Saturday, December 15, 2012

Luis Cruz isn't the answer at third base, but there are few alternatives

If only Adrian Beltre was a free agent this winter...

Luis Cruz was a nice story. He really was. But a "nice story" isn't good enough to be a starting third baseman in Major League Baseball.

Cruz, 28, got a chance to play this season and took advantage of it. He hit .297/.322/.431 in 78 games. He had surprising pop, hitting six home runs and 20 doubles (tied for fourth-best on the team). But there's one key statistic that shows Cruz is probably due for a regression in 2013: his walk rate.

Baseball is about getting on base, and Cruz did that about 32 percent of the time in 2012. Not bad for a utility player, but not good enough for an every day third baseman. He walked just 3 percent of his plate appearances (nine times in 296 plate appearances) and his batting average on balls in play was a little better than average (.320). When he stops hitting at a .297 clip, which is going to happen because he's Luis Cruz, his on-base percentage will plummet. It's simple math (and I hate math).

The Dodgers, who are on an unprecedented spending spree, need to upgrade the hot corner next. The problem is, there aren't a lot of quality free agent options available and they don't have the means to acquire a guy like Chase Headley, who is suddenly one of baseball's best third basemen.

Kevin Youkilis, the best available third baseman, was signed earlier this week by the Yankees. Other than him, there really isn't anyone on the market worth signing. Eric Chavez, signed by the Diamondbacks, would have been a nice left-handed option at third base. But guys like Placido Polanco (career .714 OPS at 3B), Scott Rolen (considering retirement) and Casey McGehee (production plummeted since 2010) are the best available. Yeah, it's that weak.

I'm not sure what the Dodgers are going to do. It'd be easier to acquire a shortstop and move Hanley Ramirez to third base, but the Dodgers are (rightly) keeping him at shortstop. Yes, his defense is subpar, but the offense he provides at shortstop is greater than his defensive shortcomings.

A guy who I almost wrote a post about earlier this offseason was Asdrubal Cabrera, but when the asking price for him was Trevor Bauer, I quickly changed my tune (and then, Bauer was traded for much less than he was worth). Cabrera is not a great defensive shortstop, so he could have either displaced Ramirez or slid over to third base.

The Indians are in rebuilding mode and Cabrera has a lot of value. If the Dodgers could get him for a decent package, I'd be all for it. But that doesn't seem too likely. There are other teams that would outbid the Dodgers (in prospects) to land Cabrera.

The more and more I think about it, the more Cruz might be the Dodgers' best option at third base -- for now.

Looking at next year's free agent crop (thus, more likely to be traded this year), it doesn't look great. Martin Prado is the best, but the Braves probably won't move him unless they tank this season. Jhonny Peralta is a third baseman posing as a shortstop, but he probably won't be dealt. Wilson Betemit isn't an every day player and would be a nice complement to Cruz, but the Orioles are suddenly contenders.

Let's just hope Corey Seager develops as the team's third baseman of the future -- hopefully along the lines of Headley, minus the switch-hitting.

Things could be worse. The Dodgers could have traded for Michael Young.

Photo credits
Cruz: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue
Cabrera: MissChatter, Flickr


  1. The Dodgers should talk with the Cubs about their third baseman.They want tocut payroll

  2. AJ Ellis is a beastDecember 15, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    Just a thought: if Seattle offered you Kyle Seager or Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin straight up for Dee Gordon, would you take any of the 3 deals?

    1. I'd take them all. They absolutely won't offer Ackley. Would love to get Franklin for 2B in 2014. Seager would be a nice stopgap until his brother is ready, but Seattle won't do Gordon for him straight up.

    2. AJ Ellis is a beastDecember 16, 2012 at 9:39 AM

      I agree. I take all 3. I think any of those 3 would project as the Dodger 2B of the future. But the more pressing question is why the Dodgers are shopping Dee at his low point in value unless they think he will never amount to anything? They don't have another SS option for the next 4 years unless they extend Hanley or Cruz becomes the next Casey Blake at SS.

  3. The reasons why Cruz didn't walk last year are twofold: One, pitchers didn't pitch around him in the 7th spot as he was thought to be a light-hitting minor league emergency replacement and two, he doesn't strike out- he's an excellent contact hitter who goes to all fields with some power to left. He doesn't chase many out of the strike zone and his ability to consistently make contact translate to being a near-perfect #2 hitter and Mattingly should bat him there. Add to that the fact that he also played gold-glove caliber defense at 3rd, the Dodgers are smart to keep him and see how he does next year- after all, he ended up having the 2nd highest BA on the team.

    1. His not walking isn't exactly a new phenomenon. He has a career 4.4 percent walk rate in 12 minor-league seasons (4,891 plate appearances). Some guys just don't walk. Cruz is one of those guys.

      He's going to bat sixth, seventh or eighth. He's not even next in line to bat second after Crawford. That would be Mark Ellis. Hell, A.J. Ellis probably has a better claim to the spot than Cruz.

      Cruz is what he is. Hoping for him to be different is just setting oneself up for disappointment (speaking of myself). The Dodgers just have to make due with what they have.

  4. This is ridiculous. There were times last season the Cruz was the best guy on the team! Get real and let the guy play!

  5. play cruz while seager develops.. he's no chump! the guy is a well above average defensive player and will see alot of good pitches to hit in that order! he has earned the 3b job.. its his to lose!

  6. Let Cruz play he earned it. He played he's butt off last year let's see where it goes.

  7. Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuz! I believe in him. Glad to see he has been given a fair opportunity. 3rd base or short

  8. Let him play he earned it. Plus he is not expensive at league min. trading Ethier and Gordon makes sence. We can get prospects and get someone in outfield short term. Cause Puig is sitting on 42 mil in the minors. We also need a closer and left handed relief in bullpen.

  9. Not the answer? On the contrary he answered all the Dodgers woes at 3rd base and succefully performed them exceptionally well. He is the answer and extend him 3,4 years and lets move on. The guy is a stud.