agents to fill that void and now look at all the young pitching talent around MLB.

    Then 5 years ago the talk was about the lack of young catching talent and we are now in the midst of a resurgence at that position for the same reasons that led to the pitching resurgence. Hello Buster Posey!

    Now it seems as though all the good young potential 3B have become good young starting pitchers or catchers. Think about it 3B, C and P are three positions where you need to most arm strength with SS and RF also being in the mix for arm strength.

    Another factor is that offensive minded shortstops are more accepted now than they were in decades past. So good offensive SS no longer get moved to 3B thanks to Cal Ripken Jr. and Alex Rodriquez (Middlebrooks is the exception here he is a former SS).

    So in summary, most strong throwing potential third basemen are being moved to pitcher or catcher and big, good offensive shortstops are no longer moved to 3B as often as they used to. These two factors are the reasons for the 3B downfall in my opinion. But, keep in mind that these things are typically cyclical and likely to correct itself over the next few seasons.

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    1. This overall lack of top flight third sackers, especially the streotypical big offensive and defensive stalwarts, was the main reason many baseball insiders labelled Middlebrooks as such an outstanding prospect. Then his bat exploded to begin 2012, and the Sox were not hestitant to move Youkilis out of the way for Willie M.

      It would be a shame if his wrist injury derailed his career in any manner. Let's hope this week's episode was just a blip on the screen.

      If not I am sure the Red Sox could trade for one guy on the above list. That is Hanley Ramirez. But in order to grab HanRam, we would have to agree to take on the contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. And throw in a few prospects like Matt Barnes and Henry Owens.

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  2. Just finished watching tonight's Red Sox vs. Pirates Grapefruit league game. Let me first say that I enjoyed the dual coverage between NESN and ROOT sports. If for no other reason it was something a little different than Jerry and Don going over the same stuff they have to every spring training. Here's a few thoughts from tonight's game:

    1. Jon Lester is making strong and steady progress. It's too early to get carried away with results (which were good) but just from watching him you can tell his fastball has better late movement and it is down in the zone with regularity. The big talk has been about Lester "getting on top of the ball" and he seems to be doing just that.

    2. The Pawtucket starting rotation is going to be stacked. Rubby De La Rosa is the real deal. He's was throwing anywhere from 90-95 according to the TV radar gun and his changeup was nasty. His changeup has that same screwball action that Pedro had. His curveball (slurve type) was not as sharp as Pedro's but hey it's early in spring training that is to be expected. He did get a strikeout looking with is breaking ball and got another strike out on a 3-2 changeup.

    Steven Wright also looked very impressive despite a rocky third inning in which he was responsible for two runs and wasn't able to get all 3 outs in the inning (Alex Wilson came in to get a GIDP to end the inning, more on that later). What we've read about him looked true. His knuckler clearly looks more like R.A. Dickey's than Tim Wakefield's.

    If Allen Webster also gets in the Pawtucket rotation that will be an impressive top 3. Chris Hernandez also figures to be in the PawSox rotation.

    3. Mike Napoli looked impressive in his Red Sox debut. Despite rumors that he would be playing this year with a cane, he looked like he's ready for opening day tonight. He smoked a ball back up the middle in his first AB that hit the pitcher and went into LF for a RBI single. In the field he handled a couple of difficult plays and turned them into outs. He looked ready for opening day defensively too. You can tell he has a patient approach at the plate. He looks comfortable in the batter's box and he certainly gave the line up more depth tonight. When we get Big Papi in the lineup with Napoli this team is going to start looking more dangerous.

    4. There are some good habits that seem to be forming early which is the most important part of spring training along with getting your AB's in and pitch counts up. The most obvious one is that players are already taking a patient approach at the plate and seeing more pitches. This lineup is going to have the OBP potential of the 03 and 04 Sox teams. They may not have a batting champion hitting in the 8th hole, but they are going to wear down starting pitchers and get into bullpens early.

    5. Alex Wilson looked impressive coming out of the bullpen to get the last 5 outs of the game. His fastball seemed to have more late life on it than I've seen in the past. He will be called upon to help the bullpen at some point this season.

    6. I had a premonition during the game tonight about John Farrell. The big question mark about him right now is whether or not he is a better manager than his record showed in Toronto. By the end of the year we'll all be saying that the difference is him being in sync with his front office. In Toronto his philosophy didn't match perfectly with their GM Alex A. In Boston Bobby V's philosophy was polar opposite of the Red Sox front office. Now the Red Sox baseball ops dep. is in harmony with the manager and that will be the difference in making Farrell seem like a better manager and Ben Cherry and company a better front office seemingly.

    7. Don't get me wrong I am not getting carried away with one spring training win, but I have to say that I like some of the little things that I am seeing early in spring training. Let's hope they carry over to the regular season when the games start counting.

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  3. Middlebrooks's wrist injury legitimately scares me, remember when Papi had his wrist injury even though he came back and was playing he didnt have the same pop for almost 2 seasons. People just thought his time had passed but I believe it was the wrist injury.

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  4. It was a wrist injury from a HBP that derailed Nomar's career as well. He played for several years after that, but never had the same pop in his bat. There's also the mental aspect of the injury. For example if he goes into the batter's box scared to check his swing or just afraid to "let it fly" how will that effect his season? Hopefully we're over thinking this situation. Let's just hope that Middlebrooks wrist injury is much to do about nothing.

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