In 2007, Andy Gonzalez was given 188 innings at third base and went on to be the worst baseball player I’ve ever seen in the majors. I’m not alone. Gonzalez did what no one thought was possible—make Sox fans miss Greg Norton. Sorry, wrong Greg Norton... this one. Anyway, Norton struggled to throw a baseball to first from third and was a so-so hitter when not facing Randy Johnson. But somehow, some way, Andy was worse. Videos of their horrendousness at throwing a ball from first to third probably exist somewhere, but I can’t find them.
For two months, the Sox third base situation was Andy-Gonzalez-isque. Brent Morel started the year at third with some optimism. After all, he finished 2011 hitting a lot of home runs in September which lead to people writing TOTALLY INSANE THINGS at that time, and hilarious to read now. In April and May of 2012, Morel was horrible. Like worst regular in the majors horrible. A wRC+ of 10 (TEN!) will do that. Morel didn’t walk, didn’t have any power (something like three extra base hits) and struck out a lot. It turns out he also had a bad back, which actually makes sense given how awful he was. Even poor 2007 Andy Gonzalez wasn’t as bad as Morel was in 2012. Then again, poor Andy Gonzalez didn’t have a bad back.
While Morel was being horrible, the Padre released Orlando Hudson who I advocated the Sox to pick up (you’ll have to trust me), then they did. I figured Hudson couldn’t be worse than Morel, and I guess Kenny agreed (or at least that’s how I remember the conversation). And Hudson wasn’t worse than Morel, a wRC+ of 48 is greater than 10. And the defense might have been a tad better too. But Hudson sucked, even when he was winning a game (sort of).
But the Sox kept winning in April and May and then into June... and Kenny realizing that the Sox weren’t going to win anything if this continued, so he went out and made a slick move, picking up Youkilis from Boston for Lillibridge and Stewart. Youk didn’t turn out to be great shakes, but he was a huge improvement since he could hit even if his glove wasn’t great. He didn’t walk as much as I thought he would, but for a guy that’s starting to decline and was sort of banged up as it was, Youk gave the Sox what they needed at third, someone who wasn’t going to lose them games. I enjoyed the short Youkilis Era on the South Side, even if it’s probably going to be remembered like the Griffey Era... forgotten. But Youk was unlucky with the Sox (BABIP of .257, way below career figure), gave the Sox decent power (Youk’s ISO was ten times higher than Morel’s in 2012 LOL), and played decent enough D at third (in fact, other than Moustakas, Youk gave the Sox the best third base defense in the division last year).
The Sox however, declined to bring Youkilis back, passing up on bringing him back for $13 million. Youk ended up signing with the Yankees for $12 million.
Before we ask, “Should the Sox have brought back Youk for $13 million?” Let’s address the man who’s going to be playing third this year: Jeff Keppinger. The Sox brought Keppinger in for the next three years for $12 million. He probably had a career year with the Rays last year, and while the Sox didn’t over pay, they did have pay for Keppinger having a solid ‘12, probably having to give him an extra year. However, Keppinger is probably a slightly below average major leaguer, which compared to Brent Morel, makes him a huge upgrade.
Keppinger doesn’t walk, but he doesn’t strike out either. He doesn’t have much power, however, playing at the Cell 15 home runs isn’t out of the question. Keppinger has mainly played second in his career, however he’s shown to be a decent third baseman (he’s capable at second, but Beckham is probably the better defender). He should hit 12-15 home runs and give a slash line around .300/.340/.400. Not great, but it’s better than Morel, who was the only other option.
However, Keppinger apparently can’t throw... which is a problem. If Keppinger spends time on the DL, the Sox are screwed, as Conor Gillaspie is having the spring of his life and, while he’s still youngish, probably will hurt the Sox if Keppinger spends, oh, a month on the DL.
But let’s assume that Keppinger is and will be fine, that the shoulder problem is just ultra cautious spring training whatever... are the Sox better at third base with Keppinger over Youkilis?
Now, maybe the Sox get 150 games from Keppinger and would have only get 90 out of Youkilis... in that case, they’re probably better off. However, Youkilis probably could give the Sox 125 games at third, playing slightly below defense and hitting something like .260/.375/.475. I’m probably bullish on Youk, but I see a guy whose power isn’t gone and got unlucky. The guy I think Youk can be is probably a 3 to 4 WAR player. That guy is worth $13 million.
Now it could be argued that the money the Sox saved going with Keppinger (about $8 million) has been spent elsewhere. But other than resigning Peavy, it’s hard to find where the Sox spent the money they saved at this moment... if this gives Hahn a few million to play with in June and July to find a left fielder, then I’ll be more okay with letting Youkilis walk.
That said, the Sox are better off at third base this year than they were last year. The Sox -0.1 WAR was third worst in the majors last year, and frankly, probably the second worse as I’m not totally sold the Indians D was *that* bad. And if it wasn’t for Youkilis, the Sox would have easily had the worst production out of third base last year. With that sorry fact staring Hahn in the face, he signed Keppinger, figuring he won’t hurt the team, and by that alone, will help the team.
As crazy as it sounds, the Sox go into 2013 probably two wins better at third base compared to last year. You could talk me into three games better. That’s a somewhat major improvement. And if Keppinger can sort of reproduce what he did last year, the Sox might be staring at four wins better.
So, the Sox in 2013, have managed to find a major league serviceable option at third base. Meanwhile, poor Team Puerto Rico is stuck with poor Andy Gonzalez manning third base. Then again, Andy Gonzalez, worst baseball player I’ve ever seen, knocked the US out of the World Baseball Classic...