The loss of Pablo Sandoval to free agency was both disappointing and relieving for this Giants fan. On the one hand, the Panda has been perhaps the most entertaining player to watch on the Giants for over half a decade, a run that included three World Championships. His unique combination of an everyman physique with superman athleticism was a singular spectacle. He was also the first Giant position player drafted and developed by the team to be an All Star since Matt Williams, who debuted in 1987. At the same time, questions about Sandoval’s weight and concerns about how his unusual skillset might age prevented the Giants from meeting his pre-season demand of $90M over 5 years (the same terms of Hunter Pence’s extension). Although their final offer was in that neighborhood, Sandoval chose similar terms from the Red Sox.

So where does that leave the Giants? Their internal options for 3B are not all that appealing:

*Ehire Adrianza (will be 25 years-old; .269 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer)

*Joaquin Arias (will be 30 years-old; .276 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer)

  •  .278 wOBA (784 PA) over 2012-14;
  •  +14.9 UZR/150 (800.1 innings) at 3B over 2012-14

* Matt Duffy (24 years-old; .295 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer)

  • Did not make Top 20 Giants by Sickles
  • No player entry in BP 2014
  • Strong defensive reputation

*Adam Duvall (26 years-old; .296 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer)

  • Ranked #19 amongst Giants by Sickles (C+ prospect): notes defensive issues
  • Player entry in BP2014: notes defensive issues
  • Mostly played 1B in limited MLB action in 2014

*Marco Scutaro (39 years-old; .298 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer)

  • Missed nearly all of 2014 (back injury)
  • .325 wOBA (1243 PA) over 2012-14
  • Was an average defensive 3B last time he played there (2012)

NOTE: Scutaro is only included for the sake of completeness. While under contract in 2015 for $6M, the Giants are not expecting him to be a contributor and it is possible—even probable—that he will not ever play again in the majors.

So among the Giants likely to play in 2015, Duffy is probably the best overall package (youngest player, acceptable bat, strong defense), although he projects better as a utility infielder. Moreover, he is the primary backup to Joe Panik at 2B and Brandon Crawford at SS. That leaves two below-replacement level hitters with above-average defense (Adrianza and Arias) and one mediocre hitter with well below-average defense. Needless to say, the Giants have a glaring need at 3B.

One other alternative internal option—moving Buster Posey to 3B and start Andrew Susac at C—has been repeatedly ruled out by GM Brian Sabean. While it may have been difficult to take those words at face value when the team was still trying to re-sign Sandoval, on Monday Sabean reiterated that doing so was not currently being considered by the Giants. While the move may make sense on several fronts—not the least of which is keeping Posey healthy—the team seems committed to Posey playing behind the plate next year.

Given that there internal options are at or below replacement-level, any addition will be a full WAR upgrade. So what are some of those possible external options?

Free Agents Who Could Play 3B in 2015:

*Asdrubal Cabrera (will be 29 years-old; .315 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer)

*Stephen Drew (will be 32 years-old; .288 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer

*Chase Headley (will be 31 years-old; .333 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer)

*Jed Lowrie (will be 31 years-old; .320 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer)

*Rickie Weeks (will be 32 years-old; .317 wOBA 2015 Projection by Steamer

  • .323 wOBA (1362 PA over 2012-14)
  • Not recently a 3B; -18.6 UZR/150 (2609.1 innings) at 2B over 2012-14
  • Fangraphs Expected Contract: $12M over 2 years
  • MLBTR Expected Contract: N/A

In the interest of casting as wide a net as possible, I included players who are below average defensive SS (Cabrera and Lowrie) as well as Drew, who is capable defensive SS but *might* be willing to play another position on a pillow contract for 2015.

As known to anyone who has been following the hot stove league, Headley is the best remaining FA infielder—if not the best remaining FA hitter—left on the market. MLBTR appears to have vastly underestimated Headley’s market, as he reportedly has a $65M/4yr offer from an unidentified team, who is not the Giants. According to Jon Heyman on Tuesday morning, the Giants “are dead set against going past three years for Headley.” Things may change if the Giants miss out on Jon Lester this week, but for the moment let’s assume Heyman’s report is accurate and the Giants are essentially out of the Headley sweepstakes (assuming the $65M/4yr offer exists).

