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Evaluating the Free Agent Class: Third Base

This week I am taking a slightly different slant on the market for third basemen assessing each team's needs and their potential interest in third basemen this off-season.
Angels: Chone Figgins is a free agent. The Angels have an in-house option in Brandon Wood who is coming off a 22-home run sub-400 at-bats minor league season.  The former top prospect in baseball will be 25 to start next season and may finally get his chance to play every day. If he fails, the Angels have Maicer Izturis as a fall-back option. Market Interests:  Back-Up/Utility player already have fallback option.

Astros: The Astros went with a platoon of back-up types all season long. Geoff Blum is a free agent and Jeff Keppinger is still under contract, but they may be handing it over to prospect Chris Johnson as his job to lose next spring. Market Interests:  Back-Up/Utility players/platoon player to pair with Keppinger to form a fallback.

Athletics: Eric Chavez is still under contract for 2010, but has managed just 125 plate appearances over the past two seasons. Adam Kennedy, Nomar Garciaparra, and Bobby Crosby are all free agents and it is unclear whether any of them will be retained. Brett Wallace, the principal player acquired for Matt Holliday, has been kept at third base by the A's and apparently will be given every chance to stay at that position especially as they also have a first base prospect in Sean Doolittle who is close to the majors as well. Market Interests:  Back-Up, possibly one with some starting experience in case Wallace's defense is underwhelming.

Blue Jays: Traded away Scott Rolen at his request to acquire Edwin Encarnacion who has one year left on his contract. The Jays also have Jose Bautista who is arbitration eligible.Market Interest: Utility player.

Braves: Chipper Jones is the starting third basemen until he retires. Martin Prado is slated to be the opening day second basemen so Kelly Johnson may have to learn to play third base. Market Interest: Back-up player. Could bring back Greg Norton as utility/pinch-hitter.

Brewers: Casey McGehee will return as the starting third basemen in 2010. If he falters, Matt Gamel is awaiting an opportunity. Market Interest: Back-up/utility type – possibly re-sign Craig Counsell.

Cardinals: Troy Glaus and Mark DeRosa are both free agents and Brett Wallace was traded to the aforementioned A's. David Freese and Allen Craig are in-house options should DeRosa not be brought back to the fold. Market Interest: Re-sign DeRosa or minor league free agent back-up types.

Cubs: Aramis Ramirez is signed at least through 2011 with an option for 2012. Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot give the Cubs plenty of depth at the position if he is slow to come back from shoulder surgery. Market Interest: AAA roster filler.

Dodgers: Casey Blake is signed through 2011, but is 36-years old and the Dodgers's third base back-ups are all free agents. Blake DeWitt may end up as a back-up 3B/2B to replace one of them. Mark Interest: Back-Up/Utility players.

Giants: Pablo Sandoval is defensively challenged and in need of moving to first base and the offensive performance of both Ishikawa and Garko could hasten that, creating some room at third. Market Interest: Depends significantly on whether they non-tender or demote their current first base options.  Conor Gillaspie (Bill Mueller the second) will be heading to AA next season meaning they might end up with a one-year fill-in type player.

Indians: Jhonny Peralta is finally where he belongs defensively and they have Andy Marte as a back-up option.  Jamey Carroll is a free agent who may or may not return and can serve as a back-up.  Market Interest: Back-up or utility.

Mariners: Adrian Beltre is a free agent and despite coming off a rough season may command the most attention of any third basemen on the free agent market and could easily not return to Seattle.

Marlins They do have Bill Hall under contract and could masochistically insert him into that spot going from perhaps the best defensive third basemen in baseball to one of the worst. Matt Tuiasosopo is a low-cost option the M's could utilize too. Jose Lopez might be another option as well. Market Interest: Starting level player – retain Beltre or sign a stop gap that could become a back-up eventually with the intention of handing it over Tuiasosopo later in the year.

