The Philadelphia Phillies see their window of opportunity at a second World Series title with this current core group of players closing fast, and if they look in their rearview mirror, they see talented teams ready to make a push at them in the NL East. In that regard, the third base position, with Philly’s 36-year-old incumbent Placido Polanco, is an all-to-apt microcosm of the situation.
Polanco has his strengths. He’ll give you some good hot stretches where he’s a big part of the offense. That happened in the early part of 2011, which was just when the Phillies most needed him to be hot. But when you look at the overall numbers, you see a consistent pattern of him settling into on-base percentages in the .330s and no real power production. Now compare that to the rest of the third baseman in the NL East…
Atlanta: Chipper Jones—At this writing, the Braves 39-year-old future Hall of Famer is talking retirement, and its news that Philly should welcome. Because even though Jones’ numbers declined last year, his on-base percentages are still very good. For critics who might point out that the OBP dropoff is a direct result of age and would continue even if Jones did play, let’s point out that his decline wasn’t because of a loss of batting average, but of walks. The vet is still hitting the ball and it seems safe to say that a 39-year-old can get his batting eye back.
Washington: Ryan Zimmerman: He’s a rising star at this position at 27, and the only question is if he can get even better. He’s already slugging around .500 consistently, with on-base percentages on the high side of .350. The Nationals see him as a key part of what they anticipate is an emerging contender, and signed Zimmerman to a long-term deal.
Miami: Hanley Ramirez—Will the change to third base brought on by the free-agent acquisition of Jose Reyes be the kick in the pants that Hanley needs? At shortstop his production was among the best in baseball, before he went into a tailspin last year and his already problematic relations with management became unacceptable. He’s got a new position, and he’s got Ozzie Guillen in town. Since it’s only one bad year, I’m betting he can come back strong.
NY Mets: David Wright—The condition of his rib cage is the big question. He lost power last year because of it and now has a torn muscle this spring. Wright says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, but it’s more important that he give the injury time to heal. Because when he’s healthy, he’s better than anyone else on this already impressive list.
A quick perusal of NL East third baseman tells us that Philadelphia needs to upgrade at this position. Now saying they need to is easier said than done, and I’m not suggesting the organization further empty a farm system that’s already been mortgaged to acquire present talent. But the Phils front office needs to be aware of the situation and if a low-cost solution becomes available, they need to be alert to jump. Polanco won’t hack it if you aspire to be a championship team.