Lowrie would seem to be the next best option. He has ties to the Bay Area (graduated from Stanford University) and is reportedly willing to consider moving off of SS. While a mediocre defensive SS, he would seem to have the profile to make the transition to 3B easily. According to Inside Edge Fielding, over the past three years he has performed well enough on “Routine” and “Likely” plays, mediocre at “Even,” and all but useless on “Unlikely,” “Remote,” and “Impossible” plays. In other words, the issue appears to be primarily range, which is a liability that can be minimized by a move to the hot corner. The biggest concern with Lowrie is health; his age 29 and 30 seasons were the first seasons of his career where he eclipsed 400 PA.

Comparing Lowrie and Headley, Lowrie is an inferior player on all major fronts (offensively, defensively, health), yet is Headley’s marginal value over Lowrie really worth a 62.5% premium (comparing the AAVs of the reported $65M/4yr for Headley and consensus expected contract of $30M/3yr for Lowrie)? Particularly if one expects Headley’s defense to regress, the main difference between the two is health. Is it a worthwhile discount for Lowrie based largely on his injury-plagued mid/late 20s?

Arguably a slightly inferior version of Lowrie is Cabrera, who is younger and has a better health record, yet is an inferior hitter and infielder. Cabrera transitioned to 2B after a trade to the Nationals last year and is by far the best FA option at 2B and one of the best at SS. Given the premium teams are willing to pay middle infielders relative to corners, Cabrera likely has a larger market than either Headley or Lowrie. In addition, he may be less amenable to making another position switch to 3B than Lowrie. Finally, because Cabrera is young for the free agent market (2015 will be his age 28 season) and will be sought after by teams looking for help at 2B, SS, and possibly 3B, it seems possible that he will well exceed the expected $27-33M over 3 years either in AAV or years. Given the Giants aforementioned reluctance to guarantee 3 years to Headley, they seem unlikely to win the Cabrera sweepstakes.

An unconventional FA target may be Weeks, who has only played 2B in the majors thus far. For the past three years, he has been the worst defensive 2B and among the worst defensive fielder of any position. Unfortunately, his bat has also declined (particularly against lefties) and he spent most of 2014 on the wrong side of a platoon with Scooter Gennett. His problems defensively at 2B have been mostly with range and the pivot; he makes most routine and semi-difficult plays. Questions about Weeks’ defense have plagued him his entire career and at various points moves to 3B or the OF (including CF) were reportedly considered, which suggests that at one point he may have had the arm to play a respectable 3B. It remains to be seen whether his arm would be strong enough for 3B at this point in his career and staying healthy has never been his strong suit. Still Weeks presents an intriguing, if not unconventional free agent option that would provide the Giants with the type of gritty, scrappy veterans that Sabean and Bochy seem to get a lot of value out of. A final bright spot: it is probable that he could be acquired for just a one year deal or two at the most.

That leaves Drew, who was included on this list mostly for the sake of completeness. The circumstances of his 2014 season were so atypically putrid that it is difficult to extrapolate what his poor performance at the plate portends for the future. Drew is probably the best defensive SS of the 2014-15 free agent class, so he would seem to be less inclined to move to another position. But if a market fails to materialize for him at SS, it is conceivable that he would consider opportunities at 2B and, if so, why not 3B? Drew’s primary appeal is that he will almost certainly be seeking a 1 year deal to re-establish his value. The downside is that AT&T is not the most hospitable environment for hitters and he may prefer to be able to market himself as a middle infielder for the 2015-16 off-season.

Among the free agent options, I see Lowrie as the best value and best fit for the Giants. A three-year contract to 31 year-old with an injury history is not without risk, but he possesses the skillset to be at least an average defender at third to go alongside a projected league average .320 wOBA. If he provides 500 PA with a .320 wOBA and average defense at 3B, he is a 2 win player for 2015. Figure a typical linear depreciation rate, he will provide around 5 WAR over three years, which is about market-value for $30M.

