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What is the plan for third base?

Dodgers third baseman struggled mightily offensively in 2012, but picked up some of the slack on defense. Is Luis Cruz the answer in 2013, or will Kevin Youkilis or someone else be brought in at the hot corner.

Stephen Dunn

With all the recent spending by the Dodgers, adding Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu over the weekend, it's only natural to wonder what's next. With $229.7 million committed to 21 players in 2013, the roster is pretty much set. But there are a few additions that will likely be made.

Though general manager Ned Colletti said Monday he would be comfortable going into spring training with eight starting pitchers on the roster, it's far more likely that one or two get traded in the next two months (thinking Chris Capuano and/or Aaron Harang here).

A bullpen piece, or two, will likely be added, but I can't help but wondering if third base isn't in the plans, too.

The Dodgers have said all winter that they plan to keep Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, and Luis Cruz is the incumbent at third base after his glorious half-season in the sun. Cruz hit .297/.322/.431 with 40 RBI in 78 games in 2012, including 48 starts at third base. But even with Cruz occupying roughly a third of the season at the hot corner, the Dodgers were sorely lacking in production at the position offensively.

Among 16 National League teams in 2012, the Dodgers ranked...

  • 14th in home runs (10)
  • 13th in total bases (235)
  • 12th in batting average (.259)
  • 13th in on-base percentage (.310)
  • 13th in slugging percentage (.383)
  • 13th in weighted on-base average (.305)
  • 13th in OPS (.683)
  • 13th in OPS+ (84)
  • 12th in wRC+ (93)
  • 12th (tied) in runs batted in (72)
  • 14th in runs scored (63)
  • 13th in walks (41)

Sure, Cruz hit .297/.322/.431 but there are a couple of red flags. His batting average on balls in play was .320, which isn't too crazy, but what if a few of those hits find gloves next year? The National League BABIP in 2012 was .300, so if we take five singles away from Cruz (BABIP: .299) his line would have been .279/.305/.413. Still alright, but below the National League average for third baseman of .270/.333/.433.

But that would beat Bill James' 2013 projection for Cruz. James, who is notoriously optimistic with offensive projections in his annual Bill James Handbook, predicted a line of .260/.287/.390 for Cruz.

Cruz also finished his season by going 31 games and 120 plate appearances without a walk. Will that catch up to him in 2013?

But offense isn't the only factor here.

A large chunk of Cruz's value is tied up in his defense, which is understandable since he is a natural shortstop. Baseball-Reference had Cruz at 2.3 wins above replacement in 2012, and over half (1.2) of his value came on defense. FanGraphs rated Cruz at 22.2 runs above average per 150 games in ultimate zone rating, which was fourth among major league third baseman with at least 200 innings in the field.

This would be a good time to point out the caveat that it might be dangerous to base anything on a half-season of defensive statistics. But still, impressive.

In third place was none other than the forgotten Juan Uribe, at 22.3 runs above average per 150 games.

So while Ramirez may be a project, to put it mildly, at shortstop, he is currently surrounded by very good defense at the other three infield positions, with Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez locking down the right side of the diamond.

Will Cruz and Jerry Hairston Jr., with a dash of Nick Punto (career +17.3 UZR/150), will be enough at third base for the Dodgers?

While we wonder whether the Dodgers are actually interested in Kevin Youkilis at third base, or if mentioning the free-spending Dodgers in rumors is a way for agents to drive up the price for their clients, maybe the Dodgers are already in good hands at the hot corner after all.