Welcome to TOC's offseason primers! We haven't officially reached the offseason yet, but it's never too early to look at the best players on the free agent market. Today, we take a look at the best free agent third basemen available.
Any MLB team that needs a third baseman for next season picked a bad year to go shopping for one. The crop at third base might be the worst among all the positions available in free agency. (Unless you're looking strictly for a left fielder.) On the bright side, the selection is actually better than it was for last year. That's not saying much, unfortunately.
1. Juan Uribe. Uribe picked an excellent time to find his swing. Not only did his resurgence help the Dodgers run to a NL West title and the NLCS, but it should help him get a new contract. Uribe, 34, began the season on the bench as the Dodgers convinced themselves that Luis Cruz could hit well enough to be a full-time third baseman. That gave him a chance to work on pulling the ball less with his swing. Uribe finished with a .279 average and .769 OPS, the best numbers he's had in five years. And he still has power. Just ask David Carpenter, who served up a three-run shot to Uribe in Game 4 of the NLDS.
2. Mark Reynolds. Reynolds is probably better suited as a first baseman and designated hitter these days, But he can still fill in at third base when needed, as he did in 40 games for the Indians and 14 more with the Yankees this past season. The question is whether or not Reynolds, 30, can be a full-time player at the position. But a team might be willing to take that chance if he can provide some power (and the strikeouts that come with it). Reynolds hit 21 homers in 504 plate appearances, but slugged just .399. However, his slugging percentage was .455 with the Yankees, so maybe he's a good fit with the right team and ballpark.
3. Michael Young. The Phillies traded for Young this season, believing he could be their starting third baseman. The 37-year-old veteran compiled a slash average of .279/.335/.395, a slight improvement over his career-worst 2012 season with the Rangers. But Young was awful in the field. According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, he allowed 14 more runs defensively than the average third baseman. Any team signing Young will do so for his bat (along with his ability to play different positions). But with the need for right-handed hitting throughout MLB, he'll draw interest on the open market.
4. Eric Chavez. Chavez, 35, stunned the Yankees by signing with the D-Backs, rather than provide a stopgap for Alex Rodriguez until he recovered from hip surgery and a looming PED suspension. If he had visions of a starting job in Arizona, however, that was nixed once the D-Backs acquired Martin Prado in the Justin Upton trade. Chavez's bat still showed life with a .281 average, .810 OPS, nine homers and 37 RBI. He'd provide a nice left-handed bench bat and adequate glove for a team in need.
5. Kevin Youkilis. During the last offseason, Youkilis was probably the prize among third basemen. Eventually, he signed with the Yankees, who needed a replacement for A-Rod and a right-handed bat. Unfortunately, Youkilis couldn't stay healthy, limited to only 28 games due to a herniated disc that eventually required surgery. A team will sign Youkilis, but isn't likely to give a starting job to a player coming off back surgery and numbers that have steadily declined over the past four seasons.
6. Placido Polanco. For the first two months of the season, the 38-year-old Polanco looked done as a major league ballplayer. But his bat showed some life in the second half, perhaps because the Marlins mixed in other players at third base. Polanco hits for no power, but can still be the proverbial "professional hitter" for a lineup in need of some stability. He batted .260 with a .315 on-base percentage this year. Polanco wasn't great defensively at third base and doesn't really have the arm for the position. But a young team like the Marlins might bring him back to supply a veteran presence.
7. Yuniesky Betancourt. The limited market for third basemen dries up at Betancourt. While the 31-year-old did show some power, slugging 13 home runs for the Brewers this season, Betancourt just isn't a very good hitter. Injuries forced Milwaukee to play him at the corner infield positions, where he was completely miscast. He played subpar defense at third and first base, while hitting .212 with a .595 OPS. Betancourt might be a decent reserve for a team, but if he has to start, it's not a good sign.
8. Casey McGehee. Did McGehee, 31, find his swing playing in Japan this year? He hit .289 with an .883 OPS, 29 doubles, 27 homers and 90 RBI for Rakuten, but can he put up those sorts of numbers against MLB pitching? McGehee did it in 2010, during his first full major league season. He hit 23 homers with 104 RBI, while batting .289. But he's been in steady decline ever since. However, someone might be willing to take a chance on McGehee, based on his performance in Japan. He could provide some right-handed power and a decent glove at third base.
9. Wilson Betemit. This season was a lost one for Betemit, 31, who missed most of the year with a knee injury before the Orioles designated him for assignment in September. He did play 75 games at third base in 2012 — hitting .261 with 12 homers — for Baltimore before the team called up Manny Machado. Can Betemit provide those numbers again? If so, he could be a nice switch-hitting bat off the bench. Just don't sign Betemit for his defense. He's brutal in the field — especially at third base.
10. Jerry Hairston, Jr. Hairston, 37, was part of the mix for the Dodgers at third base until Uribe emerged as the starter during the second half of the season. He played 28 games at the position (starting 19), but is probably better suited to the outfield. Hairston hit only .211 with a .539 OPS this year, and had difficulty staying healthy, sidelined by groin and back injuries. Perhaps he could be a utilityman somewhere, but most teams would likely opt for a younger player in that role.