The scuttlebutt is that the Philadelphia Phillies are set to sign Placido Polanco to be their third baseman. On a two-year deal, this is a pretty nice signing by the Phi— wait, it’s three years? At $18 million? With a mutual option for a fourth year? What is Philadelphia thinking?
Let’s look at the good first.
Polanco will give the Phillies fine defense at third base. His career UZR/150 is 8.6, just below 9.9. Polanco hasn’t played third since 2005 and his extensive experience came back in 2001-2, so he’s probably not a 8.6 UZR/150 player today. However, giving him a 3-5 number in this regard is logical. For comparison, Feliz was at 5 this past year.
Polanco also handles the stick very well. He’s expected to slot into the No. 2 spot in the lineup and could have a bevy of hit-and-run opportunities with Jimmy Rollins ahead of him. Shane Victorino is expected to move down in the order, which gives the Flyin’ Hawaiian more RBI opportunities and should actually lengthen the lineup. For the next couple of years, the Polanco acquisition is good.
Polanco hit .297/.352/.439 in his former tenure with the Phillies from 2002-5 (he was part of the Scott Rolen trade) and should do a good job approximating that line again, even five years later. (In Detroit, he hit .311/.355/.418 — it seems to me a small uptick in power given his new confines with a requisite downtick in average is rather logical.)
Polanco should give the Phillies a big upgrade over Pedro Feliz. The detractors cry for Mark DeRosa and Adrian Beltre in place of Polanco. Over the next two years, I might actually bank on Polanco more than DeRosa. Word is that his defense at third is eroding and he’s been dinged up recently. While DeRo certainly would provide more pop, Polanco is the safer option — and unlike most instances where that’s a derogatory term to refer to a move, safer in this case is likely better.
As for Beltre, he was likely priced out of the Phillies’ market. There’s no question that Beltre was the better bat, but could the Phillies afford him? The Phillies may have increased their ticket prices, but they plan on holding payroll steady. Without theorizing as to why they’re not raising the payroll or if they’re pocketing the profit or not, the fact of the matter is that the Phillies seem to be operating within a strict budget. Do they really want to burn an extra $2 million a year — which may not even be enough — on Beltre? As good as Beltre is, his offense since leaving Los Angeles after 2004 is a question mark. Looking strictly at OPS, Polanco bested Beltre in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Beltre took the honors in the other two years. (Detroit and Seattle are pitcher’s parks.) That doesn’t scream “massive upgrade” to me, and I bet that’s what Ruben Amaro looked at when evaluating cost effectiveness.
The flip side of the coin is the years that have been committed to Polanco.
Was Polanco really going to get a a deal longer than two years from anyone else? Polanco will be 36 during the third season and likely on his last legs as a starter. For the next two years, you can bank on Polanco. Anything past that is just silly. By that point, Polanco will probably have denigrated into an empty .270s hitter — which is still an upgrade over Pedro Feliz but certainly becomes a liability at that stage, especially given that the Phillies will be confronted with issues with their current stars and arbitration looming for the youngsters they will work into the team this year. I don’t like the third year at all.
The mutual option for a fourth year has the chance to really get me worked up, but I’ve decided to defer judgment until I hear the parameters. If the mutual option has the Philles exercising at $4 million to potentially remain as a starter at either third or second base (can’t discount Utley not being a Phillie at that time), then that’s logical. On Polanco’s end, if the figure is around $2 million then that’s also defensible from a team perspective: they can get away with Polanco as a utilityman if Polly no longer can hit well enough to start.
For the next two years, I really like this deal. It’s the extra years that really befuddle me.