By J. "Angelsjunky" Northrop
Part Five in my Series:
- Introduction and Catcher
- First Base
- Second Base
- Third Base
- Left Field
- Center Field
- Right Field
- DH and the Bench
- Starting Rotation
Third base completes the infield and mirrors the other positions: a few stars sprinkled amidst a long line of mediocrity. For the first twenty-one years—from 1961 to 1981—the Angels never had a starting third baseman for more than three years straight, with players such as the following, in chronological order: Ed Yost (in his last two years), Felix Torres, Paul Schaal, Aurelio Rodriguez, Ken McMullen, Al Gallagher, Dave Chalk (who also played shortstop for a few years), Ron Jackson, Carney Lansford, and Butch Hobson.
In 1978 Carney Lansford was a promising 21-year old rookie, finishing 3rd in the ROY voting behind Lou Whitaker and Paul Molitor and ahead of Alan Trammell, hitting .294 in 121 games. It was a promising time for the Angels: After seven straight losing seasons they finished 87-75, with a team including Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, Brian Downing, Nolan Ryan, and Frank Tanana. Yet Lansford did not develop, hitting .287, falling to .261 in 1980, leading to a trade to the Red Sox that brought in Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson. In many ways this was a pivotal time for the Angels, who having caught a whiff of success decided that it was best to focus on free agency and trades over player development, which paved the way to the Gene Mauch years of contention (1982, ’85, ’86) with a core of aging stars. The Angels only had Hobson for a year, then trade him to the Yankees for two spring training weeks of Bill Castro. But this opened the door for 31-year old free agent Doug DeCinces. DeCinces proceeded to have a career yeare in 1982, and perhaps the best year ever by an Angel third baseman with an Adjusted OPS+ of 149, just below Troy Glaus’s 150 of 2000—but also with stellar defense. It was the beginning of a six-year stretch, the longest by an Angel, at least until Troy Glaus came along.
After DeCinces was released by the Angels in September of 1987 (to play 4 games with the Cardinals before retiring), young Jack Howell was the heir apparent to third base. After years of aging free agents, the Angels went for a youth program, with a talented lineup core that included Howell, Wally Joyner, Mark McLemore, Dick Schofield, and Devon White. Yet none of them fulfilled early promise, at least for the Angels—McLemore and White had their best years elsewhere, Joyner and Schofield were consistent but unspectacular, and Howell simply never became a good player (although he did come back to the Angels in 1996 for a brief stint after five years away from the major leagues during which he won the Japanese Central League MVP in 1992).
Throughout the 1990s a slew of mediocrities played the hot corner: an aging Gary Gaetti, Rene Gonzales, and Spike Owen. Tony Phillips played well for a year, the spark-plug of the upstart 1995 Angels that endured a historical collapse. And then prospect George Arias disappointed, followed by a couple of decent years from Dave Hollins.
Finally in 1998 we got our first glimpse of the 3rd pick of the 1997 draft: Troy Glaus. In 1999 he showed promising power by hitting 29 HR, and then in 2000 he had one of the best years by an Angels hitter, hitting .284/.404/.604 with an Adjusted OPS+ of 150 and an AL leading 47 HR. He hit 41 HR the next year then 30 in 2002, including a World Series MVP award. But he was injured for much of 2003 and 2004, causing hopes of a perennial 40+ HR slugger to fade (I remember many, including myself, predicting that he would eventually hit .300 with 50 HR—but his age 23 2002 season proved to be an early career year, and Glaus’s career as an Angel, while very good for half a decade, was yet another disappointment in Angels history.
After top prospect Dallas McPherson destroyed the upper minor leagues in 2004 (.317 BA with a .670 SLG, 36 2b, 14 3b, and 40 HR in 135 AA and AAA games), Glaus was let go of—Dallas the heir apparent. But McPherson had trouble with his health and never really hit well and then missed all of 2007. For most of the last few years Chone Figgins and Maicer Izturis manned the hot corner: both solid players, but both natural middle infielders. As of this writing, as we approach the 2007 winter meetings, the hot corner remains vacant—with hopes (and fears) of trading for either of the Two Miguels, Cabrera or Tejada.
- Chone Figgins (29) – 115 games, .330/.393/.432, 41 sb
- Maicer Izturis (26) – 102 games, .289/.349/.405
After a strong spring, Chone Figgins missed the first few weeks of the season and then was absolutely terrible for the first month or so. Then he got fire, having his best season at the plate—hitting .330. Maicer Izturis also played 53 games at 3B, hitting very well down the stretch. Dallas McPherson spent the season recoving from surgery.
2009 will likely be Chone’s last as an Angel; he will be a free agent thereafter and his best comparable is the highly overpaid Juan Pierre. Expect Chone to look for that kind of money and for the Angels to (wisely) refuse to pay it. Thus the chances that Figgins will be traded by July are great—the Angels should start looking now, while his stock is high (he has been rumored in a trade for Tejada, but it is debatable who is better than whom). Izturis is one of those players that is almost too good to be a platoon player, but not quite good enough to start on a championship-calibre club. But he is a very valuable player to have around, the team’s new “super utility” player. He may even improve on 2007’s numbers and get 400 or so at-bats in various roles.
Most Angels fans have written Dallas McPherson off, and certainly it is unlikely that he will become the star that his tremendous 2004 promised. Through 117 major league games he has compiled a mediocre .247/.294/.461 line, but to give him some slack, it did seem that every time he settled in and started hitting, he got injuried. But the hard truth of the matter is that he will turn 28 in July of 2008 and he is no longer a prospect. Chances are he’ll start 2008 in AAA and hope for a bench role or a trade.
The future of third base is a complete unknown—there is simply no way to predict who will play the position in 2008 and beyond. It could be any of the following players: Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis, Dallas McPherson, Matt Brown, Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez…Of course Cabrera is the most favorable choice, at least with the bat, but I have discussed this elsewhere.
- Figgins – 140 games (70-80 as an Angel), .300/.370/.400, 50 sb
- Izturis – 100 games, .290/.355/.410
About a year ago it looked like Brandon Wood was going to be moved to 3B, with Erick Aybar, Sean Rodriguez or even Hainley Statia taking over from Orlando Cabrera in 2009. Yet Aybar and Rodriguez have not developed as hoped, and Statia still hasn’t played above A+ ball, and only adequately so at that, so look for Wood to resume his role as the future at shortstop, perhaps sooner than later now that O-Cab is gone. This returns 3B to a state of flux, and the most likely position for the Angels to look for an upgrade. However, unless the Angels can pull off a blockbuster for Miguels Cabrera or Tejada, or even Garrett Atkins, there are few options that are significantly more desirable than what they already have (Izturis, Aybar, McPherson, Brown). After recent bad experiences with mediocre signings, if they trade don’t expect the Angels to settle for less than a Cabrera or Atkins.