Entering 2017, the relative strength or weakness of third base in the AL depends on whether Manny Machado is used as a shortstop or as a third baseman. Including Machado, third base was the second-best position in the infield in 2016. If you exclude Machado, third base was the second worst position behind catcher. In 2016, Josh Donaldson and Jose Ramirez led third basemen in earnings at $29 apiece. Of the duo, Donaldson is more likely to maintain his value this year. Donaldson dropped from $37 in AL-only in 2015 but his real-life value is consistent. He is one of five players who has produced a TAv of .305 or higher every year since 2013; the other four are Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, and Miguel Cabrera. No matter what Donaldson’s fantasy stats look like, you’re locking yourself into a great player who will likely produce near $30 of stats at a minimum.
The battle for second best fantasy third baseman in the AL in 2017 is likely to be a three-way tussle among Evan Longoria, Kyle Seager, and Todd Frazier. After years of being overpriced, Longoria was finally a slight bargain, earning $22 to his average $18 salary in the expert mono leagues. Longoria’s ceiling is limited because of his lack of contributions in stolen bases and batting average. Despite offering vastly different earning profiles, Seager and Frazier are both likely to cost in the mid-$20s in AL-only. Frazier’s 40 home runs and 15 steals would have had his fantasy managers salivating if not for the terrible batting average. Seager is an amazing player in real life (his WARP was second best among AL hitters behind Mike Trout) but like Longoria is limited in fantasy because of the lack of steals and AVG.
Adrian Beltre and Alex Bregman could also finish second overall at third base but Beltre’s age and Bregman’s lack of experience are both potential concerns. After back-to-back seasons where he failed to clear 20 home runs, Beltre bounced back with a 30-home run campaign in 2016. On merit and pedigree alone, he belongs with or ahead of all the non-Donaldson third basemen. But Beltre turns 38 in April, and while he won’t necessarily decline in 2017, some degree of risk must be built into the future Hall of Famer’s bid limit. Bregman sits at the other end of the spectrum: A high upside sophomore with power potential like many at this position, Bregman has a 30+ home run ceiling. In redraft formats, it is safer to bet on 20 or so and let others overpay for the future.
There is no doubting Ramirez’s legitimacy as a major-league asset, but figuring out how to rank him in fantasy is challenging. He and Eduardo Nunez were the only third base eligible players to steal 20 or more bases in the AL last year. Buying Ramirez is a strategic way to address your stolen base needs and to block others out at the position. Ramirez’s batting average jumped 100 points from 2015 to 2016 and while I’m convinced the gains for Ramirez were real, I am not betting on another .300 AVG season.
Mike Moustakas and Miguel Sano offer both significant power upside at a position that drops off quickly in AL-only. After his breakout campaign in 2015, Moustakas looked like he was going to emerge as a low $20s earner in 2016 until a torn ACL ended his season in May. Moose was once again hitting for power before his injury, so even if the batting average gains from 2015 don’t hold, there is a good chance that he is a reliable source of power. Speaking of power, Sano slammed 25 home runs in his first full major league season and put up a better ISO than Beltre or Seager. The problem came in the form of a prodigious strikeout rate that was first in the majors (minimum 450 plate appearances) at 36 percent. Sano could take a big step forward if he can bump up his batting average by even a modest amount, but the contact issues will always impact him in this category.
Nick Castellanos is my kind of sleeper: a young player with major league experience whose step forward last year was masked somewhat by an injury. Castellanos’ earnings over the last three seasons ($13, $12, $14) will make it appear some that he has stagnated, but his TAv jumped 25 points in 2016. Castellanos will be overshadowed on draft day and could be a bargain.
Listed below are a few other options at third base specifically for AL-only leagues. Thus far, these third basemen aren’t being taken in the active phase of your typical, 15-team mixed league draft.
Pablo Sandoval – Red Sox ($0)
After one awful season in 2015 and one completely lost one in 2016, Sandoval will presumably come to Spring Training recovered from shoulder surgery and slimmed down after starting an aggressive conditioning program. We have no way of knowing if the conditioning program will hold over the course of a full season or if it will translate to results on the field, but Sandoval is worth a bid if only because the Red Sox traded Travis Shaw and Yoan Moncada and cleared the way for Sandoval at to start at third with virtually no competition. Lost in all the hubbub about Sandoval’s health and weight is that he has not been a high-level fantasy asset for years. From 2012-2014, Sandoval averaged 14 home runs, 60 runs, 72 RBI, a .280 AVG, and $17 in earnings. Sandoval could be perfectly fine but even so he isn’t worth chasing into the $20s based on what he did five years ago.
