As noted in last week’s NL-only write up, the idea of position scarcity in fantasy leagues is mostly a myth, and third base is no different than almost every other position in the National League. Last year in 5×5, the top 10 NL third basemen earned $209, or only slightly less than the top 10 NL first basemen ($216) and the second basemen ($212) did. This calculation assumes that players with dual eligibility at 2B/3B are all used at second, so you could make the case that at the top third base was the strongest infield position in the NL last year.
Todd Frazier departed for the American League this winter, but the NL still has two third basemen who are absolute studs. Kris Bryant beat out Nolan Arenado in real life (with a .317 TAv to Arenado’s .299), but since fantasy leagues don’t adjust for Coors-aided numbers, Nolan Arenado was the man in NL-only. He was the only NL third baseman who earned $30 or more in 2015, but these numbers may not be repeatable as even in Coors it is extremely difficult to assume that Arenado is going to drive in 130 runs again this year. Thirty to 35 home runs are a realistic expectation given the venue, but a mild drop in home runs could happen too. Arenado should still be a top-20 player, but some slippage is possible.
Even though Bryant earned six dollars less than Arenado did last year, he is the guy I might be more willing to bet on in fantasy leagues given the improved Cubs lineup in 2016 as well as the slightly better numbers Bryant put up in the second half where most hitters go through an adjustment period. Bryant’s high strikeout profile certainly is a concern where his batting average is concerned. If Arenado and Bryant are too rich for your blood, Matt Carpenter and Maikel Franco are both fine choices who won’t cost over $30. Carpenter went from being a batting average force in 2014 to a power hitting demon in 2015, quietly putting up more home runs than even Bryant did in 2015. Maikel Franco doesn’t belong with any of these guys just yet, but he has 30-home-run potential that could arrive as soon as 2016.
There is a drop off after the top four. The fifth- and sixth-best third basemen are a pair of hitters whose profiles don’t speak to power potential. Justin Turner and Matt Duffy are similar players. Both have the potential to hit .300 but neither is ever going to suddenly morph into a 30-home-run player. Duffy came out of nowhere last year to post $24 in earnings and cement a starting job at the hot corner for the Giants. If I believed in his staying power, I’d suggest bidding $20 or more, but some caution should be exercised based on his lack of a high profile in the minors. Turner was terrific for the second year in a row, but the Dodgers’ unwillingness to play him full time against lefties (despite above-average numbers against them in 2015) keeps Turner below the $20 threshold as well.
Is there another big season left in David Wright? For all of the talk about how diminished Wright is now due to spinal stenosis, he was really good last year with the bat when he finally did take the field, posting a .315 TAv that was good for fifth best among third basemen (minimum 150 plate appearances). The ability is there, but how much this ability will translate to fantasy depends a great deal on Wright’s health. The Mets depth makes 100-120 games more likely than 160, which puts Wright on a $15 earnings track.
Because of eligibility rules, there are not one but two Diamondbacks you can buy in NL-only at third base. Yasmany Tomas earned $12 in NL-only last year even though he started the season in the minors, but his overall numbers were still extremely underwhelming and he mostly disappeared in the second half. However, the transition for Cuban players to major-league baseball is extremely overwhelming and it is possible that Tomas will see marked improvement in his second season in the majors. Lamb will start for Arizona at third because of his solid glove, but his offensive numbers in 2015 were fairly pedestrian. Perhaps there is some age-related improvement coming, but even in the minors Lamb’s offense was never particularly impressive.
Martin Prado is a more boring choice than many of the names listed above, but all he does is earn, with $21, $17, and $15 in only-league earnings since 2013. He is the safe kind of choice you can make knowing that no one is going to push you too far past $10 in cost. Barring injury, you will get your pound of stats.
Below are some other options at third who are specifically deeper-league choices. These are the kind of players who won’t be drafted in mixed leagues with 15 teams or fewer. Valuations mentioned in this article for -only leagues can be found here.
