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Previewing The 2022-23 Free Agent Class: Third Basemen

With the offseason drawing nearer, MLBTR will be breaking down the free-agent class on a position-by-position basis. We’ve already run through this winter’s crop of catchers, first basemen and second basemen. You can check out the full list of this offseason’s free agents here, but we’ll take a deeper look at the options for teams in need of help at third base next.

As was the case when running through the second-base market, I’ll note that there are some star shortstops (e.g.  Xander Bogaerts) who could technically be pursued as a third base option for a team that already has an entrenched shortstop, but we’ll save that group for the shortstop preview. There’s plenty of overlap with the second base market, as many of the free-agent options this winter are utility types who can capably handle either spot.

His own tier

Whether Arenado actually becomes a free agent is entirely up to him. He has five years and $144M remaining on his contract but also has an opt-out clause at season’s end that would allow him to enter into the free-agent market for the first time in his career. Arenado chose not to exercise an opt-out after the 2021 season, but he’s now owed less money and is coming off perhaps the greatest season of his brilliant career. (Jon Heyman of the New York Post wrote in September that Arenado was not planning to opt out, citing “friends” of Arenado, but Arenado himself has not made any declarations one way or another.)

Even if Arenado’s goal is to remain in St. Louis, there’s a good case for him to leverage that opt-out and a huge 2022 showing into an extension or larger deal with the Cards. Through 618 plate appearances, Arenado is hitting .292/.358/.533 with 30 home runs, 42 doubles, a triple and five steals (in eight tries). Arenado’s 11.5% strikeout rate is the second-lowest of his career (and lowest over a full 162-game season). He’s second among all Major League third basemen in both Defensive Runs Saved (19) and Outs Above Average (14), trailing only Pittsburgh’s Ke’Bryan Hayes in both categories.

The five years and $144M remaining on Arenado’s contract average out to $28.8M annually — a number that, at this point, is a ways shy of where the game’s top position players are paid on an annual basis. Because next year will be his age-32 season, it’s hard to imagine him securing anything longer than a six-year deal in free agency, but as Freddie Freeman illustrated last year, it’s possible for a free agent to secure six years at that age. Arenado, of course, is coming off an even better season this year than Freeman was last winter. He’s been worth 7.2 fWAR and 7.8 rWAR — both of which are personal bests in what increasingly looks to be a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

There’s no guarantee that Arenado reaches free agency, but if he does, it’s an easy call to project a larger guarantee over five years — and perhaps over an even lengthier term than that.

A distant second place

Drury had a rough patch to begin his tenure with the Padres following a deadline swap, but he’s been swinging it just fine over the past month. Dating back to Aug. 29, Drury owns a .288/.338/.575 batting line in 80 plate appearances, and he’s logged a collective .263/.320/.497 batting line on the season. His minor league deal with the Reds was one of the best of the season by any team.

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Suitors in free agency may view Drury’s 2022 campaign with some skepticism, given his disastrous 2018-20 run between the Yankees and Blue Jays (.205/.254/.346 in 582 plate appearances). However, Drury hit in a small sample with the Mets last year and has been generally productive in 2022, save for an ugly first three weeks or so in San Diego. Since Opening Day 2021, he’s at .265/.318/.494 with 32 home runs, 36 doubles and two triples in 645 plate appearances. One would think that playing a big slate of games at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park has padded his stats, but only 12 of his 28 homers came in Cincinnati.

Defensively, third base has been Drury’s most frequent position both in 2022 and, more narrowly, in his broader career. He’s been a scratch defender there, per Statcast’s Outs Above Average, and Ultimate Zone Rating generally agrees. Defensive Runs Saved (-3) has him a bit below average, and that’s generally been the case throughout his career. Still, Drury isn’t any kind of glaring liability at the hot corner, and he has 1436 MLB innings at second base, 965 between the outfield corners and  361 at first base. At the very least, he looks like a super-utility player, but Drury has hit enough to be considered a potential starter at second or third, as well.

Utility players

Diaz has played at least 45 innings at five different positions this season: all four infield spots and left field. He was primarily a shortstop early in his career and still has more total innings there than at any position. He never graded well there, and as he enters his mid-30s, he’ll be viewed as more of a utility player. Diaz’s .248/.294/.415 line in 2022 is a bit down from the .259/.318/.433 slash he’s posted over four total seasons with the ’Stros. He’s a right-handed bat who’s shown a pretty noticeable platoon split over the past couple seasons, though early in his career he hit fellow righties better than lefties. Third base isn’t Diaz’s primary position, but he’s still tallied 758 innings there in his career.

Primarily a second baseman until the current campaign, Peterson has played mostly third base in Milwaukee this season and posted sensational defensive marks there, including 11 Defensive Runs Saved and 6 Outs Above Average in just 605 innings. The lefty-swinging Peterson has revived his career with a solid three-year run in Milwaukee, hitting .241/.339/.377 (100 wRC+) with a hefty 12.4% walk rate, 16 homers and 23 steals in 684 plate appearances. He’s even handled lefties well in a small sample over the past two seasons, although a career .217/.289/.282 output against them still suggests he’s best deployed against righties only.

