Third basemen make tons of money

On Monday, while you still cared about baseball, three guys who...should be playing third base, made a lot of money.

--Kyle Seager, 27 years-old and three years away from free agency, got a seven-year, $100 million extension to stay in Seattle. His .268/.334/.454 batting line from last season looks a lot mightier when thrown through the Safeco Field park factors machine. His weighted-runs created mark of 126 was fifth in baseball at the position. This was his best year but represents his third-straight year of improved offensive performance. He is well-regarded defensively.

--Pablo Sandoval is 28 years-old and reportedly landed a free agent deal with Boston in the territory of five years and $98 million. He hit .279/.324/.415, which when thrown through the AT&T Park calculator--and that park really does seem like the worst place to hit in the world--factors to a 111 wRC+. That slides into the 110-120 range he's hit for the last three seasons. Elite bat (Over 140 wRC+) and big power seasons (Over .220 ISO) are in his past, but increasingly distant past. He is well-regarded defensively but perennially subject to concerns that he will not be able to sustain his athleticism into his 30's.

--Hanley Ramirez is soon to be 31 years-old and reportedly landed a four-year deal for $88 million. He hit .283/.369/.448 in Los Angeles, which is good for a 135 wRC+. That's actually right around his career-average, but good luck figuring him out going forward. He was a force of nature in 2013 after two years prior where he struggled to scratch out league-average. Health is obviously paramount for Ramirez, though he somehow managed to slug .630 in 2013 despite dealing with shoulder problems. He's not a third baseman, and there's certainly not the clearest path for him to play third in Boston now, but he's a bad shortstop who is aging and needs to stop hurting himself. The hubbub is that he might be relegated to left field in Fenway Park, which is a bit like being assigned to defend a kiddie pool. I don't think he can be entirely removed from what the third base market will be.

So, where does this leave the White Sox, who have been mentioned as possibly wanting to upgrade the position from Conor Gillaspie, who besides a late-season swoon, still did all he could have been expected to do to secure the position. He hit .282/.336/.416, which only runs a 108 wRC+ when U.S. Cellular is factored in. That's roughly what Sandoval managed this season, but is mostly thanks to a .300/.360/.445 performance vs. righties, and Gillaspie doesn't have anywhere near the offensive track record. He'd be a far worse bet than any of these three to even repeat a 108 wRC+ and would probably look better the more situationally he plays.  He's more of a left-handed bat that could be stuck at third than someone who provides value at third base. Between hands, range, throwing strength and accuracy, I can't see a reason to throw an average grade on any of his defensive tools.

He can certainly be improved upon, but are there still upgrades around large enough to justify what the market would demand. Essentially, we're talking about Chase Headley, the best free agent third-sacker still available, and another player who would not cost the Sox their second-round draft pick. In the best-case scenario, the 30-year-old Headley is a large defensive upgrade over Gillaspie, and a small offensive one. He has a 114 wRC+, but good luck pinning him down. He has played almost all of his career in spacious San Diego surroundings, which has obfuscated whether he can hit for power or not. He hit 31 home runs in 2012, but it was the rare season he slugged over .400. He excelled in New York after getting traded mid-season, which might drive his price up more than anything.

Headley is a switch-hitter who does better as a lefty, making him a non-ideal pairing with Gillaspie, just as Gillaspie doesn't match up well with Adam LaRoche. Filling up the DH slot really soaked up much of the chances of floating Gillaspie and Dayan Viciedo around, and bringing in Headley relegates Gillaspie to just trying to find random at-bats and pinch-hitting opportunities. Neither Headley nor LaRoche are absolute paragons of health, so he's hardly a bad guy to have around.

What's reasonable for Headley in the post-Sandoval world? Four years definitely seems feasible. ESPN's Jim Bowden initially pegged Headley for three years, $27 million, which sounded very low at the time and hasn't sounded closer to the mark in wake of recent events. Yet, in light of Bowden's strangely strong track record on this, let's build on this out to 3/40, or 4/50, assuming a higher bid would be needed to hold off the Yankees.

That potentially leaves room to still pull in necessary help in left field and the starting rotation, or even the bullpen provided the Sox opt for their usual dumpster-diving for pitching solutions, but it hardly seems like their top priority. Improvement is improvement, and it certainly rates over getting friggin' Miguel Montero.

Monday probably didn't help the Sox too much. They avoided getting caught up in a likely Sandoval boondoggle, but also lost out on Hanley, an elite bat athletic and pliable enough to deal with several positions the Sox could use help with. The removal of each probably drives up the market for Headley, which might force the Sox to start making value judgments on whether they are more likely to get burned relying on Gillaspie, Viciedo, or Hector Noesi in 2015.


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