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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Six Year Outlooks: 3rd Base

Third base is the one position where the A's don't have any obvious options beyond what they have at the major league level.  And depending on what you think of Kevin Kouzmanoff, you could say that the A's don't have any appealing options at any level.  This isn't to say that the A's third baseman in 2013 will necessary come from outside the organization, though.  They have a number of long-term options at second base, including Adam Rosales and Adrian Cardenas, who have both played third base in the past.  Still, third base is an organizational weakness - one that may be best addressed via trade or free agency.

Kevin Kouzmanoff
Opening Day Age: 28
ML Service: 3+
Contract Status: 2010 - $3.1 million (1st of 3 arbitration eligible years)
FA Status: Eligible after 2012

At one time, Kouzmanoff looked like he could be a big-time offensive force.  In 2006, he hit .389/.449/.660 in AA (where he was old for the league) and .353/.409/.647 at AAA.  He never approached those numbers in the majors and coming into this season had established himself as a moderate power source with a low OBP.  Defensively, he rates as average to slightly above average, regardless of what I think of his weird-looking throwing motion.

Heading into the season, projection systems predicted Kouz to be roughly a .260/.310/.430 hitter.  He's off to a rough start so far, posting an OBP under .300 and a SLG well under .400.  He very well may pick it up a bit and reach his projected numbers, but there's not a whole lot of upside here.  At best, Kouzmanoff is a 2-3 win player, the type of guy who could be a good team's sixth or seventh best hitter (unfortunately he's currently hitting in the middle of the order for the A's).

He's making $3.1 million this season, his first arbitration year.  We'll see how he performs the rest of the year, but the A's will face a tough decision this offseason regarding whether they want to tender Kouzmanoff a contract for 2011.  He'll likely earn about $4 million in arbitration next year, which isn't a figure that would break the A's payroll, but is also more than you'd want to spend on a fringe starter with no upside.  Either way, it's hard to see him on the A's roster past 2011.

Adam Rosales
Opening Day Age: 26
ML Service: 1+
Arb Status: Eligible after 2011
FA Status: Eligible after 2014

You can find my full assessment of Rosales in the second base six year outlook, but he's likely to spend time at third base for the A's in the future.  He played 57 games at third for the Reds last year and was roughly average defensively.  His bat isn't close to what you'd like out of a third baseman, although he is outperforming Kouzmanoff at the plate so far this year.  Ideally, Rosales would fill a super-sub role, backing up every infield position, but he wouldn't be the world's worst stopgap option at third, so long as he's cheap (which he will be through at least his first arbitration season).

Jake Fox
Opening Day Age: 27
ML Service: <1
Arb Status: Eligible after 2012
FA Status: Eligible after 2015

When the A's acquired Fox this offseason, they expected him to be able to mash as long they could find a place for him in the lineup.  He's a butcher basically everywhere in the field and the A's have played him at catcher, left field, third base (for only 3 innings so far), and DH, but he simply hasn't hit.  I'm sure it's tough to hit when you're not in the lineup every day and playing a bunch of positions, but Fox's failures at the plate puts his roster spot in jeopardy.  With Mark Ellis and Coco Crisp set to come off the DL in a couple weeks, Fox may be playing out his last days with the A's.  He's out of options and sending him to AAA would require passing him through waivers, but given his performance thus far, perhaps no team will claim him.  Unless he turns it on offensively, it's hard to see Fox with much of a future with the A's.

Adrian Cardenas
Opening Day Age: 22
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Late 2010 to Early 2011

Like Rosales, a full write-up on Cardenas can be found in the second base six year outlook.  And also like Rosales, Cardenas' bat profiles much better as a second baseman.  He's been pretty bad offensively so far in AAA and has limited experience playing third, so I don't expect him to be exactly what you want from a third baseman any time soon, if ever.  But assuming Jemile Weeks emerges as a starting second baseman, third base is the next logical destination for Cardenas, who does still possess some offensive upside.

6 Year Outlook
The A's don't have a lot of internal candidates for the title 3B of the Future.  If the A's don't look outside of the organization for solutions down the road, the person who ends up manning the hot corner once the A's tire of Kouzmanoff is probably playing another position.  Perhaps it will be Cardenas or Rosales, or maybe one of the A's shortstop prospects if Cliff Pennington keeps up his solid work. 

If the A's do turn to outside options to play third, they may find the free agency well pretty dry.  Brandon Inge and Jorge Cantu top the list of free agents for next season and Aramis Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Casey Blake are the only intriguing names on the following year's free agency list.  All of these players have major flaws.  Whether they try to solve the third base problem internally or not, it looks like the A's will have to get creative if they want decent production from the position.

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