Position-by-position trade deadline preview: Third base


This is the fourth in a series of articles looking at players who might be available in the days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.
Jose Bautista (Blue Jays) – Bautista has played twice as much right field as third base this year and it’s quite possible that he’d be a full-time outfielder if traded, but since he remains a solid defender at the hot corner — and certainly a better one than the Jays’ nominal third baseman, Edwin Encarnacion — I’m listing him here. It was Bautista’s ability to hit left-handers that seemed to be keeping him in the league prior to this year, but he’s come through with a 916 OPS against right-handers in 2010, and he is, of course, leading the majors with 26 homers. The Giants, White Sox, Tigers and Braves have asked about Bautista, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. The Jays have to decide whether it’s worth trading him at the probable peak of his value or risk paying him $7 million-$8 million next year in his final season before free agency. I think he’ll go, quite possibly to San Francisco.
Jorge Cantu (Marlins) – Cantu has been a full-time third baseman this year, but he fits best at first base. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t hit like a top-flight first baseman. While he’s on pace to drive in 90 runs for the third straight season, his OPS is just 723, down from 808 in 2008 and 788 last year. He could still be useful if he comes cheap, but the Marlins will want legitimate prospects in return and he’s not worth it. The Giants, Angels and Rockies have displayed limited interest, though the Angels may have lost theirs when they brought in Alberto Callaspo. He figures to stay in Florida for now.
Ty Wigginton (Orioles) – Wigginton has played more first base and second base this year, but no contender should want him as a regular at second and his bat plays better at third than at first. The 32-year-old free-agent-to-be followed up the best two-month run of his career with a pretty awful June and first half of July, but he’s bounced back with six extra-base hits in eight games since the All-Star break. The Orioles placed a pretty astronomical price tag on his head after his brilliant start, but they’ll likely be willing to accept quite a bit less as the deadline nears. The Phillies, Yankees, Rangers and Rockies are believed to have discussed him with the Orioles. Detroit is another obvious fit now with Brandon Inge absent.
Jose Lopez (Mariners) – Lopez’s transition from second base to third has gone better than anyone could have imagined, as he’s played some exceptional defense at his new position. His bat, though, hasn’t nearly caught up. He’s hitting just .235/.266/.336 through 387 at-bats, a huge decline from the respectable 760-770 OPSs he amassed over the previous two seasons. Lopez is still just 26, and his contract includes a reasonable $4.5 million option for next year. He might not make sense for a contender, but maybe a team like the Royals or Blue Jays could take a flier and let his August/September performance dictate whether he’s brought back. The Mariners are clearly ready to move on.
Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays) – Of course, Lopez would only work for Toronto if the team admitted that last year’s gamble has proven a failure. Encarnacion figures to have more 25-homer seasons in his future, but he’s not a third baseman and the Jays really should have tried him in the outfield back in spring training. Encarnacion has already cleared waivers once this season, and a trade seems pretty unlikely because of his lack of defensive value. One would think he’s athletic enough to make it in the outfield, but he’d need to get some work there before a major league team could plug him in.
Jhonny Peralta (Indians) – At .251/.313/.396, Peralta is having another underwhelming season. Still, he has a couple of advantages over several of the other third basemen here. For one, he’s spent most of his career at shortstop, and though he lacks range there, he could still fill in as a starter for a couple of weeks if needed. I also get the feeling that teams think he’d fare better as a bench player than most other regulars suddenly taken out of a starting role would. The Indians have no intention of picking up his $7 million option for 2011, so he’s a strong candidate to go, perhaps in August if not before the deadline. The Yankees, Tigers and Reds should be interested.
Andy LaRoche (Pirates) – With Pedro Alvarez up, LaRoche hasn’t made a start for the Pirates in three weeks. It’s not as though he didn’t deserve to be replaced — he’s hit just .232/.300/.310 in 203 at-bats — but he probably is worthy of one more opportunity. In 2009, he was pretty much an average regular while hitting .258/.330/.401 and playing very good defense at third. The Indians are one team that might be willing to give him a shot during the final two months, assuming that they can find a taker for Peralta first. The Pirates probably won’t require much in return.
Mike Lowell (Red Sox) – Lowell’s injury issues essentially took him out of Boston’s plans and have made him pretty much impossible to deal so far. He’s currently on a rehab assignment after going on the DL with his chronic hip problem, and he believes he’s ready to come back and contribute. His bat would help any number of contenders if only he could be counted on to remain in the lineup. The Red Sox, though, have extra incentive to move him with their luxury-tax issues and probably will get something done, even if it means eating every penny that he’s still owed. Detroit and Texas are the most obvious suitors.
Pedro Feliz (Astros) – Feliz has been a disaster for the Astros this year, hitting just .216/.240/.307 in 264 at-bats. He’s still a pretty good defensive third baseman at age 35, but he’s not what he used to be, and given his lack of versatility, it’s hard to imagine that any team would want him as a bench player.
Wes Helms (Marlins) – Strictly a bench player, the veteran Helms has hit .242/.305/.383 in 120 at-bats for the Marlins this season. Money is a non-factor here, as Helms is making $950,000 in the second year of a two-year deal. The Yankees and Rangers have been mentioned in connection with him, but his only real strength is pinch-hitting and there are several better backup first basemen/third basemen wasting away in Triple-A.
First base
Second base

2018 Preview: New York Mets

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The New York Mets.

Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Mets in 2017, so the fact that they won 70 games is actually remarkable. Their hailed rotation was a shambles, as Noah Syndergaard made only seven starts. Zack Wheeler put up a 5.21 ERA over 17 starts; Matt Harvey was even worse with a 6.70 ERA across 18 starts and one relief appearance. Steven Matz compiled a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts. Just about the only consistency the club had came from Jacob deGrom, who finished with a career-high 3.53 ERA in 31 starts.

The rotation, as of right now, is healthy, save for deGrom, who has been battling a minor back issue during this spring. But so far, so good for everyone else. Well, there was Jason Vargas, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Mets last month and suffered a non-displaced fracture of the hamate bone in his non-throwing hand. He underwent surgery and is expected to return shortly after the start of the regular season. But I mean, at least they still have everyone else!

Well, Michael Conforto is still recovering from shoulder surgery last September. The Mets are targeting May 1 for his return. That’s everyone, right? Wright? Where’s David Wright? The third baseman underwent two surgeries in September and October last year for his shoulder and back and still isn’t feeling well enough to play baseball, so the Mets shut him down for eight weeks.

The Mets haven’t had a legitimate full-time third baseman since 2014, Wright’s last full season. No Mets third baseman has played more than 55 games in a season at third base in the last three seasons. So the club went out and signed Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million contract. Frazier split last season with the White Sox and Yankees, hitting a combined .213/.344/.428 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI. While Frazier is now 32 years old and has seen a decline in power, he did set a career-high in walk rate last year at 14.4 percent and he’s still a solid defender. Frazier is still more than a capable player and he’ll look like a Greek god at the hot corner compared to what the Mets have trotted out there lately.

Shortstop at Citi Field now belongs to 22-year-old Amed Rosario. Among the top prospects in baseball, Rosario struggled last year, batting .248/.271/.394 across 46 games. Rosario has the most upside of any position player on the Mets’ roster, so his success will play a rather large factor in the team’s success this year. He can be a doubles and triples machine and a big threat on the bases if he gets his feet underneath him against big league competition.

Asdrubal Cabrera will handle second base. He’s been, quietly, quite good for the Mets over the last two seasons, offering a solid offensive approach along with his versatility – he played second and third base as well as shortstop last season. Now 32 years old, Cabrera hit .280/.351/.434 with 14 home runs and 59 RBI last season, which is more than enough when manning a position in the middle of the infield.

At first base, the Mets were able to pluck Adrian Gonzalez off the free agent wire. Gonzalez had gone to the Braves in the Matt Kemp trade, but the Braves quickly dropped him. The 35-year-old had a nightmarish 2017, compiling a .642 OPS in 71 games as he was bothered by back issues throughout the year. He became overshadowed in Los Angeles by Cody Bellinger, who won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, so the Dodgers had no reason to keep him around. Dominic Smith had been another first base option but he suffered a quad injury early in spring training and likely won’t be ready by Opening Day.

Travis d’Arnaud will get the lion’s share of starts behind the plate, backed up by Kevin Plawecki. d’Arnaud provides power, which is always nice to have from a catcher, but he doesn’t hit for average or draw walks, so his batting average and on-base percentage are underwhelming. And while d’Arnaud hasn’t been anything to write home about stopping the running game, he’s regarded as a good pitch framer.

In left field will stand the Mets’ biggest offensive threat, Yoenis Cespedes. Sadly, the slugger was limited to 81 games last year as he battled various leg injuries. When he was in the lineup, he hit .292/.352/.540 with 17 home runs and 42 RBI in 321 plate appearances. Among hitters who have taken at least 1,000 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season, only 21 have put up a higher weighted on-base average than Cespedes (.368), who finds himself just ahead of Carlos Correa and just behind Corey Seager on that list.

Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo will share center field for the time being. Nimmo is having a big spring, putting up a .283/.361/.585 line with eight extra-base hits and 10 RBI in 61 spring plate appearances. He’s likely to bat leadoff against right-handed starters. Lagares isn’t having nearly as good a spring (.483 OPS) but will be in the lineup against lefties and will provide value with his Gold Glove-caliber defense. It’s also quite possible the Mets will trade him as they have gotten some interest lately.

Jay Bruce returns to right field after inking a three-year, $39 million contract in January. The slugger put up a solid .254/.324/.508 line last year between the Mets and Indians with 36 home runs and 101 RBI. Though he struggled – for the most part — in his first go-around with the Mets in the second half of 2016, he’s good for at least 25 home runs and 90 RBI if he can stay healthy, which the soon-to-be 31-year-old has been able to do in recent years.

New manager Mickey Callaway says he plans to use a closer-by-committee which will include Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins, A.J. Ramos and Anthony Swarzak. It’s a committee that could certainly have success, but Familia and Ramos are both coming off of down years and Swarzak has been slowed in spring training by a calf injury. The Mets will also have Paul Sewald, Hansel Robles, Rafael Montero, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman providing help from the ‘pen. Wheeler could as well if the Mets determine he can provide more in a relief role than in a starting role.

With all their warts, the Mets do have a competitive roster. The starting rotation has the potential to be really good, led by a now-healthy Syndergaard and followed by deGrom. The offense should be a buoy in the midst of all of the other displeasing variance the Mets will likely wade through during the season. The bullpen won’t be world-beating but will likely not be a serious source of concern given their options. FanGraphs is projecting the Mets to win 82 games while PECOTA has them at 81, which means they’ll be in the mix for the NL Wild Card. That sounds about right to me, but ultimately I think they’ll fall just a bit short of .500.

Prediction: 79-83, third place in NL East.