Phillies 2013 Preview: Third Base

Let’s start out by being honest with ourselves: Michael Young isn’t that good at baseball. He isn’t that good now, and never really was that good, despite ex-teammates’ corroborations that he’s an excellent clubhouse guy.

Young posted an abysmal 78 wRC+ in 2012, wedging him somewhere in between Darwin Barney and Gordon Beckham in terms of offensive value. That should give you an idea of how he performed last year. He batted .277, hit 8 home runs, and got on base just 31.2% of the time he came to the plate. He finished the season with a negative-1.7 fWAR, making him the absolute worst player in baseball. Yikes.

He’s been a below-average defender for his entire career at every infield position: first base, second base, shortstop, and third base. He’s played the most innings at second and short, but did appear in 155 games at the hot corner in 2010 while committing 19 errors, second-most among third basemen.

On the bright side, Young is still a great teammate, for what that’s worth. And the Phillies didn’t give up a whole lot to acquire him, either, shipping reliever Josh Lindblom — who was awful for Philadelphia after coming over in the Shane Victorino trade last season — and minor league pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla to Texas while the Rangers pick up $10 million of the $16 million due on the final year of his contract. The bet is essentially that Young will rebound from the worst all-around season of his career (his wRC+ was 76 in each of his first two seasons in the majors) and provide more value than the team got from the oft-injured Placido Polanco last year. At age 36, a full offensive rebound isn’t likely, but it’s hard to get much worse than Young was in 2012.

Another positive is that, as mentioned before, Young is capable of playing every infield position. He can fill in for Chase Utley at second base if he needs a rest or hits the DL; same goes for Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and even Ryan Howard at first base. At the same time, Freddy Galvis can man second, third, or short, and he’s known as more of a defensive whiz than Ty Wigginton, who was the Phillies’ primary infield utility man last season.

Clearly, Michael is not the club’s long-term solution at third base, and it’s unlikely he even returns to the team in 2014. The Phillies haven’t had an above-average third baseman since the Scott Rolen era. They did win the 2008 World Series with Pedro Feliz at the position, but, while Feliz was a similarly poor hitter, he was an excellent defender.

Now approaching the end of his career, Young has fallen into the bottom tier of third basemen, if you even consider him one. But with virtually no internal or external options to play third instead, the Phillies could have done worse. The chance that he returns to being just a 1.0-1.5 fWAR player is worth $6 million, especially if the next-best alternatives are bringing back Polanco on a 1-year deal (no thanks) or rushing a raw and flawed player like Cody Asche to the majors.

Maybe Young surprises us all by putting together a 3-WAR campaign and makes Ruben Amaro look like a genius — but definitely don’t place your money on that scenario. If once again the Phillies are floundering by the time the trade deadline rolls around, perhaps he could net a decent prospect or two from a contender looking to trade for infield help or a bench bat.

Projections: .278, 9 HR, 61 RBI, 77 R, 2 SB

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