We’ve already previewed a few different positions in this year’s free-agent market, beginning with catcher and first base. Third base is up next, and I’ll note in advance that there are of course quite a few notable shortstops who could conceivably be viewed as fits at the hot corner for teams in need. Any from the Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story ranks could surely be viewed as a candidate to slide over to third base — Semien moved from shortstop to second base in free agency last winter, after all — but they’ll all be highlighted in more depth in our look at the shortstop market.
Here’s a look at the offseason collection of third base options…
Kris Bryant (30 years old next season): The clear top of this year’s class, Bryant figures to command one of the largest contracts of any free agent this winter. The former No. 2 overall draft pick, Rookie of the Year, and MVP has put a dismal 2020 showing in the rear-view mirror, bouncing back with a strong .268/.356/.496 batting line in 556 plate appearances between the Cubs and the Giants. He’s connected on 25 home runs and 32 doubles while significantly improving upon last year’s poor strikeout and walk rates.
Bryant has been a very, very good hitter — about 30 percent better than league average, per wRC+ — in three of the past four seasons. He’s a true middle-of-the-order hitter, but he’s never fully matched his brilliant 2016-17 production, when he was nearly 50 percent better than the average hitter. Agent Scott Boras will surely push Bryant as an option at either infield corner and in any of the three outfield spots, championing his client’s defensive versatility and the value that brings to a suitor. There’s plenty of truth to that, honestly, but it should also be noted that Bryant isn’t exactly a plus defender at all of those positions, either. Bryant won’t be eligible for a qualifying offer after being traded midseason.
Eduardo Escobar (33): A recent slump has tanked Escobar’s overall batting line a bit, but he’s a switch-hitter with above-average offense, plenty of pop in his bat and decent defensive marks at both third base and second base over the past few seasons. Escobar is two long balls shy of his second 30-homer season in the past three years. The 2020 season was an immense struggle for him, but Escobar has been a quality bat in the past three full-length seasons. He’s walking at a career-best 8.3 percent clip in 2021, including a 10.7 percent mark since being traded from Arizona to Milwaukee. Escobar has played plenty of shortstop in his career but has just two innings there since 2018. He’ll most likely be viewed as a pure third baseman/second baseman.
Utility Infielders with Experience at Third
- Ehire Adrianza (32): Adrianza’s .246/.327/.392 line through 197 plate appearances isn’t too far from his career mark. He’s a glove-first, switch-hitting infielder with decent defensive marks around the diamond.
- Asdrubal Cabrera (36): Cabrera has gone hitless since being picked up by the Reds but was only a bit worse than the league average prior to that point. He’s a veteran bench bat who can handle first base and second base as well.
- Leury Garcia (31): Garcia has had a nice few seasons on the South Side of Chicago. He’s a switch-hitting utilityman who can cover any non-catcher position on the diamond. Garcia doesn’t hit for power or draw many walks, but he makes a fair amount of contact and has been right around league average offensively over the past couple seasons.
- Marwin Gonzalez (33): Gonzalez hit just .201/.281/.285 before the Red Sox cut him loose. He’s clubbed three homers in 23 plate appearances since re-signing in Houston, but he’s still hitting just .182 overall there. Gonzalez posted a career year in 2017, and his bat has steadily declined since.
- Josh Harrison (34): It’s certainly feasible that Harrison has hit his way into an everyday job somewhere next season after batting .285/.348/.414 in his past 624 plate appearances. Contending clubs might view him as more of a versatile super-utility player, but the 34-year-old has put an ugly 2019 season behind him.
- Brock Holt (34): Holt hasn’t hit much since a nice 2018-19 run with the Red Sox, but he can play just about anywhere on the diamond. He’s played third base near-exclusively with the Rangers in 2021 (and graded well there), but Holt has experience at the three other infield positions and in all three outfield spots.
- Brad Miller (32): Miller walks a lot, strikes out a lot and hits for power. He’s a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type who can play all over the field but doesn’t have great defensive ratings anywhere. The Phils have used him mostly at first base, but he’s also played third, second and corner outfield in 2021 while hitting .230/.320/.463 with 19 big flies.
- Chris Owings (30): Owings posted a huge .326/.420/.628 line this year, but it came in just 50 plate appearances and is miles from his tepid career slash line of .243/.288/.372. Owings can play pretty much anywhere but catcher and has strong defensive marks at second base. His .284 OBP over his past 2000 MLB plate appearances, however, hinders his value.
- Joe Panik (31): An elite defender at second base for much of his career, Panik played 226 innings at third this season and posted a brutal -9 Defensive Runs Saved mark. He draws his walks and is tough to strike out, but he’s also hitting just .236/.305/.319 since 2018.
