By Chris Ryan, RotoExperts Senior Writer
We’re barreling towards the Fantasy Trade Deadline, and with two major offensive positions still to cover, there’s no time for any ramblings. So let’s jump right into the land of third basemen—a bountiful world, one where you can find serious help in most any category imaginable—and get to the rankings:
As always, a refresher as to the point of all this:
Authorial Note I: The rankings here are designed around a singular question—if I were stuck inside a vacuum cleaner, would I trade this guy for that guy? So, for instance, the number one player on the list is the third baseman that I would trade any other third baseman to obtain. The number two guy, same thing, unless someone offered me the number one ranked player.
Authorial Note II: Eligibility requirements are 10 games played at the position, either this year or last. If a player also has catcher eligibility, I left him off all other position lists. The reason being – if you’re looking to maximize value, play your catcher at catcher.
Authorial Note III: In order to provide a little context and hard data, you’ll notice two sets of stat lines accompanying each player. One is the On-Pace Projection, which is determined by taking the pace the player has performed at thus far, then extrapolating out to the remaining 50 games, or however many they have left. Full health is assumed in the calculation unless a guy is currently on the DL, then I just kind of ballpark it.
The other stat line is an updated ZiPS Projection for the remainder of the season. ZiPS projections take into account both past and present production, and are considered a much more accurate predictor of what to expect than, say, what some pantsless, burrito-eating dude sitting on his uncle’s couch is capable of coming up with.
Authorial Note IV: We’ll finish this series up with the Top 40 outfielders before the end of the week, I promise.
1. Miguel Cabrera
We’ve talked previously about Miguel Cabrera‘s comments regarding his lack of lower-body strength following offseason core surgery, and how there was a chance—not a guarantee, but a chance at least—that he’d regain the hip-thrusting torque required to again be the undisputed Best Hitter in Major League baseball.
Well, in the three weeks since the break, the returns have been … mixed. Cabrera has three homers in 24 games, and is hitting .298, but only five of his 24 hits have gone for extra bases, giving him a noticeably pedestrian Slugging Percentage (SLG) of .415. Not exactly representative of the explosive Rick James-like stud we’ve watched bang his way through the league the past two seasons.
Still though, he’s got the perpetual .300 batting average, scores a ton of runs thanks to an outstanding OBP, and only Jose Abreu has driven home more runs. Complaining about Miggy “only” being on-pace for 27 or so homers this season, when everything else he does is off the charts, is the equivalent of bitching about a young Cameron Diaz only having perky B’s, and not gigantic DD’s. NOBODY IS PERFECT, OKAY?!?
2. Anthony Rendon
Have you ever been unaware of just how much you cared for another person until being forced to rank them? That’s me and Anthony Rendon. I knew I liked the guy, drafted him in a couple leagues back in March, but I was unaware just how much I valued him until I started doing these rankings.
It was easy and obvious to proclaim him the second best Fantasy two-bagger, but I was amazed to find myself putting him in the two-hole again, here at third base. After further examination, both on a personal and professional level, not only do I support my ranking, but I think maybe I’m in love. Like, I feel like I should ask Rendon if he wants to move into my apartment and start casually walking into jewelry shops together, just to see what’s out there.
Take a look yourself, and you’ll see why I so badly want to introduce the guy to mom:
- RUNS (81)—Tied with Mike Trout for second most in the league.
- HOME RUNS (15)—Has more home runs (15) than proven sluggers Evan Longoria and Pablo Sandoval (not to mention an Average Batted Ball Distance (AVBD) and a suppressed HR/FB rate that portends even more power).
- RUNS BATTED-IN (65)—Fifth most among third baseman.
- STEALS (12)—Only Todd Frazier and Josh Harrison have stolen more bags among positional rivals.
- AVERAGE (.277)—Batting average has been muy consistent, sitting north of .270 for 90-percent of the season.
Power, speed, contact skills, on-base prowess, multi-position eligibility … I’m not sure what else an owner could ask for in a player.
Authorial Analogy: If this were a coming-of-age film, this would be the part where my best girl “friend” showed up to the school dance in cat-eye makeup, high-heels, and a short dress that clung perfectly to her toned cross-country running butt, forcing me to conceal a spontaneous erection and confront feelings I didn’t know existed.