Mets: David Wright even in a down year is not in any danger of being replaced. He has played in no fewer than 154 games in any season of his four-year career. Market Interest: AAA Roster filler or back-up if Fernando Tatis does not return.

Nationals: Defensive standout Ryan Zimmerman is coming off his finest offensive season. Willie Harris is still under contract and can back-up there. Also have Mike Morse or can bring in a non-roster invitee if they need additional depth. Market Interest: AAA roster filler.

Orioles: Melvin Mora has an $8 million dollar option. Meanwhile they have Ty Wigginton under contract for 2010 and Josh Bell will be at AAA next season. Add Mora's clubhouse issues and you have a certainty that he will end up on the free agent market. Justin Turner has a good chance at sticking with the club as a back-up 2B/3B. Market Interest: AAA roster filler.

Padres:  Despite two seasons in a row of around .300 OBP's the Padres really do not have any options beyond giving Kevin Kouzmanoff another chance to hold down the everyday job. Chase Headley is a former third basemen who could also slide to that position if they tire of Kouzmanoff. Market Interest: Inexpensive back-up/utility options.

Phillies: Pedro Feliz is in his option year and his plus defensive skills may have him keep his job unless the Phillies go after bigger fish – Adrian Beltre. Feliz and OBP are opposite concepts and it is possible on that basis they may wish to part ways. Greg Dobbs is signed through the end of 2010 and will remain the primary back-up and a pinch hitter. Market Interest: Exercise option or upgrade starter.

Pirates: Andy LaRoche is a good defensive third basemen, but has been a groundball hitter and his bat may play better at second where he would be an upgrade to Delwyn Young.  Top prospect Pedro Alvarez will be in AAA to start next season and its possible he could win a job outright in spring training. Ramon Vazquez  is the primary back-up and Neil Walker is close to the Majors too. Market Interest: None. The Pirates have enough depth under contract and in their system.

Reds: Scott Rolen will be in the final year of an 8-year contract and will open 2010 as the starting third basemen, but could easily end up traded mid-season if the Reds fall out of contention. That would clear space for power-hitting prospect Juan Francisco, but who because of a complete lack of plate discipline, does not look like a long-term solution. Adam Rosales may be the primary back-up. Market Interest: Utility player at most.

Red Sox: Mike Lowell is under contract for one more season.  Ultimately Kevin Youkilis may return to that position once Lowell's contract is up, but considering the Red Sox will once again be contenders next season, a status quo situation is likely to continue. Whether or not the Red Sox decide to retain Victor Martinez past the 2010 season could weigh heavily on that situation.  Market Interest: Perhaps a utility player.

Rockies: Ian Stewart needs to improve his selectivity and contact making skills, but certainly emerged as a power-threat. Meanwhile it is a fair bet that Garrett Atkins will end up traded or non-tendered after making over $7 million dollars for a .650 OPS.  His departure, however, would leave only Omar Quintanilla as a back-up infielder at the MLB level. Market Interest: Back-up, possibly someone who might be able to start at times given Stewart's streakiness.

Royals: Alex Gordon will get a chance to prove he is healthy and to live up to his promise. Teahen is likely to be in the Royals regular lineup but will can shift back to third at a moment's notice. Willie Bloomquist has also played some third base over his career and could play there in an emergency. Market Interest: AAA roster filler unless the Royals make some unlikely moves to shake up the lineup.

Rangers: Michael Young is signed through 2013 and is a fixture. This past season was the first time since 2002 he received fewer than 600 plate appearances. He typically eclipses 700. In other words the Market Interest is: Minor league invitee back-up.

Rays: Evan Longoria is locked in and the Rays have a back-up in Willy Aybar who has shown multiple times in his career that he has enough skill to start if needed. Ben Zobrist has played third in the past and can shift there if needed and if Iwamura returns, it is his original position. Market Interest: None to marginal.

