In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and first basemen who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the winter rolls around in several months. We’ll continue our breakdown of the upcoming crop of free agents with a look at the third baseman who, barring extensions, will be freely available for clubs to sign. Players making the jump from professional leagues in Asia and others who are non-tendered will quite likely add to this list, but here’s how things are expected to look as of today…
Top of the Class
- Justin Turner: He’ll play the 2021 season at 36, but Turner remains an elite hitter who perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he’s surrounded by so many strong hitters. But over the past three seasons, Turner has raked at a .307/.397/.519 clip with 62 dingers in 1518 plate appearances — including a .290/.372/.509 mark in 2019. Turner has been at least 20 percent better than a league-average hitter each season since 2013, and while he’s not the defensive powerhouse he once was, Statcast still credited him with 4 Outs Above Average at the hot corner. Defensive Runs Saved (-3) and Ultimate Zone Rating (-6.7) were more bearish, but it’s unlikely that any team would consider him a major liability at the position. It’s also worth remembering that Turner was dogged by hamstring and ankle issues in 2019 even though he avoided an IL stint, so better health could lead to better ratings. Even if he’s an average or below-average glove at third base at this point, his offensive excellence is inarguable. Under normal circumstances he’d be a surefire qualifying offer candidate, but we don’t yet know how the shortened (or canceled) season will impact those decisions.
Other Potential Regulars
- Jake Lamb: Shoulder surgery torpedoed Lamb’s 2018 season, and he was hobbled by a quadriceps injury that cost him nearly half the season in 2019. However, Lamb clubbed 59 homers for the D-backs as their primary third baseman in 2016-17. He’ll be heading into his age-30 season when he hits the open market and won’t see much in the way of competition in terms of prime-aged third base candidates. His struggles against left-handed pitching make it tempting to label him platoon player — he’s a career .169/.275/.319 hitter against southpaws — but Lamb still has only 440 career PAs against lefties. His .259/.345/.468 line against right-handed opponents, meanwhile, is solid. And his 130 wRC+ against righties in that aforementioned two-year peak shows how good can be when he’s at his best.
- Asdrubal Cabrera: A late Herculean surge with the Nationals (145 wRC+ in 146 plate appearances) salvaged what was shaping up to be a dismal campaign for the veteran switch-hitter. No one is expecting that level of production, but Cabrera could be an average or slightly better bat with third-base defense that graded out well per both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average. He’ll be 35 by the time the 2021 campaign gets underway, so perhaps some teams will view him as a part-time option. Cabrera has tallied at least 514 plate appearances in each of the past nine seasons, though.
Second Basemen with Experience at Third Base
- DJ LeMahieu: It was no surprise to anyone that LeMahieu topped our list of next year’s second basemen after a monster Bronx debut season, but might another team in need of help at the hot corner consider playing him there? The Yankees trotted LeMahieu out for an even 400 innings of defense at third base — the first time in nearly five years that he’d slotted in there. Despite having tallied just 245 innings there previously, the results were solid (break-even in terms of Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating; +2 Outs Above Average), which could create some optimism among his suitors. Sterling glovework at second base has long been one of the most compelling aspects (if not the most compelling aspect) of LeMahieu’s game, so some may be wary of moving him off the position. But if he’s able to recreate his 2019 thunder at the plate, then he’ll be providing ample value even if he’s not playing plus defense.
- Tommy La Stella: It’s perhaps easy to forget about La Stella’s budding breakout that was interrupted when he fractured his leg upon fouling a ball into his shin. But prior to that grisly, tough-luck injury, La Stella was mashing like never before: .295/.346/.486. Through 321 plate appearances, the former Cubs utilityman had swatted more dingers (16) than he had in his entire career (10 through 947 PAs in 2014-18). Like LeMahieu, La Stella has been primarily a second baseman but saw sparing action at the hot corner in ’19 (234 innings). La Stella has virtually even platoon splits in his career, though, and a team convinced of his ability to handle third base could look at him as a low-cost option. If nothing else, a familiar multi-position role with some occasional reps at third seems eminently reasonable.
- Adeiny Hechavarria: The defensive standout has never been much of a threat at the plate, but he’s a highly regarded defender at shortstop who has considerable experience at third base. He’s a nice utility option.
- Eric Sogard: Like Hechavarria, Sogard has more limited experience at third base but a solid defensive reputation at the middle infield spots. His surprising power output with the Blue Jays tapered off following a trade to the Rays, but the affable Sogard is popular among fans and teammates alike and should be considered a useful utility player.
- Brad Miller: The versatile Miller is something of a “jack of all trades, master of none,” but his 2019 campaign was a productive — albeit in a tiny sample of 170 plate appearances. He’s struggled to produce at a consistent level, but Miller keeps landing big league gigs as a bench piece.
- Zack Cozart: Injuries have decimated the former Reds All-Star over the past few years. The Angels traded away their 2019 first-round pick (Will Wilson) to rid themselves of the final season of Cozart’s deal. He hasn’t been a productive player since 2017, but he was worth five wins above replacement back in 2017.
- Jed Lowrie: The switch-hitting veteran has more than 1000 innings of experience at the hot corner, but he’s a total wild card after missing nearly the entire 2019 season. Even before the MLB shutdown, Lowrie was expected to miss Opening Day, and the Mets had no timetable for his return.
Club Options to Watch
- Both Todd Frazier ($5.75MM club option, $1.5MM buyout) and Jedd Gyorko ($4.5MM club option, $1MM buyout) have been infield regulars for much of their careers and have ample experience at third base (almost exclusively so in Frazier’s case). But both options are so affordable that there’s virtually no way either would hit free agency if he performed well enough to be considered a regular option at third base (or any other position). If either player’s option is bought out, it’s unlikely a new team would consider him for an everyday role in 2021.