3. Edwin Encarnacion
Edwin Encarnacion has missed over a month of action, hasn’t played since July 5, and still leads the position in HRs by three, with only Miguel Cabrera and Josh Donaldson having driven in more runs. If I were someone who said, “Enough said,” this would be where I would do it.
Injury Update: Edwin’s return is imminent. As in, he may already be in the Blue Jays lineup by the time you’re reading this. Friday at the latest. Once he gets there, I see no reason why a formerly strained quad will prevent him from again blasting out upper-deckers like a fraternity pledge during rush week.
4. Adrian Beltre
Has anyone in baseball aged better than Adrian Beltre? Look at his exact age contemporaries—specifically Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, and Victor Martinez. All have had good moments over the past four or five years, and all are having decent-to-excellent seasons in 2014, but none have come close to matching the prime-of-career production and durability Beltre has provided us.
Even today, at age 35, he’s almost the exact same guy he was at age 31, when he finally escaped Seattle and re-established his stardom in Boston. He’s not quite the slugger he was at his peak, but hey, who is, am I right?? (said in a bad Italian accent while nudging you in the ribs).
In short: Adrian Beltre is to Fantasy Baseball players as Suzanne Summers is to workout video hosts.
Authorial Concern: My only concern, and I’ll admit this is just me being paranoid—lay off the sativa, Chris—is that I fear a very minor soft-tissue tweak could cause a very long, season-ending DL stint for Beltre. The Rangers have a multitude of reasons for maybe wanting to give their 35-year old third baseman of the near future—he’s signed through 2016, essentially—a month off at the end of a dreadful season, not the least of which would be a sorta tight hammy.
5. Josh Donaldson
Here’s a symmetrical stat regarding Josh Donaldson: In his first 55 games of the season, which occurred between
Opening Day to the end of May, Donaldson had 15 HRs and a .280 batting average. Since June 1 through August 7, also a span of 55 games, he’s hit .208 with eight homers, highlighted by a 3-for-47 stretch in mid-June that shaved 31 points off his average in a span of 11 days.
Typically, I’m looking for any reason to chop a guy like Donaldson—an out-of-nowhere late bloomer—down to what I think his size should be, and the noticeable decline in power and average since June would be a perfect excuse for me to do so. But I can’t. Not when I know that among third basemen he’s second in runs, homers, and ribbies, and that he’s chipped in a not-inconsequential seven steals.
At this point in the season, who cares about a wildly fluctuating batting average—we’re in it for the meat, the counting number juice. And Donaldson has enough of that to open a really high-end butcher shop in an ultra-chic west coast beach community.
6. Pablo Sandoval
In the four categories his Cartman-esque body type allows him to produce in, Pablo Sandoval has been a Top 10-12 producer in each one of them, when you look at the season as a whole. But that’s only because he’s still trying to recover from a super awful April, the kind of month a drunk might refer to as Rock Bottom. Since that terrible, horrible, car-through-the-liquor-store first month, he’s been living cleanly and hitting splendidly—12 HRs, 41 Rs, 49 RBIs and a .314 average since May 1, the equivalent of a 21 HR/71 R/87 RBI season. Toss in the plus-.300 batting average, a number as rare in baseball these days as pubic hair is in porn, and we’re talking about a slightly less sharply dressed Adrian Beltre.
7. Nolan Arenado
Last year in 486 at bats, Arenado had 10 HRs and 29 doubles with a .267 average. This year in only 337 at bats, he has 11 HRs, 27 doubles and a .288 average. That’s the kind of blossoming that Colorado farmers might refer to as some dank blooms right there, man. Over the past 30 days, an arbitrary date but whatever, Arenado is the third-ranked third baseman, behind only The Great Rendon and Josh Harrison, and if it hadn’t been for a broken middle finger that stole six weeks of his season, he’d be having a nearly identical season to Evan Longoria, only with a batting average 30 points higher. If I own a dispensary in the greater Denver area, I’m developing and trademarking a potent indica strain named Knockout Nado before September hits—with what he’s capable of doing over the last six weeks, it’s apt to be a HUGE seller come next April.
8. Josh Harrison
Like a child conceived on spring break between a blacked-out you and a local Hooters waitress, there came a point when the existence of Josh Harrison could no longer be denied.
