Third base has been a largely productive position for big league clubs this season, and even teams that have seen their primary options go down due to injury (i.e. the Royals and the Mets) have received solid if not above-average production from their replacements. That shrinks the number of clubs that would conceivably look to buy at the hot corner, though there are a few contenders that make sense. Cleveland, for instance, hasn’t received great production out of Juan Uribe and could shift him to a bench role with a meaningful third base upgrade. The Giants have had a carousel at the hot corner with Matt Duffy on the shelf, and the Cardinals last week placed Jhonny Peralta on the disabled list with an injury to the same thumb that cost him the first few months of the 2016 season. Other clubs could simply look to add a versatile piece (possibly with remaining club control) that could not only handle third base but a few other positions. And, as luck would have it, there are plenty such names available…
Todd Frazier: The White Sox are opening to offers on the majority of their roster, and while Frazier comes with plenty of name value and plenty of power, his overall production has been a bit of a letdown. Frazier’s 29 homers trail only Mark Trumbo for the Major League lead, but he’s hitting .212/.299/.475 this season. His 10.4 percent walk rate is a career-best, and there’s some poor luck in terms of BABIP (.200), but part of that low average on balls in play is due to an enormous 22 percent infield-fly rate, so he shouldn’t be expected to rebound to the league average. Frazier’s 24 percent strikeout rate is a career worst as well. Still, he’s teeming with power, earning just $8.25MM this year and owed one more raise in arbitration before free agency. The Sox probably place a high value on him, as they’re not indicating a full rebuild is in the offing.
Yunel Escobar: The .326/.372/.418 batting line that Escobar has produced this season is a near-mirror image of his .314/.375/.415 slash from his strong 2015 season with the Nationals. However, the sub-par defense he’s playing at the hot corner is also a close approximation of last season as well. That’s essentially who Escobar is, though: an average to above-average hitter with a questionable glove. He’s on a reasonable $7MM salary for the 2016 season and has a 2017 club option for the same rate, making him attractive from a financial standpoint. Escobar’s personality has drawn some questionable reviews in the past, but he received an endorsement as a teammate from Hector Santiago earlier this summer.
Danny Valencia: Whether Valencia has fallen out of favor with the A’s or Oakland simply wants to see Ryon Healy on an everyday basis to gauge his future, Valencia has lost his starting third base gig in spite of a robust .299/.351/.481 slash line this season. His defense has been abysmal, per both UZR and DRS, though he’s drawn at least competent marks from each of those metrics in the seasons leading up to 2016. Detractors will claim that Valencia’ productivity is a short-term fluke, but he’s somewhat quietly mashed at a .294/.348/.502 (131 OPS+) clip over his past 694 plate appearances. There are some clubhouse concerns here, and the defense is troubling as well, but Valencia has been an offensive force for more than a year and is controlled through 2017 via arbitration. He can probably handle some first base and left field as well.
Eduardo Nunez: Like Valencia, Nunez has quietly escalated his offensive profile dating back to Opening Day 2015. In 590 plate appearances since that time, the former Yankee is hitting .293/.326/.440 with 16 home runs and 34 stolen bases. Nunez is controlled through the 2017 season and is earning just $1.475MM this season, making him the most affordable option in this “short-term veteran” bucket. As a bonus, he’s capable of playing shortstop (where he’s played for most of the 2016 season), second base and left field as well, even if he’s not a great defender at any of the four spots. Nunez is popular among his teammates, but the disappointing Twins are likely open to moving any player within arm’s reach of free agency, and Nunez is reportedly one of their most asked-about names.
Yangervis Solarte: The Padres haven’t shied away from selling controllable pieces, and Solarte only has one more year of control than Drew Pomeranz, whom they already shipped out. He’s done nothing but hit in the Majors, is cheap for the time being, can play multiple positions and is in the midst of the best season of his career. The return for Chase Headley looked pretty light when the Padres got him, but Solarte has made it a great move for San Diego.
Jed Lowrie: Lowrie’s power has vanished, and he hasn’t played a lot of third base lately, but he’s experienced at the position and is hitting for average/OBP on an affordable contract for a clear-cut seller in Oakland. Like Solarte, he can move around the infield a bit and provide a team with at least a super-utility option if not a regular player at multiple positions.
Jonathan Villar: The Brewers needn’t feel compelled to move Villar, who is having a breakout season (.295/.377/.433 with an MLB-best 36 steals). He’s controllable through 2020, so if Milwaukee is to part with him, the return would need to be fairly significant. Orlando Arcia is going to push him off shortstop soon, but Villar could play second or third base, so that’s not much of a concern for the Brew Crew.
Logan Forsythe: The Rays have played Forsythe at second base almost exclusively, but he has a bit of experience at third and could probably handle the spot if needed. He’s continued his 2015 breakout with a .278/.339/.454 batting line this season and is affordable through the 2018 season via a $5.75MM salary next year and a club option for the 2018 season that’s valued at $8.5MM. If he continues at his current pace, those are both flat-out bargains. The Rays are selling, and $5.75MM next year is more to them than it is to most clubs.
Evan Longoria: I only mention Longoria due to some fairly vague speculation that the Dodgers would have interest in him — Longo is a known commodity for Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who previously headed up Tampa Bay’s baseball ops department — but that’s probably true of most teams in baseball. Longoria is in the midst of a brilliant rebound season at the plate, hitting .287/.336/.535 with 22 home runs. He’s playing his typically excellent defense at the hot corner and figures to finish out the season somewhere in the vicinity of five to six wins above replacement. He’s still just 30 years of age, so the $99MM he’s owed through 2022 is perfectly reasonable. The Rays would have to be overwhelmed to move him.
As we saw at both second base and shortstop, there’s a wide variety of utility types available. The asking price on most of these players wouldn’t be all that high, with Escobar as a possible exception due to his remaining club control and the fact that he was a very solid piece for Minnesota in 2014-15.
Big Contracts/Injured Players (i.e. August Options)
Chase Headley: Headley probably draws more criticism than he deserves, as he’s quietly batted .279/.341/.442 dating back to May 1 this season and is on pace for an overall above-average campaign. He comes with concerns about his durability, and there’s a perception among some fans that he’s a bust because he hasn’t played like a star even though he isn’t being paid like one in the first place. He’s owed $5.26MM through the end of this season plus another $13MM in 2017 and in 2018. That amount of money means the Yankees would probably have to absorb some cash to move him.
Trevor Plouffe: It looked reasonable for the Twins to trade Plouffe this winter when he was coming off a pair of solid seasons as Minnesota’s regular third baseman. Now, he’s in the midst of his second DL stint and sporting a lackluster .252/.283/.399 slash with seven homers and a $7.25MM salary. The Twins have moved Miguel Sano back to third base in part to clear room for Max Kepler and in part because Sano often looked lost in the outfield. That makes it tough to see where Plouffe fits into the long-term plan once he’s healthy. Down season aside, Plouffe is controllable through 2017 via arbitration and enjoyed a .251/.317/.429 run with 20-homer pop and solid defense from 2014-15, so one can envision him piquing the interest of corner-infield-needy clubs. (Plouffe also has recent experience at first base.)
Brett Lawrie: Reportedly headed to the disabled list due to a hamstring strain (per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago), Lawrie’s injury makes him an unlikely candidate to be dealt this month. However, he could be an August option for teams in need of help at second or third base. He’s sporting a roughly league-average batting line, per OPS+ and wRC+, and offers a bit of pop and speed at either position. He’s making $4.125MM this year and has another year of control before hitting free agency following the 2017 season.