My Mother used to have a way of telling you that she really didn’t like something without having to sound outright nasty about it. She would size up whatever was in her cross-hairs — a haircut, a girlfriend, a new pair of tennis shoes and say, “well that’s… different.”
As I continue to look at the rather suspicious keeper prospects of third base, I can’t help but want to apply her diplomacy. Because this group, while mostly promising, is — well, different. The first tier for third base featured just Jose Bautista and Evan Longoria, and the second tier is full of some pretty great talent, but all come with question marks that leave their keeper status a little up in the proverbial air relative to what you paid for them and their perceived value going forward. On Saturday, we covered Ryan Zimmerman, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Beltre. And similar to that post, the remainder of this second tier is presented in no particular order.
Brett Lawrie might be the crown jewel of third base keepers if he can maintain the kind of production we saw in his short major league stint in 2011. His .293/.373/.580 line helped to debunk the notion that because Lawrie posted eye-popping statistics in what is considered to be a hitters league in the minors that he couldn’t reproduce that success on the big stage. His sample size is too small to trust at just 171 plate appearances, but his minor league average over 1400+ plate appearances was .296/.360/.492 — doing so from the ages of 19 to 21. Also worth noting that all of his home runs were categorized by ESPN Home Run Tracker as either having plenty of distance or they were “no doubters” (for fun, you should watch this one in particular).
I’m going to leave projecting Lawrie up to the folks that enjoy rolling those particular dice, but when it’s easy to say that you probably have a .290 hitter with 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases as a 22-year-old, you know you have an excellent keeper candidate. Those of you that bought him while he was affordable can celebrate, because his best years could be monstrous.
Pablo Sandoval is a good keeper recommendation for a few reasons: He’s young (25), he had the second highest wOBA of any 3b with at least 400 plate appearances (tied with Adrian Beltre at .379), and there’s a good chance you acquired him at a bargain price headed in to the 2011 season. At .315/.357/.552, Sandoval’s slimmed-down-season produced exactly the kind of rebound that not only fantasy managers hoped for, but the San Francisco Giants needed to assuage the growing panic about their future at third base. While he hit more home runs per at-bat in 2011, his season wasn’t quite as fantastic as his breakout 2009, but it goes a long way towards erasing the memories of a miserable 2010 campaign. For me, it’s that .263/13/63 line from 2010 that serves as an ominous warning of what the bottom looks like for Sandoval — but I still wouldn’t hesitate to keep him right now.
Strangely predictable, Aramis Ramirez, 33, started the season with hardly a whisper and by mid-July, he was raking — just as he’s done for much of his career. His .306/.361/.510 with 26 home runs, 35 doubles, and 93 RBI in 149 games was just vintage Ramirez. On June 15th, his triple-slash sat at .278/.329/.401 but it’s his traditional slow start that had me fearlessly predicting that I was bullish on his prospects going forward. Owning him can be painful, however, as you wait, week after unproductive week, for the real Aramis Ramirez to stand up — not to mention Ramirez typically comes with a fairly healthy price tag. Also looming is his decision on his $16 million dollar option with the Chicago Cubs and it’s increasingly likely that he opts out and pursues free agency. Where he lands could have significant implications as Wrigley plays pretty favorable to hitters. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Philadelphia Phillies, and Colorado Rockies may all be interested in his services with the latter two being pretty tantalizing to fantasy owners and Paul Kinzer alike (his agent).
Lastly, is the man who was ranked second to Jose Bautista headed into the 2011 season and finished at the bottom of the second tier of a pretty weak group. It’s his potential and talent that has him in the second tier of keepers, but his value to you as a fantasy owner may be more tied up in the price you paid — because you likely have him somewhere in the mid-to-high 20’s and his value based on the trusty Fantasy Value Above Replacement chart is just a little more than five bucks. If you think Wright can return to his 30 home run and 20 stolen base level, he’s a sure keeper but his injuries this season held him back only to see him hit for .254/.345/.427 — hitting just 14 home runs while stealing 13 in about 450 plate appearances. The power outage wasn’t as bad as we saw in 2009, but it also never returned to his standard level of production. However, help is on the way — and it’s not in the form of regression, but bricks and mortar (well, probably foam padding and chain link in this case). The Mets are likely moving the fences in at Citi, and there’s probably nobody happier than David Wright. Perhaps a Shea Stadium love fest is on the horizon for Wright and Citi Field.