For the Pirates it came pretty early on, during May, but it took until July, the All Star break really, for Fantasy owners to see that he did, in fact, exist. And damned if he didn’t have your nose and eyes…
The former super-utility guy is the eighth-ranked Fantasy third baseman on the year, and over the past month, there hasn’t been soul better on the Player Rater. Let me repeat that, for clarity and emphasis: Over the past 30 days, no player, not Mike Trout, not Miguel Cabrera, not even Chris Carter has been a more valuable commodity within the game of Fantasy Baseball than Josh Harrison.
Since his much derided All Star game appearance, he’s batted .373 with five homers and seven steals in 21 games, numbers that forced the Pirates to say, screw it, third base is all yours Harrison. Alvarez, go … do something else, grab a first base glove, or take a vacation, or something…
Obviously, we can’t expect him to keep this up, but a .300 average with another four homers and eight steals in 40 plus games? I see no reason why not.
9. Todd Frazier
If you couldn’t see the actual peak of Todd Frazier‘s season at the All Star Break, you were either sleeping or discreetly playing on your smartphone despite the pilot’s warnings. Because it was right there, huge in the window. At the time, in assessing his rest of the year value, I compared Frazier to Tom Hanks’ character in Big, and noted how I was waiting for the spell to end.
I think it’s over.
In 23 post-break games he’s batting .244 with one homer, two doubles, and 23 strikeouts against only four walks. In his defense, Frazier says he’s always been a streaky power guy, and intimated in recent comments that a big week could be coming soon, but that’s just lip service—like me telling the wife that I’ll absolutely paint the front porch next weekend, or if not next weekend, definitely the weekend after that…
The only thing keeping Frazier this high is a) the fact that he continues to run, stealing three-of-four since the AS break, giving him a position-leading 17 on the year and b) the possibility that he really does have one more semi-lengthy offensive surge left in him. After all, it’s not like Frazier is bad anything—it was just obvious he was ill-equipped to continue operating so effectively in the adult world he was living in at the time.
10. Evan Longoria
Is there a chance this ranking is retribution for me having placed a whole lot of faith in Evan Longoria in a whole lot of different leagues? Why yes, yes it could be. But it’s not. It’s just reality.
The guy’s a career .272 hitter who’s seen his power go the way of jeans jackets—not gone completely, just seen in less dense clusters. Various spray charts and heat maps indicate he’s basically lost the ability to drive inside pitches outside of the park, an especially troubling fact considering that used to be his “thing.”
Maybe cutting his hair and dyeing it like a high school senior somehow had a Sampsonian effect on him, humanizing his power and preventing him from propping up your Fantasy team to glory. Or maybe I’m fanning smoke when there’s not really a fire, and he’ll respond with a monster final month-and-a-half and all will appear evened out when the season ends. Who knows, maybe I’ll wake up the Sunday after my Fantasy Football draft and not immediately have to crap and puke at the same time. Anything is possible in this crazy world.
11. Manny Machado
It was a disastrous start to the season for Manny Machado, filled with injury setbacks, a predictable slump, a frustrated bat throw, and a subsequent five-game sit-down issued by Major League Baseball. Typical sophomore stuff. Honestly, I’m surprised he didn’t get busted with a case of Coors Light and some cigarettes out behind Camden Yards one night after a game.
Unfortunate Update: This was the part where I would have told you about how Machado came back from the suspension in a matured way and was crushing the ball of late, but unfortunately, he suffered a knee sprain in Monday night’s game and is out indefinitely. Talk about a difficult second season.
12. Kyle Seager
Since an unfortunate first month in which a .249 BABIP held his average under .230, Kyle Seager has hit between .309 and .272 in every month since (not counting August, in which he’s hitting .204), with homer totals of either three, four or five at the end of each calendar flip. He’s been as consistently good as any player at the position not named Cabrera, and I have no justifiable reason for having him below any of the five players above him.
It’s just that, well, I heard a rumor about Seager being … how do I put this … a bit of uh, um … an end-of-the-season fader. And there’s proof to back up the rep—in three career Septembers, he owns a .233 batting average and just seven homers, numbers that are far below what he’s posted in the other five months during those three years.
