Hot Stove Baseball Free Agent Tracker: 3B

Third basemen make up another fruitful class of free agents, perhaps the most fruitful of the entire 2009 class. The trade market for third baseman is also pretty bare, which should add intrigue, as most of the trade candidates have at least one serious flaw: Mike Lowell (injury-prone), Kevin Kouzmanoff (has gotten worse at the plate, doesn’t walk), and Andy Marte (doesn’t do anything well) for example.

Last year, in an uncertain economic climate (that has turned into a crappy economy, but arguably non-disastrous), only Casey Blake signed a multi-year contract to play third base. The class in question though, had Joe Crede , Aaron Boone, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Mark Loretta battling for second-best at the position.

This year’s class is significantly better.

There should be at least two or three players signed to multi-year deals, and in all likelihood, at least a player or two will opt for a short term contract with eyes on future earnings.

*Note: Players with options will be kept off the list unless their options are projected as unexercised. No arbitration-eligible players will be included unless they are projected as non-tender free agents. Ages represent age on June 30, 2010

1. Chone Figgins, 32 years old

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 20: Infielder Chon...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Had Figgins been projected as a Type A free agent, there’s a strong possibility he’d have slid down this list. While he’s a fine player, his versatility has been overstated. He’s played games at several positions, but fields poorly at all but third base according to UZR.

However, what has gone more overstated than Figgins versatility is the lumping of third base into the “corner infielder” category when projecting offensive production. There simply aren’t many good offensive third basemen, and frankly, Figgins .298/.363/.388 line from 2008 would be an improvement on many clubs, not to mention Figgins stole 42 bases and walked 101 times in 2009.

2. Mark DeRosa, 35 years old

Mark DeRosa
Image via Wikipedia

DeRosa is something of an enigma to educated baseball fans. He’s a below-average fielder at every position but right field (where UZR shows he’s outstanding over 1193.1 innings), but gets added value as a utility guy. The only reason he’s listed as a third-baseman in this column is because he’s probably going to play infield wherever he goes, and he’s least-crappy at third.

One thing that DeRosa does well though, is to find a way to produce at the plate. In 2006, playing for the Rangers in the hitter friendly confines in Arlington, DeRosa didn’t hit a lot of homeruns, but managed 40 doubles. The following year with the Cubs, he upped his walk total, despite decreased power numbers. In 2008, arguably his breakout season, DeRosa managed 21 homers, 69 walks, and 30 doubles for a .285/.376/.481 line. Then, in slightly-reduced at-bats this season, he set a career-high for home runs (23), despite hitting only .250/.319/.433.

3. Adrian Beltre, 31 years old

A closeup of Adrián Beltré.
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Beltre is one of the hardest free agents to project. He’s relatively young, coming off of a monster contract, and could be looking to cash in now, for less, or play outside of Seattle for a season, produce offensively, and cash in bigger next offseason. While his 2004 season, (48 home runs, second in MVP voting) has come under scrutiny since steroid suspicion was legitimized, Beltre also played in perhaps the worst possible offensive fit for his skillset (Safeco Field).

Regardless of his offensive prowess or lack thereof, Beltre has arguably the best glove in the game at the hot corner. His career 13.3 UZR/150 has only faltered in one season (2007), when he posted a -3.4 UZR/150.

4. Miguel Tejada, 36 years old

Miguel Tejada
Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

Tejada has transformed from the underrated odd-man-out in a trio of young, offensively-gifted shortstops (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra) to one of only two remaining from the list still at the position, Jeter being the other. Unfortunately, like Jeter, Tejada should have been moved off of shortstop a long time ago.

Though Tejada posted a positive UZR in 2008, it was sandwiched between some pretty average to below-average seasons at the position, which culminated in an awful -13.5 UZR in 2009. Still, his 46 doubles and .313 average would look good in a lot of lineups, and while he’s never played third base in the majors (16,097.2 innings at shortstop), the ultra-durable Tejada should be fine there. Tejada will probably be a Type A free agent though.

5. Joe Crede, 32 years old

joe crede
Image by leath via Flickr

Crede is perhaps the most accurate embodiment of what third basemen used to be. He hits for power, but doesn’t walk, strikes out a lot, and doesn’t hit for high average. He’s also got a glove that can’t justify a move to first base, and a body that can’t handle the rigors of third base.

From 2003-2006 Crede played in 151, 144, 132, and 150 games. His best season at the plate was 2006, but a lot has gone wrong since then. Crede has battled back injuries since then, and has played 47, 97, and 90 games in the three seasons since then. When he’s healthy he’s arguably a top tier third baseman, but he hasn’t been healthy for three seasons.

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