With Pablo Sandoval officially headed to Boston, the Giants will have to decide how they are going to replace their starting third baseman for the last six seasons. Although Sandoval was a huge part of the San Francisco organization, his production is not irreplaceable.
From 2009-2011, Sandoval was one of the top third basemen in the game. Sandoval was worth a WAR of 12.0 over those three seasons, and only Ryan Zimmerman topped Sandoval's .858 OPS. When you take a look at the next three seasons, the numbers tell a different story. Sandoval's numbers took a decline in nearly every major offensive category, and his OPS dropped to .759, which ranked 11th out of NL third basemen over this stretch. His defense has seen a steady decline as well, going from an NL best 14.7 UZR/150 from '09-'11, to a -0.1 from '12-'14, according to Fangraphs.
Now that Sandoval is off the market, the top third baseman available is former Yankee Chase Headley. Even though Headley has seen a decline since his 2012 breakout season, Headley's defensive reputation and above average offensive marks will likely land a multi-year deal worth over $10 million a year. The Giants biggest competition in the Headley sweepstakes will most likely be the Yankees, and the Giants would be wise to find a cheaper route to replace Sandoval.
With the Chicago Cubs expected to bring along top prospect Kris Bryant at some point in 2015, the Cubs could be listening to offers on current starter Luis Valbuena. Valbuena, currently entering his final arbitration year, is expected to make around $3 million in 2015. With Valbuena's struggles against left-handed pitching, lets take a look at the offensive numbers vs RHP in 2014:
Sandoval .824 OPS, 136 wRC+
Headley .690 OPS, 99 wRC+
Valbuena .811 OPS, 124 wRC+
Sandoval was slightly better than Valbuena, and both were clearly better than Headley. But what about the platoon situation? Valbuena's .610 OPS vs LHP suggests the Giants need a right-handed option. Fortunately, they have an in-house option that could match up well with Valbuena: Joaquin Arias. Take a look at these numbers vs LHP:
Sandoval .563 OPS, 59 wRC+
Headley .721 OPS, 110 wRC+
Arias .720 OPS, 107 wRC+
It's very clear that a Valbuena/Arias platoon situation could easily provide an offensive advantage over Headley, but what about the defense? Career UZR/150 at third base, courtesy of Fangraphs:
As advertised, Headley is a great defender at the hot corner. But a platoon of Valbuena and Arias could make for very strong defense as well. Another benefit of chosing a Valbuena/Arias platoon? They will make no more than a combined $5 million in 2015, which is expected to be half the price of Headley.
Ultimately, the Giants have to consider how they want to spend the money they would have spent on Sandoval. A replacement at third base is the simple answer, but when you look deeper, the money saved in avoiding Headley could help the Giants land a top pitcher. One starter that they have been linked to is Jon Lester, currently the top LHP on the free agent market. Lester would help strengthen a pitching staff that is losing Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy to free agency, on top of facing some major question marks in regards to the production from Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.
Pablo Sandoval is a tough player to replace, but the task is not as expensive as you'd think.