[Editors: We like to publish posts by loyal Nation members. We’re pleased to post this article by Tony Liao, a graduate student at Cornell University.]

While much of the off-season attention for the Reds has been on Shin-Soo Choo, CF, 2B, LF, SS and C, it might be worthwhile to examine upgrading 3B.

Super Todd Frazier came on the scene as a 26 year old rookie, slashing .273/.331/.498 across 465 PA, along with 19 HR.  Showing a remarkable ability to hit home runs without any hands, Frazier finished third in the NL ROY race that year behind some guy from Washington and Wade “don’t call me Dave” Miley of the Diamondbacks. With Juan Francisco traded away to the Braves in spring training, the Reds went into 2013 excited that Super Todd would get all the at bats at 3B and build on his promising rookie season.

But the Reds have been burned by third place NL ROY finishes before (Austin Kearns). 2013 was Todd’s age 27 season to show that the breakout was sustainable.

Alas, it did not happen.  In 32 more games played and 135 more PA, Frazier had 9 more hits, 3 more doubles, the same number of HR, and saw his batting average fall over 40 points and his overall slash line fell to .234/.314/.407.

Some was due to a drop in BABIP, from .319 to .269, but a recent Fangraphs article points to a rise in Frazier’s ground ball rate from 32.9% in 2012 to 42.2% in the 2013 season. The regression was not completely unexpected – in his preseason projection, Jason Linden ‘nailed it’ with Todd Frazier, predicting his regression and offensive decline.

While above average defense boosted Frazier’s value (+9.7 UZR) and two years of data is still a relatively small sample, it seems probable that Frazier’s true production lies somewhere in between his 2012 and 2013 season (2.1/2.7 bWAR, 2.6/3.3 fWAR) seasons. It would be unlikely that he significantly outperforms that (fWAR agrees – and has his 2014 projection at 2.9 WAR).

3.0 WAR is nothing to sneeze at considering that Frazier is still pre-arbitration, so obviously I’m not suggesting that the Reds should get rid of Frazier or that he stinks – rather that his production is at a much lower variance than other players (he is who we thought he was), and therefore it would be unlikely that Frazier would be able to make up for the loss of Shin-Soo Choo.

Frazier’s versatility is an asset. If we could find an upgrade for him at third base, he could either move to a vacated spot (2B, perhaps) or serve as a super-sub role (3B, LF, 2B, 1B), and still play a major role in the offense.

So who would be an upgrade on Frazier at 3B?

Fangraphs listed seven 3B with higher WAR in 2013:

  1. Josh Donaldson, 7.7
  2. Miguel Cabrera, 7.6
  3. Evan Longoria, 6.8
  4. Manny Machado, 6.2
  5. Adrian Beltre, 5.2
  6. Chase Headley, 3.6
  7. Kyle Seager, 3.4

Most of these guys are clearly not available – Donaldson (young, pre-arbitration breakout, #36 on Grantland trade value chart), Cabrera (obviously, also moving back to 1B), Longoria (best extension in baseball), Machado (#7 on Grantland trade value list), Beltre (still incredibly productive offensively and defensively, playing up to his contract), Seager (young, pre-arbitration breakout).

The only guy on that list who is rumored to be available is Chase Headley, who is said to be at an impasse with the Padres about a potential contract extension entering his last year of arbitration.  Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that given where they are in the talks, the growing sentiment is that Headley gets traded in the offseason. And, the Reds have traded for a Padres player that wasn’t in their long term plans before.

Headley has been up and down in the past four years. He came on the scene with 4.4 WAR season in 2010 then followed that up with an injury shorted 2.3 WAR season in 2011. In 2012 he posted his best season and was in the MVP discussion, with a WAR of 7.2, 31 HR and 17 SB, and a triple slash of .286/.376/.498. Then in 2013 he regressed and fought some injuries to finish with a WAR of 3.6 and only 13 HR in 141 games.

Defensively he’s also been above average, consistently positive in UZR and DRS.

Entering his age 30 season, it seems as if 3 WAR is his floor, with his true value closer to 4 and a ceiling of 5.  That becomes more likely if you move him out of PETCO, (Headley career: 33 HR at home, 47 away). Putting a switch-hitting 3B in the Reds lineup to bat cleanup would be huge.

Headley’s contract status is what is making him available, with one year left in arbitration. MLBTR projects that Headley will earn 10 million in his final year.  If we assume he earns 4 WAR 2014, and we accept the figure of $7 million per win, that’s $28M in value and an $18M “surplus” that has to be accounted for in the trade plus the value of a first round draft pick which the Padres would get when Headley turns down a qualifying offer.

I’ll leave it to the prospect people to fill in what the package would be, but I imagine that looks like at least a couple top prospects and maybe more.  However, given his availability and talent I still think Headley would be a player the Reds should target in a variety of scenarios and it would give them flexibility. The Reds could trade for Headley, let him play out his contract year, make him a qualifying offer, and get the compensation pick when he turns it down. Another option would be to do what the Reds wished they had been able to do with Choo, sign him for an extension.

So what would be the cost of this extension? The crux of the debate is whether Headley should get paid like the MVP candidate he was in 2012 (7 WAR) or more like his production in the other seasons 3-4 WAR. It’s pretty clear that Headley is a tier below David Wright (8 years, $138 MM, signed in 2012) and Ryan Zimmerman (6 years, $100 MM) and is perhaps more in line with Adrian Beltre’s contract (5 year, 80 MM, signed in 2011 FA).

Jeremy Crasnick suggested that Alex Gordon’s 5 year/$50 MM deal as a potential comparable. Even if it’s slightly more money than that, who cares?  In a year where a 32-year-old Jhonny Peralta got 4 years, $52 million for his fWARs of 3.6, 2.5, 4.9, 1.1 going back 4 years, I would rather give Chase Headley at age 30 the same or more for fWARs of 3.6, 7.2, 2.3, and 4.4.  And if the Reds are even remotely close to competitive in the Choo talks (~$100 MM), then they have the money for this extension.

So what would signing Headley allow the Reds to do?

Option 1 – Headley at 3B (4-5 WAR, Net +1-2 WAR over 2013 Frazier), Frazier to LF (3 WAR, net +2.5 WAR over 2013 LF, who were just terrible – according to Jason Linden – “Five players saw time in left for the Reds this year. Collectively, they generated -0.5 bWAR and 0.6 fWAR.”  At the pessimistic end, that would upgrade +3.5 WAR out of 3B and LF, and if Billy Hamilton can be 1.5 WAR that would replace Choo’s 5.2 fWAR in 2013.  At the optimistic end, the 4.5 WAR from Headley and Frazier would mostly account for Choo, and anything Hamilton adds would be an upgrade.

Option 2 – Headley at 3B (4-5 WAR, Net +1-2 WAR over 2013 Frazier), trade Brandon Phillips (2.6 fWAR), move Todd Frazier to 2B (3 WAR, net +0.4) and use the salary relief to cover other extensions or sign someone.

If the Reds chose Option #1, they could potentially trade Phillips and move Frazier to 2B, and use the money saved on Phillips to go after Choo, which would project a net of 1-2 WAR over 2013. I think the Reds know the window is short, that’s why they traded Gregorius and Stubbs for Choo in 2013. I don’t think anyone regrets that decision now even though the Reds will likely be losing Choo.

Trading for Headley whether we sign him to an extension or not would make the team better in 2014, and free up the Reds to make other moves to upgrade the team.