If you thought things were sparse elsewhere on the infield, wait until you see what third base is offering for potential keeper building blocks. Before the season started, I saw third base as easily the second-worst position on the diamond behind shortstop. There has been some nice improvement in the middle tiers of shortstop to the point where you could reasonably make a case that the two have now flip-flopped.
If it weren’t for Jose Bautista qualifying at third base, the position would be in really big trouble. It is still a troubled wasteland primarily because it started thin and has since been ravaged by injuries. Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval, Martin Prado, Scott Rolen, David Freese and Placido Polanco have all missed time due to injury this year. All but Polanco have hit the disabled list, while Polanco is currently day-to-day with back pain that has been troubling him for a month and has no doubt impacted his modest output this year (.274 batting average, a category you draft him to excel in).
I came up with six potential candidates, though one will take an arm and a leg (literally) to pry away from a leaguemate:
Jose Bautista (TOR, 30) – Yes, this of course is the arm & a leg guy. He is probably no more than $10 in any league depending on how free agents are acquired and how their contracts work and when you couple that incredible price with the fact that he has been arguably the best player in the game (Matt Kemp’s speed might put him #1), you have a helluva price tag. Unless it requires several of the keepers you were planning on for 2012, it might not be a bad idea to pay the hefty price to get Bautista. It would take a unique set of circumstances to acquire him from a leaguemate, but given how cheap he should be in keeper leagues, you have to take a shot.
Pablo Sandoval (SF, 24) – The Kung Fu Panda is back after a rough season in 2010 and if it weren’t for his missed time on the disabled list, he probably would have made a serious run at the starting third base gig for the NL All-Star team. He should still be cheap from any initial contract in your league, but if for some reason he was on the open market this March, he is probably still at a fair keeper price given the reaction to his modest output last year (.268/.323/.409 with 13 HR, 63 RBI). The most games he can play this year is 121 and yet he is still on pace for 21 home runs, not bad considering he hit 25 in 153 back in 2009.
Adrian Beltre (TEX, 32) – He was coming off of a down season in 2009 which caused his value to be depressed even as he headed into Boston last year. Thus he could be on a nice contract in your league. This won’t apply to all leagues, but I had to include him just in case. He will be a bit older, but he’s got great power at a scarce position. That’s keeper-worthy.
Martin Prado (ATL, 27) – Nothing against Prado, but when he is our fourth potential keeper at third base, you know it is thin. He has definite value, but it is tied to his batting average which can suffer in a year due to luck. I just think we might have the next Placido Polanco on our hands, which isn’t bad, but hardly a great building block. Remember, Polanco had back-to-back double digit home run seasons at 27 & 28 years old sandwiched by seasons of nine at 26 and 29.
Mike Moustakas (KC, 22) – In a dynasty league, he probably moves up a spot or two on this list, but even when building a keeper list during a lost season, I’m still gunning to win the very next season so I have him down here because there is no certainty he will be all that fantasy relevant in his second season. We saw ups & downs in his minor league career and I suspect we will see the same as a big leaguer so at 23 next year, we might see more growing pains than fantasy-worthy production. But like I said, dynasty leaguers who can keep him forever might want to invest in him over a Beltre or Prado.
Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE, 22) – Even though he will be the same age as Mous next year, I think he will be more fantasy relevant, but his ceiling isn’t as high. He doesn’t profile to have game-changing power and of course there is still the fact that he cannot hit lefties worth a lick. He is someone to look at for AL-Only and deep mixed league players. I don’t think he is someone you want to invest in as a keeper for 10 & 12-team mixed leagues right now.
I don’t think I forgot any deserving candidates, but please feel free to let me know if you think I have made any egregious omissions.