After a dramatic win with a play at the plate on Saturday, the Detroit Tigers should be riding high. At the time, they had won 10 out of 11 games and were in sole position of the second Wild Card spot. However, Nick Castellanos was plunked by New York Mets starter Logan Verrett and subsequently diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture in his left hand. Reports state that he might miss upwards of a month, which equates to the majority of the remaining regular season. Not exactly the news a team in the midst of a stretch run ever wants to get.
Even with Castellanos, third base projected as the Tigers weakest position going forward, ranking 23rd in the league. This is not to say that Castellanos is a bad player; third base just happens to be a stacked position throughout MLB. Replacing him won’t be easy. On the current roster, the immediate possible replacements are utility men Mike Aviles and Andrew Romine, and journeyman third baseman Casey McGehee.
Aviles is having the worst year of his career and is having the 4th worst 2016 season of any position player with 170 or more at bats (-1.3 fWAR). He has struggled at the plate mightily with a triple slash line of .205/.251/.261 which equates to 64% worse than league average (wRC+ 36) While he’s known as a solid defender, he actually struggles at third base with -10 Defensive Runs Saved over his career at the hot corner (as opposed to +27 DRS for his career at shortstop). Today, he made a crucial error allowing a run to score, which swung the balance of the game by over 10%. Mike Aviles is not the answer.
Andrew Romine is a seemingly better option than Mike Aviles. Unlike Aviles, he has played well defensively for his career at third base (+2 DRS over 400 innings). In addition, he’s actually having his best offensive season of his career. However, that statement speaks more so to his prior struggles than his recent success. This season, he is hitting .222/.315/.321 (career .240/.297/.270), with this season’s line equating to 25% worse than league average . The whole package together is a replacement level season. Andrew Romine is not the answer.
Before being recalled, Casey McGehee was having a renaissance at age 33. He made the All-Star team in the International League and is hitting 41 percent better than the average IL player. He’s hitting .325/.380/.453 while providing veteran leadership to the Mud Hens. However, at this time last year, he was experiencing a season very similar to Mike Aviles. He started the season with the Giants, hitting .213/.275/.299 before being released. He was signed by the Marlins, but finished the year even worse by hitting .182/.250/.245. In addition, he is a similarly poor defender at third base with -20 DRS over his career. Yet, his Triple-A numbers are real and Steamer projects him to hit .268/.326/.374 (wRC+ 87) with average defense. McGehee is a reasonable answer, but not the best.
The best option to fill in for Nick Castellanos isn’t even on the team, though. Juan Uribe was released by the Indians on Friday. Uribe has not had a great season either, hitting .206/.259/.332 (56 wRC+). However, all things point to bad luck. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is the worst of his career (0.227) and would rank the 5th worst this season of all players with 250 plate appearances. His walk rate (5.9%), strikeout rate (18.9%), line drive rate (19.8%), and pull rate (39.6%) are right in line with his career averages (5.8%, 18.2%, 19.1%, and 40.9%, respectively). In addition, he’s actually hitting the ball harder (31.8%) in 2016 than he has throughout his career (27.7%). Current projections expect him to hit .251/.303/.384 for the remainder of the season (wRC+ 83). Yes, that’s worse than McGehee, but Uribe also happens to be a phenomenal defender.
Since 2010 Uribe has rated as the 5th best defensive third baseman in all of baseball by Defensive Runs Saved (+43 DRS). In fact, he rates better than two-time AL Gold Glove winner and defensive wizard Evan Longoria (+42 DRS) despite playing nearly 4000 less innings at the position than Longoria. The only players who rate as better defensive players at 3B are all-world class: Adrian Beltre (+78 DRS), Nolan Arenado (+78 DRS), Manny Machado (+70 DRS), and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson (+53 DRS). If you prefer Ultimate Zone Rating as your defensive metric, Uribe actually tops everyone.
At age 37, we can’t expect Juan Uribe to be the 5 WAR player he was for the Dodgers in 2013. But, with his capabilities both offensively and defensively, he’s probably the best answer to mind the hot corner until Nick Castellanos returns.
Christopher Yheulon is a contributor to Bless You Boys and firmly believes that Lou Whitaker should be in the Hall of Fame.