The laws of supply and demand suggested that finding third base help last winter would not come cheap.
Or maybe at all.
The White Sox found out the hard way with Jeff Keppinger, but he merely had the biggest of many, many belly flops in that pool. The Sox would've been worse off if they stayed the course after 2012, and their original plans to supplement Keppinger through free agency probably wouldn't have worked out nearly as well as Conor Gillaspie did, which is saying something.
Below was the pool of free-agent third basemen as ranked by Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan. I also tacked on Jack Hannahan -- he wasn't ranked, but he wasn't a free agent until the Indians non-tendered him at the end of November. When the top option is ranked 29th and nobody is a close second, that suggests the pickings are slim, and the results confirmed it.
29. Kevin Youkilis
Contract: One year and $12 million with the New York Yankees. He was looking for two years, but the Yankees were willing to pony up for a short deal while waiting for Alex Rodriguez to return from surgery.
Wha' Happened: Youkilis couldn't make it out of April before his back acted up on him. He returned in late May for one more go, but then resigned himself to back surgery, which knocked him out of the rest of the season.
White Sox interest level: Allowed him to test the market, spoke well of him, but made no noticeable effort to get involved.
41. Jeff Keppinger
Contract: Three years, $12 million with the White Sox. Unlike Youkilis, Keppinger will get two more cracks at earning that money back, even if he has to dig himself out of a deeper hole.
Wha' Happened: If you read this site, you know all too well.
56. Eric Chavez
Contract: One year, $3 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Wha' Happened: Chavez was the only third baseman to live up to his contract (FanGraphs pegs him at 1.3 WAR, so split the difference and he's there). Still, it wasn't without issues. The oft-injured Chavez made two trips to the DL -- an oblique injury knocked him out for most of June, and knee and hip issues teamed up to sideline him in August. The wear and tear might have dragged him down, as he hit just .237/.297/.368 after the first injury. He and Martin Prado formed a league-average platoon at third base, and they were probably hoping for more, considering Prado was the return for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson (who outplayed Prado for Atlanta).
White Sox interest level: Legit, but they lost the geography battle.
White Sox talked to Chavez before signing Keppinger, but Chavez preferred Arizona.— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnoblerCBS) December 5, 2012
The timing was off by a year. Here's a quote you don't often see:
Chavez said moving back from the East Coast to be closer to his family was a big draw for the Diamondbacks after two years with the New York Yankees, but he "can’t honestly say that’s Number 1 on my priority list anymore."
The other is his health. The Diamondbacks’ training staff is known as one of the better staffs in the majors, but Chavez thinks the strain of playing in the field may have putmore wear and tear on his body after DH-ing more often with the Yankees and in his last year in Oakland.
73. Placido Polanco
Contract: One year, $2.75 million with the Miami Marlins of all teams (he did earn an extra $125,000 for playing more than 100 games).
Wha' Happened:The 37-year-old basically replicated his age-36 season, so you could say he came short of his salary while meeting expectations perfectly, which is the kind of thing that happens on this market. Also, he batted cleanup in nine games.
White Sox interest level: Zero, apparently.
82. Maicer Izturis
Contract: Three years, $10 million with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Wha' Happened: After having the worst season of his career with the Angels in 2012, he went on to have the worst season of his career with the Blue Jays, one of many, many things that went wrong north of the border. He only 36 games at third (59 at second and 28 at short), so at least he offers some versatility in spite of the production drop-off, if that helps any.
White Sox interest level: Zero, apparently.
UR. Jack Hannahan
Contract: Two years, $4 million with the Cincinnati Reds.
Wha' Happened: Hannahan spent the entire year as a National League backup. Between pinch hitting and defensive replacing, he didn't see too many at-bats. He didn't really warrant it with his production, and his formerly sterling defefnsive numbers took a hit, albeit in a way smaller sample size (215 innings, down from 724 with the Indians in 2012).
White Sox interest level: Legit, and he probably would've played more.
Sox still have interest in Hannahan despite confirmed Keppinger deal— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) December 5, 2012
That probably would've been better for Hannahan than the White Sox, especially since they eventually found their left-handed counterpart for Keppinger, and for less of a commitment. Gillaspie actually ended up outproducing everybody on this list but Chavez.
But even then, the White Sox couldn't get a workable platoon out of it. For one, Gordon Beckham broke his hamate bone, which forced Gillaspie and Keppinger into everyday action, more or less. And even if Beckham stayed healthy, it's hard to tell if Keppinger could've contributed, because after smacking lefties around for the Rays in 2012, he actually hit righties better in 2013.
Then again, Keppinger actually had more walks (eight) than strikeouts (five) against lefties in 113 plate appearances, so a stunning .204 BABIP had a lot to do with the lack of results. Play the season over, and that probably rights itself.
Alas, he's lucky there are no second chances, because he wouldn't have gotten a multi-year deal. That said, the prospect of Marcus Semien being useful makes Keppinger's uncertain future more of a mere nuisance, and allows the Sox to sit out of an equally unappealing pool this time around. Juan Uribe notwithstanding, because he's always appealing.