Did you listen to the last TINO? If so, a) congrats, you’re a true fan, and b) we’re so, so sorry. Yet one redeemable item that emerged from that trainwreck of an attempt at audio entertainment was our discussion of third base and its dynasty implications. As we noted on the podcast, third base is once again a solid position in which fantasy owners can invest, and that’s especially true for those of us who play in long-term leagues. Gone are the days of deciding between Chris Johnson and Juan Uribe. A new era is upon us.
With that said, Craig and I decided to extrapolate our TINO conversation and to break down the four main candidates for top dawg (millennial spelling) when it comes to dynasty league third basemen. We’ll outline the cases for and against each of the four players, give you our personal rank, and then try to come to a consensus. We truly owe you at least that much.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies (Craig)
The Case For: What Arenado may lack in raw power he makes up for in “playing 81 games at Coors field.” He doesn’t walk much, but given his ability to hit in the .280 range, that’s not really a negative, as all those extra hits will help keep your average steady. There’s also the fact that he’s upped his slugging, and his ISO, every year he’s been in the majors. He’s gone from 10 to 18 homers the last two seasons, and he’s blasted 29 this year and we’re only through August. The Rockies can’t afford to sit his glove at third, which means he’s not missing many games—a bonus for compiling those precious counting numbers. Add in a lineup that is perennially in the top-10 in terms of runs scored thanks to their home field, and you’ve got nice contextual factors too. Oh yeah, he’s only 24.
The Case Against: He’s basically a zero in stolen bases, so you’re entirely punting a category compared to someone like Bryant or Machado. While Arenado was certainly always on the radar as a prospect, he had his ups and downs, owed mainly to some questions about whether he’d stick at third (whoops). Still, the power was in question too, and even with Coors field looming, people weren’t ready to declare him an annual threat to hit 30 home runs. That reality came to fore in his first season, where he only hit 10 home runs, and while his 18 homers in 111 games last year and his current assault on major league fences this year do some to assuage those concerns, we can’t consider him a lock there either. He’ll contribute quality numbers to most fantasy categories, but he lacks the impact upside of the other players we’re discussing. He’s a safe value, but ultimately lacks the sex appeal (literally, in the case of Bryant) the others provide.
Kris Bryant, Cubs (Ben)
The Case For: One of the best bats from the collegiate level of the past several years, Bryant is hitting .254/.361/.446 with 16 homers and 12 steals in 462 PA this season. He’s only 23, he’s widely projected to max out at plus-plus power, he plays in a good home ballpark, and he’s here to stay. There’s a solid argument to be made that Bryant has the highest fantasy upside on this list–especially in OBP leagues—and while we may reasonably expect the SB totals to decline as he ages, the power should only improve. He’s the type of prototypical middle-of-the-order bat that just doesn’t come around very often, and if it all goes according to plan, we’re looking at a top-three option at the position for the next 10-plus years. He’s also disturbingly handsome.
The Case Against: Bryant lacks the track record of the other three players here, and while potential is great, production matters more. The strikeouts are a big issue—he’s whiffing at a 30.7% clip right now—and there’s a good chance he only hits for tolerable averages rather than good ones as his career progresses. As mentioned above, the speed probably isn’t here to stay. There’s also a chance he could shift to the outfield at some point, though that looks less likely than it did once upon a time. Also, handsomeness isn’t a fantasy category.
Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays (Craig)
The Case For: Well, he’s been the second best player in baseball over the last few years. That’s a good start. He’s probably the best third baseman in baseball right now (though an argument can be made for Machado), and he’s in the middle of his prime, at 29 years old. He’s already established a new career-high in homers while in Toronto, and seems poised to add to it. Plus, if you’re not going to be in Colorado, Toronto is a nice second option, especially given the lineup they’re set to run out there for the next few years. He can help in average, power, runs, RBI (he leads third basemen in the latter two categories) and while Arenado is a zero in stolen bases, Donaldson will get you four or five a year. It’s not much, but it helps. Like Arenado though, Donaldson has increased his slugging and ISO every year of his career, and he can contribute in OBP leagues too (.361 this year). Simply put, he’s the best in every category but stolen bases right now, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be any worse than a top-three option. That kind of security matters.
