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Miguel Cabrera, parting is such sweet sorrow. We hardly knew ye.
In 2014, third base was like freshman year of college in the dorms, with some crazy “experimentation” that—while fun—didn’t seem destined to last. Hi there, former catcher Carlos Santana. Chris Davis, what the heck are you doing here? These positional shifts are a nice one-year perk in fantasy leagues, but if you are planning for the future in a keeper or dynasty format these are the types of moves that will send you running to the medicine cabinet for your analgesic of choice. These shifts also mask the fact that the position seems softer at the top than it has in years. A combination of an aging core of veterans with a young but uncertain tier of players leaves the position’s future in a strange place.
On the other hand, there are a few players with dual 2B/3B eligibility led by superstar Anthony Rendon who are likely to stick at 3B and make the position thicker than it looks at first glance. Adrian Beltre’s eventual retirement and questions surrounding David Wright’s ongoing health might give everyone a case of the sads, but Evan Longoria isn’t going anywhere. Are Josh Donaldson, Todd Frazier, Kyle Seager, and Nolan Arenado the next wave of $25-plus earners, or are any or all of them one or two-year wonders?
What third base might be lacking in studs it makes up for in depth. A combination of sneaky earners like Matt Carpenter and Josh Harrison along with non-elite but reliable options like Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval, and Aramis Ramirez make third base decent enough in mixed leagues. Ryan Zimmerman and Pedro Alvarez will likely lose their third base eligibility after 2015, but should provide enough this year to keep the hot corner deep enough to satisfy all but the deepest of leagues.
Where the strength of the position will live and die is with the group of young up-and-comers who showed up on the radar last year. Nick Castellanos and Lonnie Chisenhall could plateau but could also take another step forward and be the new high teens/low $20s earners at third for years to come.
The League Breakout
I crunched the numbers, went over them with a fine-toothed comb, and did something else involving a shopworn cliché and the two leagues came out about even. The AL gets a slight edge at the top, with Beltre, Donaldson, Longoria, and Seager all capable of cracking $25 in earnings. I hate the term upside like a vegan hates that delicious slab of bacon that someone is surely tweeting about at this very moment, but there is a double whammy of upside in young players like Castellanos and Chisenhall, as well as the top-tier upside of Baltimore Orioles Manny Machado and Davis’s cameo appearance at the position. Both Davis and Machado could crack into the top five in 2015 if everything breaks right.
The NL seems a little thinner after you get past Rendon and 2014 breakout Frazier, but Arenado could finally live up to the hype and surpass him this year. The range of outcomes in the NL seems more varied. Wright and Zimmerman could either be great or diminished. Carpenter. Harrison, and Chris Johnson have a lot of BABIP-fueled value in both direction and Ramirez and Juan Uribe might squeeze in another year of decent value or finally flame out. Kris Bryant is the guy everyone will be watching this spring. If he can crack the Opening Day lineup he could surpass many of the names on this list.
The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
There isn’t an obvious stud here, so in a 10- or 12-team mixed league, there is no need to overreach and take someone like Donaldson or Frazier in round one. Play the value game and try see if one of the top six names falls in at the right price point. If not, there are enough options in the middle that a Santana or Zimmerman would be more than palatable as a starter. I’d prefer to stack up on value where you can get it rather than play the position scarcity game
In deeper leagues, your strategy at third is contingent upon what you have done earlier and where you need help categorically. There is value at third base, but there isn’t necessarily a lot of power or speed. Carpenter and Harrison should be owned in all formats, but if you need home runs, you might skip them and look elsewhere for a couple of rounds. First base is a little bit deeper than third, so try to get your third corner infielder from that side of the infield if possible.
In terms of later options, if you must get a third baseman late, it is better to try to get Castellanos or Bryant in a mixed league than it is to settle on someone vanilla like Casey McGehee or Trevor Plouffe. Guys like that and Conor Gillaspie will be waiting for you in the reserve rounds or out on the free agent pool in mixed formats. While stats are important, the replacement level concept matters in mixed.
The Long-Term Outlook
The position seems old, but of the projected starters at the position only Beltre, Ramirez, and Uribe will be 35-or-older this year, and the next oldest players after those three are David Freese, McGehee and Wright, who will all be 32. Perhaps the perception that third is an old position is driven by the lifespan players have at the hot corner. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Alex Gordon all used to man third before moving to other spots on the diamond. Perhaps there are some players at other positions who could eventually move to third at some point (Jedd Gyorko and Daniel Murphy if he leaves the Mets come to mind), but at the moment the talent seems to be moving away from the position and not toward it. However, with the vast majority of current starters at the position under the age of 30, there could be a stability at third that has not been seen in some time.
Bryant is the great, immediate, and obvious hope, but others could be up in the short term as well. Maikel Franco is likely to be up at some point in 2015; beyond that the short term options who might be up isn’t as clear. Yasmany Tomas could be third-base eligible right away; in some leagues, he will start out as an outfielder due to games played in Cuba.
There is a long list of players behind this trio who could have an impact immediately or may have to wait behind established major league regulars. In terms of obstacles or lack thereof, Colin Moran and Miguel Sano may have the easiest path to the majors, although Joey Gallo could have the highest non-Bryant ceiling in the entire group. Kyle Kubitza is probably looking at a cup of coffee in 2015 and a real chance to supplant Freese in 2016. Speaking of 2016, Hunter Dozier should be ready by then if Mike Moustakas hasn’t emerged as a viable option. Jake Lamb is ready now, but will need a trade or for Tomas to flop at third in order to get a clean shot. Garin Cecchini is another player who seemed to have a legitimate opportunity but now may have to wait until Mike Napoli moves via free agency and Sandoval shifts over to first.
There are a lot of names out on the distant horizon at third that give additional hope for the future. The position pushes players into retirement much sooner than first base does, but the minor leagues makes up for that with many more viable prospects. Whether or not they stick at third is far from certain, but there are enough quality options coming up through the professional ranks that—like The South or that loaf of bread that I have baking in my oven—third base shall rise again.
A Closing Haiku
Seager Beltre and others
I mailed this one in
Thank you for reading
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