Third base is no longer just an issue seeking clarification. It is a certified disaster. The Red Sox currently boast the worst third base weighted runs created (wRC+) in MLB by 17 points. Their third base fWAR of -1.4 is also far and away the worst in baseball. Pick your metric du jour, chances are the Red Sox have the worst group of third basemen in baseball.
It’s not as though there is a clear respite on its way, either. While the Red Sox have three potential third basemen on the disabled list, none (perhaps Brock Holt aside) would present any sort of major stopgap at the position and all have essentially had their chance at one point this season. On the Red Sox’ website, the third base depth chart current lists as follows:
1. Deven Marrero (and his impressively bad line: .156/.196/.488)
2. Tzu-Wei Lin
Lin is a six-year member of the Red Sox organization (all in the minors) and has only hit above .255 once in a season. He has never had an OPS eclipse .698. For context, in 2015, MLB pitchers averaged a line of: .122/.153/.153. The Red Sox really wouldn’t be much worse off at the plate trotting out a pitcher.
They recently signed Jhonny Peralta who, despite being released by the Cardinals earlier this season, could not be much worse than they currently have manning the hot corner. Peralta failed to muster even one extra-base hit in his 54 at-bats this season with the Cardinals, and it’s fair to wonder whether the 35-year-old is simply done. Yet since coming off a season when he posted a respectable .715 OPS, it’s also not hard to see why he’s worth a flier at this juncture.
Clearly, Peralta is not the long-term answer at third base (I’d bet good money he won’t even be the starter August 1) — that designation belongs to Rafael Devers. I’ve started to change my tone on Devers, who I previously cautioned against rushing to the bigs just to fill a need.
Devers has now have nearly 300 plate appearances in Portland — more than Andrew Benintendi had at that level — and continues to rake. The Benintendi/Devers comparison is apples-to-oranges in many ways (age, experience, polish, etc.), but if Dombrowski thinks he’s ready he won’t hold back.
Which is precisely why, though it would fit his reputation to a tee, he shouldn’t expend resources to trade for a third base rental like Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, or someone of that ilk.
In theory, the Red Sox could sell high on Michael Chavis or squeeze any of the remaining value that still exists with Blake Swihart to shore up third base without touching the top three prospects (Devers, Groome, Travis). But this isn’t how healthy organizations function.
This delves into the classic disparity in the philosophies of Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski — hoard all the prospects or sell the farm. We can guarantee that if Cherington were still the GM, the Red Sox wouldn’t dare flip one of their premier prospects for a few months of a third baseman, especially with Devers waiting in the wings. With Dombrowski we can’t.
On the recent SoxProspects podcast, they broke down the situation like this:
“When you trade as many people as Dombrowski has, you need to start building depth. They’re making positive steps towards that this year between the draft and the international signing. What is going to happen now. Is Dombrowski going to see that depth and be like, ‘Oh, okay, we need a reliever, let’s trade four more guys for one. Or we need a third baseman like Mike Moustakas, let’s trade Michael Chavis, Bryan Mata, and something else for him.’ Or are they going to be like ‘Eh, let’s go bargain-based… and keep the farm on the road it’s on.’ ”
(Side note: if you don’t listen to the podcast or read the website, you should. Nobody — Red Sox organization aside — knows the system better than they do.)
To me, Plan A should be obvious: Give Peralta enough time to evaluate what you have with him. Ideally he’s capable of giving you a league average bat at third base for a few weeks to a month. Groom Devers for a late-July/early-August call-up and roll the dice with him. Doing so not only restores some of that depth that has been gutted from the Kimbrel, Thornburg, Smith, and Sale deals, but also boldly addresses the biggest need on a team that now appears the AL East favorite without expending valuable resources to do so.