- Eric Sogard (36): Sogard popped a career-high 13 homers in the juiced-ball 2019 season but followed it up with a .232/.282/.299 slash in 2020-21. He’s a good defender at second without much offensive upside.
- Jonathan Villar (31): Like Harrison, Villar has hit well enough this season that he could easily land an everyday role next year. Some clubs may view him as more of a utility player, but with a .254/.327/.429 batting line, 18 homers and 13 steals under his belt, Villar will get a big league deal whether he’s locked in at one position or bouncing around as needed.
- Maikel Franco (29): Franco is in minor league deal territory after being released by the Orioles on the heels of a .210/.253/.355 performance (403 plate appearances). The former top prospect had a decent showing with the 2020 Royals but has been well below-average dating back to 2016.
- Todd Frazier (36): Frazier went just 3-for-35 before being released by the Pirates and joining the U.S. Olympic team. He smacked 21 home runs as recently as 2019 with the Mets and had a huge Spring Training in 2021, but his output during the 2020-21 seasons was well below his career standards.
- Jake Lamb (31): A productive everyday third baseman with the D-Backs at his 2016-17 peak, Lamb hasn’t been the same since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2018. He’s bounced around between a few teams in journeyman fashion, splitting this season with the White Sox and Blue Jays before being designated for assignment by Toronto yesterday. The left-handed hitter owns a .194/.306/.368 line in 170 plate appearances between the two clubs this season.
- Pablo Sandoval (35): The Panda’s resurgence with the 2019 Giants was a fun story, but he’s batted just .197/.294/.299 in 180 plate appearances between the Giants and Braves since that time. The Indians acquired him as a financial counterbalance in the deadline trade that sent Eddie Rosario to Atlanta, but Cleveland released Sandoval that same day.
- Travis Shaw (32): Shaw’s Milwaukee reunion didn’t work, as he posted just a .191/.279/.337 line there before being cut loose. His return to the Red Sox, however, has been excellent: .250/.325/.583 through 41 plate appearances. It’s a small sample but still a much-needed sign of life in his bat.
- Yoshi Tsutsugo (30): Tsutsugo’s been limited to first base and the corner outfield this season, but he started eleven games at the hot corner with Tampa Bay last season. The left-handed hitter underwhelmed with the Rays after a ten-year NPB career as one of Japan’s most fearsome power hitters. Cut loose by both Tampa Bay and the Dodgers, Tsutsugo latched on with the Pirates a month ago. He’s doing his best to put his past couple stints behind him, mashing at a .311/.394/.678 clip with eight homers in 104 plate appearances in Pittsburgh. It’s a very small sample of big league productivity, but combined with Tsutsugo’s strong NPB track record, makes him an interesting low-cost flier.
Players with 2022 Options
Kyle Seager, Mariners, $20MM club option ($3MM buyout): The Mariners’ call on Seager will be one of the more interesting option decisions a team has to make this offseason. He’s hitting a personal-worst .215 with the second-lowest OBP of his career (.292). But Seager has popped 35 home runs, bringing his overall batting line to slightly above the league average. He’s still a good defender at the hot corner and a career-long Mariner who’s been a respected member of the franchise for more than a decade. $17MM isn’t an insignificant sum, but Seattle will enter the offseason with plenty of payroll flexibility. This one feels it could go in either direction, and Seager would jump up alongside Escobar at the top of the non-Bryant market at the position if he’s bought out.
Jose Ramirez, Indians, $11MM club option ($2MM buyout): There won’t be many easier decisions for a team this winter than there is for the Cleveland front office on Ramirez’s fairly cheap option. It’s an absolute bargain for one of the best players in the sport.
Wilmer Flores, Giants, $3.5MM club option ($250K buyout): Flores has roughly the equivalent of one full season’s worth of playing time since signing with San Francisco over the 2019-20 offseason. He’s hitting .261/.323/.472 in that time, showing power and quality bat-to-ball skills. Flores can play multiple positions and has a long history of mashing left-handed pitching. For a high-payroll club, the $3.5MM option looks like an easy yes.
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals, $18.5MM club option ($2MM buyout): Carpenter’s option is a lock to be bought out. A bit of a late-bloomer, Carpenter found his stride in his late-20’s and kicked off a seven-year run from 2012-18 as one of the game’s better offensive players. His work at the plate has fallen substantially since then, particularly over the past two seasons. With a .180/.316/.299 line since the start of 2020, Carpenter might be looking at minor league offers this winter. The 35-year-old is planning on giving it another go though.
Nolan Arenado, Cardinals, opt-out clause (five years, $164MM remaining): Arenado has said on multiple occasions that he plans to forgo his opt-out clause and remain with the Cardinals long-term. Were he to unexpectedly change course, he’d be among the top names on the entire free-agent market, but that seems unlikely.