Continuing our series of looking at the free agents to be, by position, we move from the backstop to the hot corner, checking out the third basemen who will be available this off-season. Eight third basemen of note are going to be free agents, which include three pairs from the Rangers, Brewers, and Dodgers, a productive when healthy player, and a player only in the major leagues for his ability to play each and every position with league average skills. Here are the eight:
Name Age G Slash WPA/LI Hank Blalock 28 65 .287/.338/.508 0.21 Willie Bloomquist 31 71 .279/.377/.285 0.32 Joe Crede 31 97 .248/.314/.460 -0.57 Ramon Vazquez 32 105 .290/.365/.430 -0.10 Russell Branyan 33 50 .250/.342/.583 1.21 Nomar Garciaparra 35 55 .264/.326/.466 0.26 Casey Blake 35 152 .274/.345/.463 0.89 Craig Counsell 38 110 .226/.355/.302 -0.29
Blalock has an option on his contract for 2009, which should be exercised given that, despite the small sample size, he looked more like the 2003-2004 version of himself than the 2005-07 version. His ISO, OPS, and BB/K all returned to their 2003-2004 ranges, back when he was an all star. He also hit 12 home runs in 258 at bats and was a league average defender. His -3 and -4 defensive ratings in 2006 and 2007 support that he is probably average or slightly below average, but if he can produce for a whole season what he did in 1/3 of the 2008 season, he will definitely be worthwhile for the 6.2mm option.
Willie Bloomquist is a player that actually lives up to the oft-used example of why batting average does not tell the whole story. The example compares a player who hits in the .270s but with no extra base hits to someone in the .250s but with plenty of extra base power. Bloomquist had one double, and everything else was a single. He played all over the place this year, generally ranging from -2 to +2 wherever he found time. He may find a home somewhere as a utility player, but he does not have much value.
Crede was worth about a half win less than an average player in just 97 games, but managed to be the fourth best fielding third baseman, at +13 in the field. He did hit 17 home runs in 335 at bats and has established himself as a capable performer, so if he can stay healthy, he could be a nice addition. Ramon Vazquez was the opposite in the field, at -10, and despite a nice .290/.365/.430 line, it was more of a mirage than an accurate performance indicator. Ironically, his 2007 and 2008 seasons were eerily similar in terms of playing time: he played 104 games last year and 105 this year; he amassed 300 AB in both seasons; he stepped to the plate 345 times in 2007 and 347 times in 2008. He walked more, struck out less, and added more hits to improve his overall numbers. Unfortunately, this hinged upon an unsustainable .355 BABIP. He may have had a nice season, but Blalock is the much better bet here.
I cannot speak enough about Russell Branyan and it pains me that he does not play more. Yes, he strikes out, but he walks and absolutely mashes as well. In 132 at bats this year he hit 12 home runs, and managed to play +2 defense when he found himself at third base. Three true outcome players usually decline around the 35 years old mark, so the Bran-man should have a couple more productive years in him.
Nomar’s career reminds me a lot of Grant Hill’s: they were megastars for six or seven seasons, well on their way to the respective halls of fame, but injuries slowed them down and turned them into nice role players but nowhere near go to guys. Casey Blake was a nice pickup by the Dodgers to solidify the position down the stretch, but I would not expect him to be re-signed by Ned Colletti. I would expect Nomar to land himself a 1B/3B job somewhere, and Blake to be a starting third baseman for at least one more season.
Craig Counsell, however, has probably reached the point where he hangs up the cleats and becomes a bench coach. From what I have heard, he is destined to be a manager, and it might be time to start that process. He was not awful with the bat, but is a below average hitter still hanging on due to his ability to play multiple positions and do “the small things.” Blalock is the real catch here, and so it is likely the Rangers will keep him for at least 2009.