A hamstring strain cost Solano more than two months, but since being activated, he’s batted .284/.338/.384 with four homers and 15 doubles in 293 trips to the plate. Solano has been quite good at home, in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, and below-average on the road, but this is the fourth consecutive season he’s headed for at least league-average offense overall. Dating back to his 2019 resurgence with the Giants, “Donnie Barrels” is hitting .301/.350/421 in 1068 plate appearances. He’ll turn 35 in December, though, and his defensive grades at second, third and shortstop in recent years are all lacking. He’s posted excellent numbers in 190 innings as a first baseman this year, however (5 DRS, 3 OAA).

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Depth options and rebound hopefuls

  • Ehire Adrianza (33): A switch-hitter with considerable experience all over the infield and in both outfield corners, Adrianza doesn’t hit particularly well from either side of the dish and doesn’t have great defensive marks anywhere. He’s batted .215/.302/.320 in 415 plate appearances since Opening Day 2020.
  • Charlie Culberson (34): Culberson torments lefties, is generally regarded as a strong clubhouse presence and has played every big league position except center field and catcher. Since a career-high 12 homers in 2018, however, he’s slashed just .248/.291/.384 in 542 plate appearances.
  • Matt Duffy (32): A regular at third base with the Giants and Rays earlier in his career, Duffy has long been touted as a strong defensive player. Injuries have hampered him extensively in recent years, limiting him to 730 plate appearances over the past four seasons. He’s hit reasonably well in that time: .267/.338/.346.
  • Maikel Franco (30): Once one of the game’s top prospects, Franco never developed into the slugger the Phillies hoped. With just a .233/.278/.384 slash since 2019 (including .229/.255/.342 with the Nats this year) and woeful defensive grades, the 30-year-old Franco is likely looking at another minor league deal this winter.
  • Marwin Gonzalez (34): The veteran switch-hitter has survived on the Yankees’ roster all season despite hitting just .180/.255/.308 in 195 plate appearances. Gonzalez’s career year in 2017 helped him land a two-year deal with the Minnesota, and since the second season of that contract he’s since cratered with a .197/.273/.310 slash across 701 plate appearances.
  • Phil Gosselin (34): The journeyman utility player has experience at every infield spot and in the outfield corners. He hit .149/.182/.176 in 77 plate appearances this year but did record a respectable .259/.316/.371 slash in 475 plate appearances from 2020-21.
  • Jonathan Villar (32): Villar hit 24 homers and swiped 40 bags with the O’s in 2019, struggled through a dismal showing between Miami and Toronto in 2020, and rebounded nicely with the 2021 Mets. The pendulum swung back in the other direction this year, as he’s been released by both the Cubs and Angels while hitting a combined .208/.260/.302. At his best, Villar is a switch-hitter with some power and difference-making speed, but he’s been wildly inconsistent throughout his career.

Veterans with club options

  • Hanser Alberto (30): Alberto’s one-year deal with the Dodgers contained a $2M club option and a $250K buyout. Los Angeles will all likely opt for the buyout after Alberto has batted .234/.248/.357 in 157 trips to the plate. Alberto has solid defensive ratings around the infield and hits lefties well — career .322/.340/.448 hitter in 581 plate appearances — giving him some bench appeal. His recent poor showings will be hard to overlook, though.
  • Josh Harrison (35): Pretty much everything I wrote about Harrison last week in the second base preview still holds up. He’s had a tough week at the plate, so his offense has now fallen to slightly below average, by measure of wRC+ (96). Still, a .256/.317/.361 output with six homers, 18 doubles and a pair of triples is decent production for an affordable veteran who’s turned in plus defensive marks at both second base and third base this season. Harrison is also plenty experienced in the outfield corners, and after a rough showing in 2018-19 has been a slightly above-average hitter over the life of three seasons. He has a $5.625M option with a $1.5M buyout, and a net $4.125M price seems plenty reasonable. The White Sox, though, are already facing a potential record payroll next year and might want more offense than Harrison can provide, even though his overall price tag is eminently reasonable.
  • Evan Longoria (37): Given the Giants’ overall results this year and the amount of time Longoria has spent on the injured list, it feels safe to say he’s likely having a better season than many realize. He’s not the Longo of old, but even at age 36, he’s turned in a .244/.315/.451 batting line with 14 homers and 13 doubles in just 298 plate appearances. Longoria is striking out more than ever (27.9%) and is no longer the elite defender he was in his 20s. He’s still making tons of hard contact and hitting for power, though. The Giants hold a $13M option with a $5M buyout, and the Giants may prefer that buyout as they look to get younger. Longoria discussed the possibility of retirement in an interview with Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this summer. It’ll be a family decision on whether he’ll continue playing at age 37, but given his huge output against lefties and his overall batted-ball profile, there ought to be interest in the veteran slugger even if it’s in a more reduced role.
  • Justin Turner (38): A Dodgers fixture who hasn’t stopped hitting even as his 38th birthday approaches (November), Turner has a $16M club option with a $2M buyout. That could’ve vested automatically based on MVP voting, but that’s not going to happen — solid as Turner’s season has been. In 525 trips to the plate, he’s hit .280/.352/.443 with 13 long balls — good for a 125 wRC+. The Dodgers have recently picked up the options of a few players and tacked on a new club option for 2024, and given Turner’s consistency perhaps they’ll look at doing the same here. Turner is still a very good hitter, but his defensive ratings at third base have dipped and he’s spent nearly half his time at designated hitter in 2022.
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