Third base is a hot corner of free agents
Clubs should have plenty to choose from in open market
In an offseason players' market that overall is being portrayed as bland, the hot corner stands out as a hot iron, waiting to be struck by teams looking to upgrade at third base.A trio of All-Stars. Two anchors on three-time division champions. Two former home run kings. A versatile spark plug much in demand at the last non-waiver Trade Deadline. A one-time World Series MVP.
And if those practicing third basemen aren't enough, consider the high-profile veteran middle infielders who could be deemed to be prime candidates for a Cal Ripken-style late-career shift to third.Seeking a tip-off on the available talent, one need only look to Philadelphia, where the Phillies chose to decline their 2010 option on the incumbent Pedro Feliz. That move surprised many, but Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. rationalized it by calling third base "the only spot where we felt we could make a change and do something different." That tells you all you need to know about the supply -- even before factoring in such trade possibilities as Colorado's Garrett Atkins and perhaps Boston's Mike Lowell. Feliz, a terrific fielder who seems to do most of his limited offensive damage in the clutch, thus was thrown right into the forefront of the mix.
Under the brightest spotlight is the Angels' Chone Figgins, considered among the top "gets" in the entire free-agent pool. His quickness afield and leadoff prowess at the plate make him the type of unique double threat that clubs crave.Being versatile should only expand Figgins' options and his market. He settled into being the Angels' primary third baseman the past three seasons but has also seen extensive action at second base and in the outfield. "Obviously, Chone is an outstanding athlete, and you have to assume he has a lot of suitors," Amaro has said. "But we're keeping our eyes and ears open." Among the free-agent third basemen, Figgins is the only one rated Type A by the Elias Sports Bureau. Melvin Mora, one of four rated Type B, shares Figgins' past and versatility. The Orioles' third-base regular since 2004 has started 100-plus games at three other positions, but at 37, clearly is best suited to stay anchored at third. The other Type Bs are Mark DeRosa, who created a stir among contenders when he was placed on the trade market in July by the Indians, who dealt him to St. Louis, and a pair of erstwhile All-Stars hoping to reclaim the headlines, Adrian Beltre and Troy Glaus. Both seemingly have been around forever, but here's something that should excite daring GMs: Beltre and Glaus grew up on the diamond in front of our eyes, and they remain young enough to turn back the clock and turn up the volume. Head of the class Figgins (5 HR, 54 RBIs, .298 AVG, 42 SB), Type A: A corner infielder with 31 career homers? Talk about a new wave, an appealing antidote to a power-hungry era. That's not to say Figgins doesn't have gap punch -- Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder were the only others with 30-plus doubles and 100-plus walks. Miguel Tejada (14-86-.313), Type A: The rankings are position-specific, hence Tejada's reflects his value at shortstop, the only place he has ever played. However, at 35, there are clear indications that Tejada's best market may be as a third baseman. His power drain continued -- since 2004 he has gradually gone from 34 to 14 homers -- but he was still a .313 hitter for the Astros. Mora (8-48-.260), Type B: The Venezuelan with the sleepy eyes could be the sleeper of the class, a professional hitter brought out of sync by the Orioles' midseason decision to begin going young. Mora put up 23 homers and 104 RBIs as recently as 2008 and has always been a good contact hitter for someone with his pop. Beltre (8-44-.265), Type B: Beltre was 19 when he broke in with the Dodgers, and now is 30 as a second-time free agent. The difference is that the first time -- off his 47-homer 2004 season with the Dodgers -- his aim was to cash in. Now, after five disappointing seasons in Seattle, his goal is to regain elite status. That incentive, as much as his tools, could entice clubs. DeRosa (23-78-.250), Type B: Again one of the most popular players on the market, DeRosa has a versatility that especially appeals to teams that would like the flexibility of plugging him in elsewhere should someone else surface at third. DeRosa has played all over the field, with occasional flashes of power. Yet he's a low on-base percentage, high-strikeout guy coming off a contract similar to that of Feliz. Glaus (0-2-.172), Type B: Glaus earned the ranking, which is based on two-year numbers, despite sitting out virtually all of 2009 following shoulder surgery compounded by back problems. Yet he is still in his early 30s and has never smashed fewer than 27 homers when healthy enough to have 500 at-bats. Feliz (12-82-.266): Feliz has been good enough to help three teams reach the World Series (the 2002 Giants prior to the 2008 and 2009 Phillies), but he finds himself on the free-agent market for the third time. If his game doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, it doesn't have any standout characteristics, either. But you know what he'll give you -- a .260-12-60 batting card and solid defense. Joe Crede (15-48-.225): Crede's recovery from back surgery is said to be on track, after back problems essentially ruined his past three seasons. Before that he was a .283-30-94 rock for the White Sox. He's only 31, making him a project comparable with Beltre and Glaus. Also on the market
The Angels are prioritizing bringing back Figgins but are also watching Beltre. So are the Phillies, but topping their wish list is possibly the most popular guy in the bunch, DeRosa. The Cardinals would like DeRosa back, and the Mariners, Rangers and Orioles have also inquired. Other teams (Mariners, Royals, Marlins) are also in need of a third baseman, and even clubs set at the position -- the Red Sox and Yankees -- are in the market for someone like Figgins, whose value as a leadoff batter and experience in the outfield could motivate a team to accommodate him somehow.Window shopping Oakland has reached the point of not being able to count on another comeback by Eric Chavez, who is yet again trying to return from back surgery. The Blue Jays may not be totally committed to Edwin Encarnacion, who took over after Scott Rolen's midseason deal to Cincinnati. Speaking of which -- Reds GM Walt Jocketty could be looking for an alternative to make the high-priced Rolen ($11 million) expendable. Potential 2011 class Garrett Atkins, Jorge Cantu, Chavez ($12.5 million club option with $3 million buyout), Bill Hall ($9.25 million club option with $500,000 buyout), Brandon Inge, Maicer Izturis, Lowell, Jhonny Peralta ($7 million club option with $250,000 buyout), Nick Punto ($5 million club option with $500,000 buyout), Aramis Ramirez ($14.6 million player option), Rolen, Ty Wigginton.