I realize that pre-judging someone based on something they did or didn’t do in their past is wrong, but it’s what humans do. It’s how we make safe, sound, future decisions. And like a law-firm bypassing a paralegal candidate because she used to smoke meth everyday at her job as a stripper, I’m saying no to Seager, and his past September transgressions.
13. Matt Carpenter
Hey, listen, this isn’t a Matt Carpenter issue, it’s a St. Louis Cardinals issue. Carp’s .284 average is just fine, as is his pace of 37 doubles. His .379 on-base percentage is second at the position, behind only Miggy, which is the reason he’s third among third baseman in runs scored, despite leading off for a Cardinals team that ranks second to last in that specific category. If the new-look, youth-infused Cards offense starts smacking things around down the stretch, Carpenter will be considerably more valuable. If they continue to suck the teat of a large Yorkshire sow, this is the Carpenter you’re stuck with.
Not since Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli has someone been so dependent on others to maintain their value.
14. Chase Headley
Some guys just always seemed destined to shave their beards and sport the pinstripes, Chase Headley being a prime example. Just look at him out there the next time the middling Yankees are on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball—the defined jib, the David Wrightian face, the effective left-handed swing … the constant, effervescent smile of a man who just stepped on a land mine that didn’t detonate. Yeah, he’s a Yankee alright.
As much as I dislike saying it, the Yanks have an undeniable vibe about them right now, a positive, winning vibe, and with Headley’s established pull power from the left-side, not to mention the fact that he’s playing for the future financial lives of his children and grandchildren, I don’t think it’s crazy to think he produces like a Top 10 third baseman over the final six weeks.
15. Salvador Munoz
Here’re some fun facts for you: Over the past two weeks, Salvador Munoz is the 52nd ranked third baseman, right between Alberto Callaspo and Ramiro Pena. Stretch it out to a month, and he’s the 28th ranked guy, on the level with someone like David Freese. For the year, Munoz is the 16th ranked third baseman, right below Casey McGehee on the Player Rater. Frankly, he shouldn’t even be on this list, let alone this high.
So why is he?
Because I’m not really talking about Salvador Munoz, a fake 31-year old journeyman infielder nicknamed The Moustache by his teammates. I’m talking about David Wright, Captain America.
Something is obviously wrong, and getting wronger, and if it weren’t for the fact that I used to have a total mush on the dude, Wright really wouldn’t be on this list.
BEST OF THE REST…
16. Jedd Gyorko
Last season, from this date, August 11, until the end of the season, Gyorko—that’s JERK-oh for those of you into phonetics—hit 13 homers and drove home 37 fellow Padres. This year, since returning from a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, a total of 11 games, he’s hit two bombs, driven home 11, and batted .289. Call me whatever dirty name you reserve for slovenly internet prognosticators, but I feel decently confident about the Padres offense down the stretch, The Jerk especially.
17. Trevor Plouffe
The power is being held down and farted on by an unfortunate HR/FB ratio, and his average is crap. But on the plus side, he’s hitting third in the Twins lineup, behind speedster Danny Santana and walk machine Brian Dozier, the league’s leader in runs scored, so there’s some definite RBI upside. Put it this way—a Fantasy owner could do much, much better at his/her corner-infield position. But also way worse. Like picking One Republic as your favorite all-time band.
18. Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez makes me feel like a hurried EMT trying to succinctly relay a patient’s condition to an overloaded ER doctor: “We’ve got near total peripheral collapse here, doc, the walk rate can barely be seen, and the power is majorly depleted. I don’t like his chances, but he was hitting .295 last we checked, so he’s not dead yet. Good luck!”
19. Mark Reynolds/Juan Francisco/Mike Moustakas/Pedro Alvarez
You looking for home runs and nothing else? Well, here you go. Pick your poison. Personally, I’d go with Alvarez—the prospect of a pissed-off Pedro playing first base and crushing 10 HRs against righties down the September stretch is too enticing to pass up.
20. Conor Gillaspie/Chris Johnson/Martin Prado/Casey McGehee
Homers not your thing? Well how ’bout a little batting average? Personally, I’m leaning towards Prado, if only because he’s someone I used to like. Sorta like how chicks at a high school reunion will still gravitate towards the former star quarterback, even if he’s added 75 pounds, a couple of chins, and three STD’s since back in the day.