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The Hot Corner is en fuego

Friday, Dan took a look at the position that has the least depth at the upper levels of the organization. The varsity team has no starting shortstop and the closest true heir to the position has fewer than 100 PAs playing high-A ball. Today I want to look at the position in the organization with the most depth at the upper reaches of the organization – third base.

A couple of years ago, many of us thought that Scott Rolen might retire and enter the Hall of Fame as a Card. Unfortunately, two major collisions, about 17 shoulder surgeries, and 1049 arguments w/ Tony later and Scotty is languishing up in Toronto while former postseason stud Troy Glaus mans the hot corner for the Cards. In one of Mo’s shrewdest moves to date, the Cards’ GM sent Rolen, along with the 3 years and $37M owed to him, north in exchange for the bad-kneed Glaus and his 2 year, $23M contract. Glaus outplayed Rolen last year by anywhere from half a win to 3 wins but, even if their performances were equal, the fact that Mo saved the organization a year and $14M by exchanging the contracts was a big victory for the Cards.

This year we enter into the final year of Glaus’s contract. He’ll make $12.5M in ’09 and turns 33 in August. He’s no spring chicken and, you’d have to think that given the state of his knees, probably won’t age well into his mid-30s. The Cards can probably count on a pretty good season from him in ’09 but he’s probably not going to be in the Cards’ plans after the season.

Last year, Glaus was outstanding for the Cards – better than I expected him to be, frankly. Glaus ended the season w/ batting splits of .270/.373/.474 for an OPS of .847. His EqA was .296 and his wOBA was .371. Only Chipper, ARod, David Wright, Aramis Ramirez and Evan Longoria were better, offensively, than Glaus was last season (among all third basemen). Justin Inaz has Glaus as nearly a 4 win offensive player last season.

Defensively, there’s some disagreement as to how good Glaus was. First of all, it’s pretty clear that he was not as good as Rolen but, considering how good he was offensively, it didn’t matter much. The fielding bible has Glaus as a +6 defensive player last season but most of the other metrics has Glaus at about average to slightly below average. PMR has Glaus at about 5 plays per 100 below average last season. According to RZR, Glaus was middle of the pack among NL third basemen. These are the numbers that led Justin to conclude that Glaus was good for -3 runs defensively in ’08. Over at BtB, they used the PMR numbers to determine that Glaus’s defense was worth approximately -14 runs defensively in ’08. BP, the defensive measure I have the least confidence in, had Glaus at 3 runs above average last season.

The only real concern about Glaus this season is his health. He played 151 games and had 637 PAs last season but there is reason to question his ability to do it again. Fortunately, with the depth the team has at the hot corner, his is probably the injury (among the team’s most important players) the team could withstand the most.

The organization’s next three third-sackers – David Freese, Allen Craig, and Brett Wallace – all spent a fair amount of time at AA or higher last season. Freese, who turns 26 in April, had 510 PAs at Memphis last season. Craig, who turns 25 in July, had 568 PAs at Springfield last season. Wallace, the team’s first round pick last June, had his final 57 PAs in AA last August. Their combined numbers last season:

Freese .360 .550 26 39 111 .244 7.64 .386
Craig .373 .494 22 48 87 .190 6.97 .368
Wallace* .427 .530 8 19 39 .193 8.96 .395

* -- Wallace’s numbers came in 234 combined PAs w/ low-A Quad Cities and AA Springfield.

There’s, obviously, lots to like in all these players. Freese is the closest to the majors, as he should be considering the fact that he’s about 15 months older than Craig and nearly 3 ½ years older than Wallace. Wallace is one of the team’s top prospects but there is some concern about his ability to stay at third (as there is w/ Craig as well).

Let’s look at Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections for this season:

Glaus .258 .360 .451 21 72 98
Freese .265 .321 .428 18 39 99
Craig .267 .315 .443 22 33 80
Wallace .275 .333 .424 16 29 84

According to the ZIPS projections, there’s reason to think that any of the other 3 could be competent at the hot corner this year. None would likely be as good as Glaus, but, if Glaus could be moved for something of value, any could probably be adequate in ’09. I’m not suggesting that Glaus should be moved necessarily, b/c I doubt that his trade value is that high. He likely provides more to the team this season than the combination of his replacement at third and the person(s) he’s traded for would provide. Still, it’s good to know that, if he went down for an extended period of time, third base would probably be in capable hands.

Finally, let’s look at the 3 prospects’ minor league translations. The first set of numbers is the players’ regular translation – what we might expect from these players if they were called up to the big leagues this season. The second set of numbers is the players’ peak translation – a translation to determine how good the players might be at their respective peaks.

Freese .271 .322 .484 23 35 112 .271
Craig .255 .316 .427 22 42 94 .255
Wallace* .262 .333 .419 .259

* -- Wallace’s counting stats not included based on limited PAs last season. The MLEs use the same number of PAs for their calculations.

Freese .273 .324 .484 23 35 110 .273
Craig .284 .348 .472 24 47 87 .280
Wallace* .281 .365 .438 .279

Considering Wallace’s distance from low-A ball to the majors, his translations are least likely to be accurate. Freese is certainly the closest to the majors and probably the best defender of the 3 but he also, in all likelihood, has the lowest ceiling. If it turns out that Craig and Wallace can handle the position, they’re probably the Cards’ best options for the future, though it’s unclear whether they’ll be ready in 2010 when Glaus leaves. Still, there’s reason to think that the position will be in good hands, regardless of whose hands they are, following the 2009 season – thus leaving Mo the ability to reallocate Glaus’s $12.5M toward solving one of the Cards’ other needs.