Tigers: Brandon Inge refound his power, but continues to show he is neither a batting average or OBP threat, plus will be coming off dual-knee surgery. Ryan Raburn is the primary back-up and Ramon Santiago is the utility man. In case of emergency Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen can play there, but for the defensive sake of their pitching staff and for keeping Guillen healthy and in the field, they would prefer not.  Aubrey Huff is a free agent unlikely to return and is best suited to first base/DH duties at this point in his career to boot. Market Interest: AAA roster filler.

Twins: Joe Crede struggled with back issues once again and is a free agent. It is possible he could re-sign. The Twins have plenty of back-up/fill-in type help with Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, and Brian Buscher. The Twins also have a mediocre prospect in Danny Valencia who is 25-years old and played in AA and AAA this past season. Market Interest: Re-sign Crede or find another out of the organization starter.

White Sox:  Josh Fields has failed. Gordon Beckham played well offensively, but his bat plays better in the middle of the infield. Depending on whether the White Sox decide to shift Chris Getz to a utility role or not could potentially open up third base to a free agent. Dayan Viciedo is likely to spend 2010 mostly in AA given his age and inexperience and struggles in 90 at-bats there this season.  Market Interest: Possibly a starter from outside the organization. They may elect to stay with Getz at second and Beckham at third.
Yankees: Some A-Rod guy, but they'll need to find a back-up. Both Hairston Jr. and Hinske are free agents at the end of the season.  Market Interest: Back-up.


Teams Retaining Incumbent Third Basemen or shifting player on MLB roster to that position:  20
Teams Likely to Promote Minor Leaguer to Starting Position: Angels, Astros, and A's (3)
Teams Actively Interested in a Free agent or Trade Acquisition: Mariners and Twins with the Cardinals, Phillies, and White Sox all on the maybe list. It is possible that the Angels and Astros could instead opt to spend money on a free agent or trade acquisition rather than give the job to Wood and Johnson respectively. (2-7 teams who might be interested in a starter.

Available Free Agents:
Adrian Beltre: Prior to injury this season had established level of consistency and is considered plus defender. Will get another chance to start. Not known for his OBP or walk-rates (7.1|PERCENT| for his career), but makes contact (17.2|PERCENT| strikeout rate) but is a .260's to .270's hitter due to mostly ground-ball and fly-ball tendencies. His ability to hit line drives and maintain a good batting average has fluctuated quite a bit from season to season. He will turn 31 just after opening day and is capable of returning healthy and rebounding after recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs in his left shoulder. Seattle would do well to keep him, but he may be too expensive.  The Phillies, White Sox, Cardinals, and perhaps even the Twins are potential suitors.

Geoff Blum had a very typical Blum year batting in the .240's hitting low-teens in home runs. Despite consistently solid low-strikeout rates (16.8|PERCENT|) Blum has a career .250 batting average. The reason is due to his fly-ball tendencies, hitting them over 40|PERCENT| of the time for his career. In other words, despite hitting 10 home runs, his HR/FB was just 6.7|PERCENT| and his career BABIP stands at .278. At this point in his career he is unlikely to alter his swing. Still valuable in a supersub/fill-in capacity. He would still be a good fit in Houston and might be an option in Oakland too.

Craig Counsell is 39 and still has value as a well disciplined/contact hitting utility player who can handle third, second and shortstop. His batting average can be somewhat erratic as seen in his career .292 BABIP. Could return to Milwaukee again and will be a utility player wherever he goes.

Joe Crede has chronic back issues and could even be forced to retire. A shame as there has been an intriguing combination of skill in terms of making contact and power – (14.8|PERCENT| strikeout rate for his career while hitting fly-balls almost 50|PERCENT| of the time. That has caused similar issues in the batting average department to Geoff Blum. He will turn 32 after the season begins and given the combination of back problems and inconsistent history a breakout is unlikely to occur even if he decides not to retire.

