Free Agent third basemen will be scarce in 2013
The free agent landscape at third base this off-season will be shaped by whether or not teams choose to pick up options on their respective players, or opt for buyouts.
If the New York Mets chose the $1 million buyout instead of exercising his $16 million team option for 2013, David Wright would be one of the most coveted free agents this off-season. The Mets are expected to bring back the 29-year-old third baseman, though, so teams in need of help at the hot corner will have to look at alternatives.
It remains to be seen if the Baltimore Orioles will pick up Mark Reynolds‘ $11 million team option for next season, or take the $500,000 buyout. If the 29-year-old Reynolds does become a free agent, he would be better suited at first base. His career fielding percentage at third base is .928 compared to .988 at first base.
Though Reynolds has 129 home runs over the last three-plus seasons, including 16 dingers this year, his glove is a liability, which is why the Orioles called up 20-year-old super prospect Manny Machado to play third and moved Reynolds to first, even though Machado’s natural position is shortstop.
Considering that at least average defense at third base is important, regardless of how productive a player is at the plate, here are the top five free agent options at the hot corner this off-season:
Injuries have slowed down the 33-year-old Youkilis, who finished third in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2008 when he hit .312 with 29 home runs, 43 doubles, 115 RBI and a .958 OPS for the Red Sox. Earlier this year – while he was struggling at the plate, battling injuries and bickering with manager Bobby Valentine – Youkilis was traded to the White Sox. He is hitting .236 with 12 home runs, 38 RBI and a .805 OPS in 203 at-bats. The White Sox have already said they will not pick up his $13 million club option for 2013, so Youkilis will be a free agent who can play the corner infield spots and DH.
2. Eric Chavez
Signed to a one-year, $900,000 deal this season with the Yankees, the 34-year-old Chavez is posting a career best single-season batting average of .291 to accompany 13 home runs, 32 RBI and a .845 OPS in 262 plate appearances. He has seen significant time at third base with the aging Alex Rodriguez battling injuries this year. At this stage of his career, Chavez is best used as a part-time corner infielder, but with his plus defense and a bat that can hit for power, he is an ideal piece for any contender.
3. Brandon Inge
After suffering a dislocated shoulder against Boston on Saturday, the 35-year-old Inge will reportedly have season-ending surgery this week. He opened the 2012 season in Detroit and signed with Oakland on April 30 after he was released by the Tigers. In 311 plate appearances for the A’s, Inge batted .226 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI. Like Chavez, Inge is a solid defensive third baseman who is ideal as a role player.
The 36-year-old Polanco is one of several Phillies who have spent a chunk of time on the disabled list this season. In 302 at-bats, he has a .259 average with just two home runs, 19 RBI and a .631 OPS. He is a career .299 hitter over 15 Major League seasons. Polanco has a $5.5 million mutual option with a $1 million buyout. The Phillies could head in another direction, including bringing back the versatile Ty Wigginton, who can play every infield position.
5. Ty Wigginton
The 34-year-old Wigginton has a $4 million team option with the Phillies for next season, and a $500,000 buyout. The Phillies will need a third baseman, and since the aforementioned Polanco is getting older and his production has slipped, they could make a trade or pick up Wigginton’s option and have him split time at the hot corner, first base and left field. In 325 plate appearances, Wigginton has a .235 average, 10 home runs and 42 RBI.