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