Mark DeRosa may re-sign with the Cardinals to play third base though he is perhaps best off in the outfield defensively. His 2009 season is somewhat out of context with the rest of his career particularly with respect to line drives, doing so just 16.6|PERCENT| of the time as opposed 20.8|PERCENT| since 2002 with the only other time he produced less than a 20|PERCENT| was in 2002 at 19.9|PERCENT|.  If he gets a little less homer happy and cuts down on his second highest strikeout rate of his career (23.5|PERCENT|), the soon to be 35-year old could rebound in the batting average department.

 Pedro Feliz, 34, as mentioned has an option on his contact and could end up the primary third basemen in Philadelphia again. Interestingly over the past three seasons Feliz has concentrated more on making contact, reducing his career strikeout rate to a 16.2|PERCENT|. The change in approach has marginal effect on his batting average, managing just his second highest mark of his career this season at .266. What it has done is reduce his fly-ball and home run totals. The key issues are high ground ball rates and a lack of selectivity (career 5.3 walk rate). In other words Pedro Feliz .284 BABIP in 2009 and career .272 BABIP are the way they are for good reason – he makes a lot of contact, but not quality contact. It would be surprising to see any other team other than Philadelphia give him an opportunity to play regularly.

Chone Figgins is far from limited to playing just third base and has played there mostly out of a lack of other opportunities and out of necessity during his time with the Angels. He is originally a second basemen and has played some outfield too. He is a legitimate MLB leadoff hitter  who has improved his patience at the plate every season of his career with a 14|PERCENT|+ walk rate this season while still striking out just over 18|PERCENT| of the time and showing well above average speed.  It is possible the Angels could re-sign him as they do not necessarily have a ready replacement to take over the leadoff spot unless they wish to move a player they would rather have in an RBI position to that slot in his place.

Troy Glaus was a non-factor in 2009 but is only one season removed from a 637 plate appearance/27 home run season. The 33-year old could be viewed as an ideal stop-gap for a number of teams including the A's and White Sox. The Mariners could be interested, viewing him as a cheaper option than Beltre. The Twins may also be interested in him given the high probability of him having to sign an incentive-based deal.

Jerry Hairston is just an extremely useful player for both real baseball and fantasy purposes. He provides a good combination of versatility, speed, and contact-making skills striking out just 13.3 of the time over his career. He was held to a .250 batting average this season as the result of a suppressed BABIP of .270 despite hitting line drives over 23|PERCENT| of the time. Like Geoff Blum, he hits way too many fly-balls however for  a player of limited home run hitting skills. He will be a prime target of teams seeking someone with uncertain situations at multiple positions.

Melvin Mora as mentioned is highly unlikely to have his option picked up. He falls somewhere around the Glaus area of cheaper third base options with starting experience and recent solid seasons in his past. The difference between the two are that Mora has managed to stay healthy and that he is over 4 years older than Glaus and will be 38 when the season starts.  Mora fell from 23 home runs to 8 with little other changes in his skill set – still walking around 7|PERCENT| of the time and still striking out just over 13|PERCENT| of the time. Mora did, however, drop 4|PERCENT| in fly-balls hit and 3|PERCENT| in line drives hit while posting a 5.4|PERCENT| HR/FB. 2008 actually looks a bit like an outlier with a 14|PERCENT| HR/FB rate when Mora had not had another 10|PERCENT| or greater rate since 2005, though his career mark does stand at 11|PERCENT|. If Mora does bounce back at all, a more middling 2006/2007 level of performance is the more likely outcome.

Juan Uribe batted .289 for the Giants but remains the same exact player he was with the Sox walking around 6|PERCENT| of the time and striking out around 20|PERCENT|. The difference was a .330 BABIP, an unsustainable mark given his skill set. Uribe is still capable of 20 HR and a sub .300 OBP, but at 31 years of age it is hopefully unlikely that teams will be willing to give him the at-bats to do the former at the expense of the latter.