This is the latest installment in our Market Snapshot series. Today, we’ll round out the infield by taking stock of the situation at the hot corner.
Teams In Need
There aren’t many committed contenders with glaring holes at third base, which is rather interesting given the number of quality options on the open market this year. Of course, there are still quite a few teams that can and arguably should pursue upgrades at the hot corner.
It seems reasonable to expect the 2019 season to feature another shoot-out between the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East. Both have talented young players at third, in Miguel Andujar and Rafael Devers, but have at various points faced questions regarding their commitment to those options. Somewhat similarly, the Braves and Phillies could perhaps justifiably rely on existing players (Johan Camargo/Austin Riley and Maikel Franco/J.P. Crawford) but surely also like the idea of improving.
The central divisions have several potential destinations to watch. The White Sox are an interesting opportunistic buyer, while the ALC-rival Indians could choose to utilize star infielder Jose Ramirez at second or third base, putting them in play here as well. It’s not clear what the Twins will do with Miguel Sano, but it’s certainly possible they’ll prefer to have another player at third base. On the NL side, it’s arguable that the Cardinals ought to be looking at the hot corner as a place to improve, though the organization still has alternatives on hand and may not wish to commit for too long a stretch with a slate of intriguing prospects nearing the majors. Meanwhile, the Pirates will at least need a platoon partner for Colin Moran, while the Brewers were comfortable moving Travis Shaw off of third base this year and could conceivably do so again over the longer haul.
Several other organizations could be looking to add as well, though none figure to be big spenders. The Padres are in a bit of an odd spot. There’s a slate of internal possibilities — including some top prospects nearing the majors and still-wandering defender Wil Myers — but it’s also possible to imagine scenarios where they seek a gap-filler or even pursue a significant player. The Diamondbacks, depending upon their approach to the winter and the health of Jake Lamb, could be a factor. Meanwhile, the Royals, Orioles, and Marlins aren’t committed to anyone at the position — Brian Anderson is a factor at the hot corner and the corner outfield for Miami — but also won’t be prioritizing near-term performance.
Potential Regulars: Manny Machado is easily the top asset in this class — if, that is, he’s really willing to consider signing as a third baseman as opposed to insisting on playing shortstop. Still, it’s arguable that Josh Donaldson is an even more interesting player to watch. The former star is entering his age-33 season on the heels of an injury-plagued campaign, but showed flashes of his former brilliance in a late-season run with the Indians (.280/.400/.520 in 60 plate appearances) before a disappointing-but-brief postseason showing.
Mike Moustakas represents a solid option for those teams looking to plug in a steady piece at the hot corner — and willing to overlook his well-established OBP limitations. Organizations with greater interest in moving players around, however, may look elsewhere. Eduardo Escobar and Marwin Gonzalez are not substantially younger than Moustakas, and aren’t quite the power threats, but also have much more experience at other spots around the infield. They are also both switch-hitters. Either player could conceivably end up seeing significant action at a given position, perhaps third base, or moving around the field.
A few other veterans also represent quite notable factors on the market, though it’s somewhat difficult to tab any as clear options for everyday duties at third. Adrian Beltre is generally seen as being likely either to re-up with the Rangers or retire, but he’d be an interesting target for some clubs if he decides to test the market. Meanwhile, Asdrubal Cabrera and especially Jed Lowrie have legitimate cases to continue receiving consistent playing time, though it’s not yet clear whether teams will view them as regulars at one position — in Lowrie’s case, especially, second base seems likelier than third — or more as heavily-used utility pieces.
Timeshare/Utility/Reserve Options: David Freese has hit enough that the Dodgers will need to seriously consider his $6MM option. Otherwise, he’ll be a popular veteran target. Josh Harrison will also draw interest in the likely event that his own option is declined; though he’s more of a utility option at this point, his ability to play third will increase his appeal. Several other bounceback candidates — Logan Forsythe, Jung-ho Kang, Sean Rodriguez, Pablo Sandoval and Luis Valbuena — will be available.
Nobody would draw more rental interest than Nolan Arenado, who has drawn at least some speculation as a target, but there’s no real reason to think the Rockies will be willing to listen after a season in which they reached the postseason. He’s likely the only star player who’s even a hypothetical trade piece, and perhaps the only true regular as well.
It could be that the Rangers will listen on Joey Gallo or Jurickson Profar, though both have graded better defensively at other positions and have rather clear paths to significant playing time in Texas. Neither seems likely to be targeted as an everyday option at the hot corner elsewhere. The aforementioned Franco is a possible buy-low candidate if the Phillies go in a different direction, while there are some clubs that might consider utilizing Sano at the hot corner if the Twins decide to cut bait. If they move, this pair will likely hold the most interest for rebuilding teams that can take a chance on the upside.
Otherwise, conceivable part-time trade candidates include Derek Dietrich and Martin Prado of the Marlins, Eduardo Nunez of the Red Sox (assuming he picks up his club option), Yolmer Sanchez of the White Sox, Jedd Gyorko of the Cardinals, Yangervis Solarte of the Blue Jays, and Tommy La Stella of the Cubs.
More interesting trade possibilities could certainly also open up once the free agent market begins to resolve itself. Contenders that choose to invest in high-end veterans, after all, may find themselves with quality younger players that can be utilized as assets to acquire other pieces.