Possible Trade Targets Who Could Play 3B in 2015:

*Omar Infante KCA (will be 33 years-old; .305 wOBA Projection by Steamer)

  • .310 wOBA (1639 PA) over 2012-14
  • Not recently a 3B; +3.2 UZR/150 (3441.2 innings) at 2B over 2012-14
  • Owed $25.3M for 2015-17 with a $10M option for 2018

*Chris Johnson ATL (will be 30 years-old; .305 wOBA Projection by Steamer

  • .324 wOBA (1686 PA) over 2012-14
  • -7.6 UZR/150 (3407 innings) over 2012-14
  • Owed $23.5M for 2015-17 with a $10M option for 2018

*Trevor Plouffe MIN (will be 29 years-old; .322 wOBA Projection by Steamer)

*Eugenio Suarez DET (will be 23 years-old; .297 wOBA Projection by Steamer

  • Ranked #8 (B-) by John Sickles’ Top 20 Tigers Prospects last April
  • Player entry in BP2014
  • 177 days of MLB service time; Arb in 2018, FA in 2021
  • Regarded as below-average defensively at SS, minimal exposure to 2B/3B

*Ben Zobrist TBA (will be 34 years-old; .330 wOBA Projection by Steamer

  • .344 wOBA (2020 PA) over 2012-14
  • Not recently a 3B; +8.0 UZ/150 (2050.2 innings) at 2B over 2012-14 (also played extensively in RF)
  • Owed $7.5M for 2015

Zobrist would require the most talent—by far—for the Giants to acquire. But he would be a tremendous addition to the top of the Giants’ batting order. The Giants were rumored to be very interested in acquiring him at the trade deadline and many around the league have speculated that Zobrist could be dealt with just one year remaining on his very team-friendly contract. Although continued decline is likely, at $7.5M he would still provide tremendous value and a true 3 win upgrade. If the Giants decided to keep Zobrist at 2B, they could also just move Panik to 3B.

On the other extreme, Johnson could probably be acquired for the least amount of talent among these players. The Braves are actively looking to rid themselves of Johnson’s contract (an extension signed just last May) after a disappointing 2014. The Braves and Giants have reportedly discussed trade scenarios involving Johnson. But he is a major defensive liability and the overall offensive package projects to below-average. He is reminiscent of Pedro Feliz, but without the GG-caliber defense—which is a pretty mediocre player. Compared to the Giants’ internal options, Duvall may be a cheaper version who provides a similar type of performance.

Infante is reportedly being shopped by the Royals after a disappointing 2014 in the first year of a four year contract. Early in his career, he was utilized as a super-utility player and did play some 3B (as well as OF); however, most recently he has been used extensively at 2B, where he has been average. As with Zobrist, the Giants could always move Panik to 3B in order to accommodate a new acquisition. The two biggest downsides to Infante are his age (33) and the fact that he has 3 years left on his contract that guarantees him over $25M. In other words, any team acquiring him would likely be paying an above-market $/WAR rate for his mid-30s.

Plouffe and Suarez are similar in that they figure to be displaced by a player returning from injury in 2015. Jose Iglesias is expected to be 100% for next year and is a vastly superior defensive shortstop to Suarez with a comparable offensive skillset. Suarez has never been a great defender at shortstop, but would likely be at least average at 3B (where he is blocked in Detroit by Nick Castellanos). Because of this logjam, Detroit has discussed Suarez with other teams. While he would be a below-average offensive 3B, he projects better than most of the Giants’ internal options (possible exception of Duffy). Because of his age and the fact that he is cost-controlled, he will not come cheap. But perhaps a trade could happen based on a reliever and/or pitching prospects, which the Giants are awash in.

Plouffe figures to loss his starting 3B job at some point in 2015 to super-prospect Miguel Sano. Projected to earn over $4M in 2015, Plouffe may be a more expensive insurance policy and/or placeholder than what the Twins are willing to spend. If the Twins were to make him available, there would be a reasonable market amongst teams who either lose out on Headley or otherwise are looking for an inexpensive upgrade at 3B. Plouffe would provide an improvement over the current internal 3B options, but he will almost certainly cost a lot in terms of young, cheap talent, probably major league ready—of which the Giants have limited supply.

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