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Monday, October 18, 2004
A Closer Look: Placido Polanco

As the off season moves forward, I'll take a look at some perspective free agents that the White Sox should consider. This is the first in that series.

I discussed in the free agent outlook that the Sox first target should be a SP, but I'm a little unclear on who would be the best fit. So for the first in a series of spotlights on free agents, I chose Placido Polanco of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The next position after starting pitching that I identified as a need was SS/2B. I interchange these two, because of the emergence of Jaun Uribe, who is able to play both positions with Gold Glove caliber defence. That provides a ton of possibilities for the front office.

Here's a look at the top available free agents at those two positions.
Second Base                  Short Stop

Placido Polanco Omar Vizquel
Pokey Reese Craig Counsell
Eric Young Christian Guzman
Roberto Alomar Nomar Garciaparra
Mark Grudzielanek (Option) Jose Valentin
Todd Walker Rich Aurillia
Jeff Kent(Option) Alex Gonzalez
Ricky Gutierrez Barry Larkin
Mark Bellhorn Orlando Cabrera
Edgar Renteria
Polanco came up through the Cardinals farm system, and appeared to be a light-hitting utility guy. He batted for an average of .279 in the minors, but had just a .344 slugging percentage while on the farm.

In 2002, Polanco was traded from the Cards to the Phils in the deal that brought Scott Rolen to St. Louis. Upon arrival in Philly, he became their everyday 3B. In 2003, he was moved to 2B for most of the time, doing the same in '04, playing just 13 games at 3B.

At the plate, Polanco has had a power spike the last two seasons, hitting 14 HR's in 2003 and 17 in '04. Those numbers would surely increase in the homer-friendly USCF. He is a contact hitter, which the sox haven't had in their everyday line-up since early in the Jerry Manuel ERA, and produces a lot of groundballs. (career 1.89 G/F ratio) The one thing that he would bring to the Sox is consistency. He has not hit below .289 since becoming starter. He hits both lefties and righties well, though slightly better against lefties, which would be a welcome addition to a team who had troubles winning games started by lefties this season largely because thier table setters could not hit(or even get on base) vs. LHP.

At the same time the Cards where turning Polanco into Rolen, the White Sox traded their 2B, Ray Durham, to Oakland for a minor league pitcher named Jon Adkins. They have been looking for a viable replacement ever since.

Here's how Polanco compares to the White Sox starting 2b since the departure of Ray-Ray.
        White Sox(2B)          Polanco  

2004 .268/.324/.412 .298/.345/.441
2003 .261/.337/.393 .289/.352/.447
2002 .251/.326/.372 .288/.330/.403
Polanco has outperformed the White Sox second basemen in every season. He was .296/.353/.427 after the trade deadline in 2002, which what I used for the Sox in 2002.

Here's what the ESPN scouting report had on Polanco for the 2004 season.
2003 Season
Placido Polanco might be the Phillies' most underrated regular. He is the best situational hitter in the lineup and one of the most complete players in the league. Despite being limited to 122 games last season, much of that due to a deep thigh bruise suffered late in the year, he reached career highs in home runs and RBI.

Hitting
Polanco is a classic No. 2 hitter, but he was willing to lead off or bat further down in the order when asked. He not only has the ability to bunt or advance a runner by hitting to the right side, but he also can turn on a pitch. Best of all, he is intelligent enough to know which approach best suits the circumstances. He has become a more patient hitter, walking 42 times-also a career best. There simply aren't many holes in his swing, as evidenced by the fact that he struck out just once every 13 at-bats.

Baserunning & Defense
Polanco's unselfish style is demonstrated in the field as well as at the plate. When first acquired from the Cardinals in July 2002, he played third base. He started last season at second, his more natural position, but moved back to third without complaint after David Bell went on the DL in July. Polanco has an adequate arm and decent range, but compensates by rarely making a mistake at either position. While not the fastest runner, he can take the extra base and stole 14 bases while being thrown out only twice.
It's hard to imagine KW trying to sell us Sox fans on "grinders" and not consider this guy. These ESPN scouting reports generally paint a rosy picture of a players talents, but I've had this column in the can for a while, as I exchanged e-mails with various Phillies bloggers to get a better feel for Polanco's value. The consensus among those that responded to me was that they would all love to have Polanco back, but the time is now for über-prospect Chase Utley.

Polanco would slide perfectly into the #2 spot, or even fill a leadoff position if asked. He is exactly the type of player that Ozzie Guillen has indicated the club would target in the free agent market, but as of now, it appears their #1 target is Omar Vizquel.

I think that Polanco can be had for 2 years @ $4+M(maybe with an option), 3 years @ $4M, or 4 years @ $3+M. In other words, he shouldn't break the bank while filling a hole and offensively. The perfect type of player, when we have so many holes to fill.

I would normally be campaigning for a guy like Mark Bellhorn here, who gets on base more often, but Polanco and the Sox seem like a match, whereas I can't see the fans putting up with Bellhorn's league leading strikeout total. Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Edgar Renteria, and Orlando Cabrera are all good options, but probably price themselves out of the White Sox plans.

Haiku
My free agent picks
Placido Polanco? Yes.
Christian Guzman? No.