The Case Against: Those stolen bases might not hurt you at the position, but they’re not helping either. Plus the hip injury is a mild concern, though the production this year makes it less so. Still, it could affect how he ages, and given the youth of the other options here, that’s a factor. At 29, you’re looking at maybe four more dominant seasons followed by some good ones. The rest of these guys are looking at either maintaining their already incredible pace, or improving upon it, at least as far as aging curves go. He’s been known to rock a mullet and can get shouty at pitchers.
Manny Machado, Orioles (Ben)
The Case For: Manny Machado is six years old and absolutely destroying the American League. He’s hitting .299/.365/.520 with 25 homers and 15 steals in 512 PA and ok, he’s not six, but he just turned 23. The best part of this campaign? There’s no way to discredit it, really. Machado is walking more and striking out less than he did a year ago. His BABIP is a reasonable .317 (.315 career average). He plays in a terrific home park and his ISO has jumped nearly .70 points from last year. Maybe you don’t *think* Machado should be hitting for this strong of an average or this much power, but how are you going to back up that feeling? That his first half was better? He’s still hitting .303/.376/.506 in the season’s second act. The worst thing about Machado from a dynasty POV is his defense doesn’t count. If it did, he’d challenge Mike Trout.
The Case Against: His knees, mostly. It’s easy to brush aside his injuries since he’s young, but two serious knee injuries in two years is enough to freak any sensible dynasty league owner out. You *can* also doubt the power, at least to the extent where he’ll be in the 30 range consistently, though I personally don’t. Like Bryant above, it’s easy to see the speed tailing off. He also looks a lot like a goblin.
Ready, Set, Rank:
Craig: I used to be such an upside whore, and as I’ve grown older I can feel the icy grip of a conservative approach tightening around my mind. I can’t escape the laughable (consider his career path) consistency of Donaldson. I don’t deny Machado’s all-around contributions, nor his youth, and the value that plays in the long game. Nor do I deny Kris Bryant’s blue, blue eyes and big, big power. Still, we’re in a place and time of instant gratification, and Donaldson gives me what I want and he does it in the immediate future, without the complicated aspect of two knee surgeries by the age of 23, or rooting for the Cubs, or even the flicker of the idea of turning on a Rockies game.
Donaldson, Bryant, Machado, Arenado.
Ben: On TINO, in the heat of the moment, I said that Machado was my top fantasy third baseman. As soon as I said that out loud, I thought longingly of Donaldson, who’s ridiculous in his own right and admittedly a safer play. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and while originally I was planning on ducking out and going with the Blue Jay, I’m staying with Machado first here. In keeper leagues I take Donaldson. In redraft leagues I take Donaldson. But Machado is six-and-a-half years younger and having the slightly better season right now. If you’re risk-averse, Donaldson is the pick, but god damn Machado is sexy. I can’t help myself.
I’m sticking to Machado, Donaldson, small gap, Bryant, small gap, Arenado.
Craig: Machado over Donaldson is a bridge too far, really. Not on talent, mind you, but it seems like by ranking him first, you treat injury risk as just some vague concept, rather than a real calculation. Machado missed 80 games in 2014, and 111 in 2012 due to his knee injuries. Let’s not forget that he was good, especially for his age in 2013-14, but not the game-changer he’s been this year. There’s at least a solid chance that this is the best full season of Manny Machado’s career. Until he can stay healthy for more than a season at a time, and until he can repeat this type of production, he can’t unseat Josh Donaldson, who hit two homers while we wrote this.
Ben: Donaldson over Machado makes sense to me, as outlined above. Machado over Bryant not so much, especially when you just said you’re less about upside than you used to be. Bryant is shinier and newer but Machado is actually younger, is a better bet to hit for higher averages, runs more right now, is currently hitting for more power, and will stay at 3B until forever because he’s basically Brooks Robinson. Bryant has more power upside and fewer injuries—both of those things matter—but it’s not enough for me. I’ll give you Donaldson first, but you gotta give me Manny second.
The Compromise: Donaldson, Machado, Bryant, Arenado.
Thank you for reading
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