We’ve already previewed a few different positions in this year’s free-agent market, beginning with catcher and first base. Third base is up next, and I’ll note in advance that there are of course quite a few notable shortstops who could conceivably be viewed as fits at the hot corner for teams in need. Any from the Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story ranks could surely be viewed as a candidate to slide over to third base — Semien moved from shortstop to second base in free agency last winter, after all — but they’ll all be highlighted in more depth in our look at the shortstop market.
Here’s a look at the offseason collection of third base options…
Kris Bryant (30 years old next season):
The clear top of this year’s class, Bryant figures to command one of the largest contracts of any free agent this winter. The former No. 2 overall draft pick, Rookie of the Year and MVP has put a dismal 2020 showing in the rear-view mirror, bouncing back with a strong .268/.356/.496 batting line in 556 plate appearances between the Cubs and the Giants. He’s connected on 25 home runs and 32 doubles while significantly improving upon last year’s poor strikeout and walk rates.
Bryant has been a very, very good hitter — about 30 percent better than league average, per wRC+ — in three of the past four seasons. He’s a true middle-of-the-order hitter, but he’s never fully matched his brilliant 2016-17 production, when he was nearly 50 percent better than the average hitter. Agent Scott Boras will surely push Bryant as an option at either infield corner and in any of the three outfield spots, championing his client’s defensive versatility and the value that brings to a suitor. There’s plenty of truth to that, honestly, but it should also be noted that Bryant isn’t exactly a plus defender at all of those positions, either. Bryant won’t be eligible for a qualifying offer after being traded midseason.
Eduardo Escobar (33): A recent slump has tanked Escobar’s overall batting line a bit, but he’s a switch-hitter with above-average offense, plenty of pop in his bat and decent defensive marks at both third base and second base over the past few seasons. Escobar is two long balls shy of his second 30-homer season in the past three years. The 2020 season was an immense struggle for him, but Escobar has been a quality bat in the past three full-length seasons. He’s walking at a career-best 8.3 percent clip in 2021, including a 10.7 percent mark since being traded from Arizona to Milwaukee. Escobar has played plenty of shortstop in his career but has just two innings there since 2018. He’ll most likely be viewed as a pure third baseman/second baseman.
Utility Infielders with Experience at Third
Players with 2022 Options
Kyle Seager, Mariners, $20 million club option ($3 million buyout): The Mariners’ call on Seager will be one of the more interesting option decisions a team has to make this offseason. He’s hitting a personal-worst .215 with the second-lowest OBP of his career (.292). But Seager has popped 35 home runs, bringing his overall batting line to slightly above the league average. He’s still a good defender at the hot corner and a career-long Mariner who’s been a respected member of the franchise for more than a decade. Seventeen million dollars isn’t an insignificant sum, but Seattle will enter the offseason with plenty of payroll flexibility. This one feels it could go in either direction, and Seager would jump up alongside Escobar at the top of the non-Bryant market at the position if he’s bought out.
Jose Ramirez, Indians, $11 million club option ($2 million buyout): There won’t be many easier decisions for a team this winter than there is for the Cleveland front office on Ramirez’s fairly cheap option. It’s an absolute bargain for one of the best players in the sport.
Wilmer Flores, Giants, $3.5 million club option ($250,000 buyout): Flores has roughly the equivalent of one full season’s worth of at-bats since signing with San Francisco over the 2019-20 offseason. He’s hitting .261/.323/.472 in that time, showing power and quality bat-to-ball skills. Flores can play multiple positions and has a long history of mashing left-handed pitching. For a high-payroll club, the $3.5 million option looks like an easy yes.
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals, $18.5 million club option ($2 million buyout): Carpenter’s option is a lock to be bought out. A bit of a late-bloomer, Carpenter found his stride in his late-20’s and kicked off a seven-year run from 2012-18 as one of the game’s better offensive players. His work at the plate has fallen substantially since then, particularly over the past two seasons. With a .180/.316/.299 line since the start of 2020, Carpenter might be looking at minor-league offers this winter. However, the 35-year-old is planning on giving it another go.
Nolan Arenado, Cardinals, opt-out clause (five years, $164 million remaining): Arenado has said on multiple occasions that he plans to forgo his opt-out clause and remain with the Cardinals long-term. Were he to unexpectedly change course, he’d be among the top names on the entire free-agent market, but that seems unlikely.