Jurickson Profar – Rangers ($4)
Joey Gallo – Rangers (-$1)
There was a time when it seemed that both Profar and Gallo would be significant pieces of the Rangers’ next championship squad. That time seems like it was many years ago, or perhaps in some alternate universe where science has discovered a cure for injuries and death and everyone rides around on hoverboards. Real hoverboards, not those crappy things that everyone was excited about for three months and then pretended that they weren’t. Both Profar and Gallo could play a significant role with the Rangers as soon as this year, but both could also flame out, wind up in the minors, and/or never amount to much in the big leagues. Profar was healthy for the first time since 2013 but was terrible with the bat. His .221 TAv was slightly worse than Adeiny Hechevarria’s. On some level, it was impressive that Profar was back on the field in one piece in any capacity whatsoever. On a more tangible level, there are no moral victories in fantasy baseball. Profar has time to get better, but is blocked at three infield positions by very good players. Gallo mashed 25 home runs in 433 plate appearances at Triple-A Round Rock but his perennial low batting averages and awful contact rates don’t inspire confidence. Currently, Gallo is penciled in at first base and designated hitter, but recent rumors make it sound like Mike Napoli could sign with the Rangers in the next week or two. Nothing is guaranteed for either Profar or Gallo, but in an AL-only you’ll probably have to pay at least $10-12 for the pleasure of having one of them on your team. In keeper leagues, paying for future isn’t the worst idea, but in redraft leagues I’d avoid them once the bidding gets into double digits.
Jefry Marte – Angels ($9)
Marte is someone I was targeting as a fun AL-only sleeper at a dollar or two but the signing of Luis Valbuena pushes Marte not only further down the depth chart but likely all the way down to the minors to start 2017. That’s a shame, since all Marte has done in the last year in a half is hit a lot of home runs and hold his own for first the Tigers in 2015 and then for the Angels last year. Cast as a lefty masher after washing out as a prospect with the Mets and Athletics, Marte’s lefty/righty splits were almost identical last year. His raw numbers kept getting better as the season progressed, and he finished with an impressive 15 home runs in 284 plate appearances. Marte is very likely to find his way back to the majors in 2017 but the Valbuena signing makes the odds of a 2016 repeat quite slim.
Marwin Gonzalez – Astros ($14)
Deep fantasy baseball leagues are silly. If you need proof, look no further than Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez was the 11th best third baseman in AL-only last year. He accomplished this even though he had his worst offensive season since 2013. Some of it was simply due to volume (Gonzalez’s 518 plate appearances were his career high by a healthy margin) but most of it was due to his 12 stolen bases. Take those steals out of Gonzalez’s earnings and he would have been a nine-dollar player. Gonzalez had not stolen 12 bases since way back in 2010, when he stole 13 bases in the Cubs minor league system between Single-A and Double-A. Despite all of this, Gonzalez isn’t worth more than a modest two-dollar bid in AL-only. The Astros’ lineup and bench are stacked, and while Gonzalez should get the occasional start around the infield, his playing time should drop significantly in 2017 if everything goes according to plan in Houston.
Chase Headley – Yankees ($12)
Headley’s mammoth 2012 combined with a move to hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium gave hope to the idea that he could hit 20-25 home runs per year for the Yankees, but thus far it hasn’t played out that way. With 31 home runs in 1,395 plate appearances as a Yankee, Headley has been more of a middling hitter than a superstar. Headley has been fine in mono formats, earning $12, $13, and $12 since 2014, but it is clear by now that there is no upside for the 32-year-old third sacker. Even though the Yankees are rebuilding, Headley has no serious competition at third and there is no one in the minors who projects as New York’s future third baseman. Headley is a safe $6-8 investment in AL-only.
Yunel Escobar – Angels ($14)
Escobar’s lack of home run power and stolen bases make him an afterthought in mixed formats, but his .309 batting average since the beginning of 2015 have propelled Escobar to $34 in earnings in that time. The Angels picked up Escobar’s option and brought him back for another year of merriment in Anaheim, but while Escobar’s batting average is great it has not translated to much in the way of real life value. If Marte can provide passable defense at third, Escobar could find himself out of a job. It is far more likely that Escobar sticks and provides more of the same in 2017f. He is a low-level AL-only corner infield option whose upside rests in his likely profit when fantasy owners only have to pay $5-7 or so for his services.