When the Red Sox locked up Pablo Sandoval a few weeks ago, Giants fans immediately began to wonder who San Francisco would turn to at third base. After all, Sandoval had just wrapped up his seventh season with the Giants, and the Panda had become a fan favorite for his postseason success. With a free agent market saturated with several bench pieces and only one legitimate option in Chase Headley, the Giants began to focus on Headley as a potential replacement. With Headley seeking a four-year deal, worth close to $50 million, the Giants have to ask themselves, is this the best option?
While Sandoval will always be a beloved figure in the Bay Area, let’s not overestimate his value with the club. From 2009-2011, the Panda was worth 12 wins. His WAR over the next three years? 7.9.
Sandoval from 2009-2011:
.857 OPS, .198 ISO, 129 wRC+
Sandoval from 2012-2014:
.759 OPS, .144 ISO, 115 wRC+
Whether or not the Red Sox overpaid on Sandoval is a discussion for another day, so let’s focus on the Giants’ potential options here. If Opening Day was tomorrow, Bruce Bochy would have to decide between Marco Scutaro and Joaquin Arias as his starter at third base. Scutaro, entering his age 39 season, is coming off a major back injury that limited him to just 5 games in 2014. On top of that, Scutaro has made just 15 starts at third base since 2008, and all 15 of those came in 2012. Arias adds some intriguing value in more of a platoon role, but we’ll get to that later. Now let’s take a look at the Giants’ top option on the free agent market, Chase Headley.
Defensively, Headley is widely regarded as one of the top performers in all of baseball. For his career, Headley boasts a 10.8 UZR/150, along with a 2014 season that included 13 DRS, second only to Josh Donaldson’s 20 DRS among AL third basemen. Everyone knows of Headley’s breakout season in 2012: .874 OPS, 31 HR, 145 wRC+, 7.2 (!!!) WAR, and everyone is just as quick to point out the downfall in the next two seasons. But Headley hasn’t been that bad.
Headley in 2013 and 2014:
.725 OPS, 26 HR, 109 wRC+, 8.0 WAR
As we have always known with Headley, his defense increases his value. In 2012, it was merely an afterthought to a career season at the plate. Headley would add solid production the Giants’ lineup, but could they get similar production at a cheaper cost? One step towards that would involve a trade with a team that will break in a top prospect at third base at some point in 2015. Enter the Chicago Cubs and Luis Valbuena.
Valbuena, who will soon be replaced by top prospect Kris Bryant, is projected to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million in 2015. He would make an excellent platoon partner with Arias, for a total of $5 million, or half the price of Chase Headley. But why go with these platoon players when you can add a proven everyday guy in Headley? Because the Giants could use the money to help pay for improvements elsewhere, such as left field, or the starting rotation. They could even save the Headley money for the 2016 season, when the Giants lose over $40 million in annual salaries to the likes of Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Jeremy Affeldt and Scutaro. But a platoon of Valbuena and Arias is not just half the price, it’s equal the production. Let’s take a look:
vs RHP in 2014:
Headley .690 OPS, 99 wRC+
Valbuena .811 OPS, 124 wRC+
vs LHP in 2014:
Headley .721 OPS, 110 wRC+
Arias .720 OPS, 107 wRC+
Now it is worth noting that Headley’s ISO was very consistent from both sides, posting a .130 vs RHP and a .132 vs LHP. Valbuena posted a .208 ISO vs RHP, while Arias was just .076 vs LHP. If the Giants did choose this platoon, the power would be limited from Arias. But what about the defense from each player?
Headley 10.8 (6,366.2 innings)
Valbuena 10.2 (2438.2 innings)
Arias 15.6 (800.1 innings)
Even when you combine Valbuena and Arias, the total time at third base is roughly half the time Headley has seen at the MLB level. With that being said, both are very good defenders at third base.
Would a platoon of Valbuena and Arias produce better results than Chase Headley in 2015? Maybe, maybe not. But it is very possible that the Giants get equal the production, at half the price, and spend some of that extra money elsewhere. Maybe the extra $5-6 million lands them a pitcher they couldn’t quite afford if they had Headley under contract? Maybe it helps them make space for a Justin Upton in left field in 2015? Either way, the Giants would be wise to find a cheaper option at third base.