While my recent articles have focused on top ten lists for free agent catchers, first baseman and middle infielders, this next group of position players simply cannot be ranked. The reason? There is literally no depth in the third base free agent market and most of the names that could fill a third base or backup third base position have already been covered in a previous article. So, instead, we're going to look at this list as a general "State of the Third Base Market" address.
My fellow baseball fans, this year's third base market stinks. However, that should not deter us from finding some hope in the current options. This is America and we will face our deficiencies head on!
(But really, the third base market is utterly hopeless)
Simply due to the fact that there are no better options, Kevin Youkilis is likely to draw a lot of attention this winter. However, his long-term — or even short term — prospects of giving a team plus defense at third is a bit of a pipe dream. Youk's defense at third has not graded out well over the past two seasons — when he shifted back to third as a member of the Red Sox — according to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). In truth, Youk is a stop-gap third baseman that should shift to 1B/DH before long. Besides his below average defensive ratings, the hot corner may have something to do with the fact that he has missed significant time to injuries over the past two seasons. With this in mind, the White Sox look like a good fit in my opinion. They are in need of a third baseman and current first baseman Paul Konerko is in the last year of his current contract, so Youk could slide over to first in 2014.
From Youkilis, it really gets dicey. Players like Jeff Keppinger (covered here) and Maicer Izturis (also covered there) are nice players to have for a utility role, but neither should be counted on as an everyday piece to the puzzle.
At the age of 38, and after back-to-back injury plagued seasons, Scott Rolen looks to be headed toward retirement. Besides his age and frailness, he has failed to post an OPS over .720 for two consecutive years.
Eric Chavez is an interesting player to consider for 2013. However, I'd be reluctant to think that he is capable of putting up the number he did last season. Chavez hit .281 with an .845 OPS and 16 home runs in only 278 at bats. That AB/HR rate of 17.4 is usually reserved for the top home run hitters in the league. His teammate, Robinson Cano, hit 33 home runs with a rate of 19 AB/HR. On top of a seemingly inflated AB/HR rate, his HR/FB rate of 20-percent was the highest of his 15-year major league career. Considering his age (35 in December) and history of frailty — before last season he hadn't played in over 90 games since 2006 — teams looking to add Chavez should be looking at him as a bench/short-term-fill-in option, not someone who can play over 100 games with similar production again.
Then, we have players like Casey McGehee and Mark DeRosa, both of whom are years removed from productive seasons. At least McGehee has age and health on his side (30 compared to DeRosa at age 38 who hasn't played in over 50 games since 2009).
One veteran that could end up as a buy-low value is Placido Polanco. Polanco is coming off of a injury-plagued 2012 season in which his numbers dropped across the board. However, if healthy there is a decent chance that his high contact skills and above average defense remain assets, if even in a limited role. While age is certainly an issue (37), the cost to acquire his services should be relatively cheap.
In summation, Youk gets the best offers due to lack of alternatives while the rest of the teams in need of third base help are likely to try and find creative solutions rather than rely on one of the risky free agent options. Players like Keppinger, Izturis and Polanco could prove valuable, but none seem capable of holding down a full-time role at the hot corner.