In the second installment of this series, I'd like to talk about a few players who can play both second and third base, and who would likely move to third if the Astros acquired them. I do think a move like this might actually be the most likely one for the Astros to make, especially if they wind up signing somebody to a multi-year deal; that way, whoever they acquire could potentially move to second base after Kazuo Matsui departs at the end of next season. The infield looks to remain a quandary for the Astros for multiple seasons, since most of the offensive depth in the organization is found in the outfield. That makes versatility an important commodity.
Another thing to consider is that there is a strong likelihood Tommy Manzella will be next season's starting shortstop. As I mentioned in comments last time around, I don't personally consider him penciled in for the role, but he does have the inside track. That means the infield will be taking a major offensive hit with the departure of Miguel Tejada. As such, I think it's important that whoever the Astros acquire for third base at least match Tejada's offensive performance. Tejada's slash line in 2009 was .313/.340/.455. According to FanGraphs, his wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) was .344. Can the Astros really match that performance with a second-turned-third baseman?
1. Dan Uggla. Between strife with Hanley Ramirez and impending arbitration, there is a good chance that the small-market Marlins will be looking to trade Uggla this off-season. Uggla was a valuable player in 2009, batting .243/.354/.459. His low batting average was due to plain and simple bad luck. Uggla's line drive rate actually increased over last year, while his BABIP dropped by over 40 points. Expect his slugging and on-base percentage to go up next season, whoever he plays with. As a defender, he was fairly bad this season at second base according to UZR, but he was better the year before, and it's hard to say how he'd perform at third base. The biggest problem with acquiring Uggla is the cost; what will the Marlins want for him? His low batting average will drive down his trade value a little, but the Astros may still have a hard time finding any prospects they can afford to give up to get him, especially if they wind up in a bidding war with other clubs. Still, the 29-year old Uggla would be a great candidate for a multi-year extension if we did acquire him, with the potential to handle third base duties at a decent cost for some time to come.
2. Akinori Iwamura. With the dazzling emergence of Ben Zobrist, the Rays will almost certainly let Iwamura depart this off-season. His natural position is third base, and he knows how to take a walk, having batted .290/.355/.390/ in 2009. His wOBA was .338. These numbers are right in line with his career averages, and at the age of 30, he's not yet old enough that you would expect a decline in performance. According to UZR, his defense has been average at both second and third base, albeit in a fairly small sample size. Overall, "average" is about the right word for Iwamura. He doesn't hit for power, but he'd be a good on-base guy to bat after Bourn, and he has the versatility to remain a useful player throughout a multi-year contract. One downside is that he didn't split well against RHP in 2009, but the sample size was relatively small, and he split pretty evenly in 2008 (when he played full-time). Overall, he's not the kind of acquisition you'd get excited about, but he wouldn't be a bad pickup, either--for the right price.
3. Mark DeRosa. With his injury problems and coming off a down year, DeRosa is a little bit of a question mark. He only batted .250/.319/.433 in 2009, below his career average, but in 2008 he was far better, batting .285/.376/.481. The big questions about DeRosa are how much his health affected his play, and whether he can get healthy for next season. Picking him up would be a risk, but one with high potential rewards, because at his peak, he's actually a better hitter than Tejada. Still, he wouldn't be a good candidate for more than a one-year deal at around $5 million, and would be a stopgap, not a long-term piece.
As you can probably tell, I picked three players to look at with an eye for patience at the plate and (at least strong potential for) above average on-base percentage. The Astros tried an offense focused on free-swingers who put the ball in play, most notably with Miguel Tejada. It didn't work. Perhaps it's time for a 2-hole hitter who enables Michael Bourn's running game, then gets on base for Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee.
Any other suggestions for second-turned-third basemen? Fire away.
Next time, I'll look at a few off-the-wall suggestions which Ed Wade probably won't bring to pass, but which nevertheless might not be bad moves.