Adonis Garcia – Braves ($7)
Can a non-prospect and relative unknown parlay 198 successful major-league plate appearances into a successful follow-up campaign in 2016? While it would be foolish to simply prorate Garcia’s 2015 stats and assume that a 25-30 home run campaign is in the offing, the power appeared to be legit and it is difficult to understate the steep curve that Cuban players often have while attempting to adjust to professional ball in the United States (see Tomas, above). It would be a big mistake to go hog wild with your bidding and assume a big year is automatic, but bidding $10-12 in search of 15 home runs and a .240 batting average, and hoping for more, isn’t the worst idea. Even in NL-only, Garcia is likely to fly under the radar. On the other hand…
Kelly Johnson – Braves ($11)
If you don’t believe in Garcia—or if you think that Jace Peterson isn’t the solution at second base for the Braves—then perhaps a low-level investment in Johnson is just the thing for you. Johnson buyers will hope that he can replicate the magic of 2015, when he started spring training as an NRI and won his way into our hearts as a scrappy everyday player and a cheap source of power for our fantasy teams. The downside is that Johnson disappears the way he has in prior seasons, but for a one or two-dollar investment in NL-only, it doesn’t matter all that much if this is the end result.
Will Middlebrooks/Garin Cecchini – Brewers ($4/$0)
A week ago, it looked the Brewers were going to have an open competition at third base and give both Middlebrooks and Cecchini an honest shot to win the job at third in Milwaukee. With the acquisition of Aaron Hill from the Diamondbacks, the more likely scenario would seem that Hill starts at third base and perhaps slides over to second base against southpaws, leaving Scooter Gennett on the bench and Middlebrooks starting at third. Even in NL-only, this isn’t the path to fantasy value, but Hill is hardly an immovable object (he was benched for Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed last year, for crying out loud). We shouldn’t get our hopes up for Middlebrooks or Cecchini if Hill does fall flat. Middlebrooks’ resume consists of one halfway decent power year that we all suspected wouldn’t last while Cecchini’s star fell so far so fast that he was unceremoniously cut by the Boston Red Sox. Come to think of it, Middlebrooks sounds a little bit like Cecchini while Cecchini sounds a little bit like Middlebrooks. I don’t even know anymore. Maybe 2016 is the year where Hill finally falls off the face of the Earth and Middlebrooks parlays that sweet, sweet hitters’ park into a 15 home run campaign. Maybe Hill falls on his face and Cecchini wins the job. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’ll be right back, I need to add a few dollars to Arenado and Bryant’s bid limits. This feels bad and I’m sorry I ever decided to play fantasy baseball in a format as masochistic as an NL-only league. Dear God, are you listening? It’s me, Mike Gianella.
Brandon Drury – Diamondbacks ($1)
Ignore the earnings. That $1 Drury earned happened over a paltry 56 at-bats and tells us nothing about the player. Drury is a low-end, $1 endgame play in redraft leagues if you are looking for a flier and don’t want to pay the market price for Lamb. The power isn’t anything to write home about but Drury has managed to put up solid batting averages at every level and at the age of 23 it is quite possible that there is some growth left in the bat. If there isn’t, you can hopefully get a .260-.270 batting average with some solid counting stats. In a dynasty league, I’ll take the new, shiny toy over a retread like Hill, but in a redraft, I want Hill over the guy on the team that thinks it is on competitive footing in the NL West.
Chris Johnson – Marlins ($4)
Johnson was an unmitigated disaster last year. He was a starter who it then turned out wasn’t, a man who was given a long-term contract that he didn’t live up to, a disappointment by any definition of the word. But the nice thing about baseball—whether it is real baseball or the fantasy variety—is that we can reinvent ourselves. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words are a festering lie. American life is filled with second acts, constant rebirths, and the perpetual redefinition of ourselves. Chris Johnson is 31 years old or—to put it another way—47 years younger than Grandma Moses was when she started painting masterpieces. Follow your dreams. Keep on keeping on. Do the dab and give footballs to little children after every touchdown. Time is the enemy of no person who believes in his or her dreams. Chris Johnson is going to be on the weak side of a platoon with Justin Bour for the Florida Marlins, and anything can happen, because this is America. All it takes is a dollar and a dream, as the New York State Lottery Commission told us a series of commercials in the 1980s.
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