The Texas Rangers made clear going into the offseason that addressing third base was atop their priority list. The Rangers have a number of quality third base prospects in the minors — Josh Jung, Sherten Apostel and Davis Wendzel could all see Frisco this year, and the AZL Rangers had Keithron Moss, Osleivis Basabe, Keyber Rodriguez, Derwin Barreto, and Cody Freeman on the team, all of whom are infielders and all of whom could conceivably emerge as a third base prospect at some point in the next couple of years.
In terms of players who are major league ready, however, the Rangers don’t have any really good options. Nick Solak can probably hit, and the Rangers tried him out at third base some last year, but he’s probably not a viable defensive option at the position (and realistically, if the Tampa Bay Rays thought he could handle third base, they probably wouldn’t have traded him). Danny Santana hit last year, but was terrible offensively the previous few years, is not good defensively at third base, and is probably going to give the Rangers more value as a versatile bench guy. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has a terrific glove at third base, but probably isn’t going to hit enough to be a starter. Patrick Wisdom, Asdrubal Cabrera and Logan Forsythe played third base for the Rangers last year, but none of them hit enough, Wisdom is now with Seattle, and Cabrera and Forsythe are free agents and not realistic candidates to be at third base for Texas in 2019.
At Nashville, Wisdom and Matt Davidson, who is a free agent and who isn’t good enough defensive at third base to play there every day, got the bulk of the playing time there. Also playing some third base for Nashville were Andy Ibanez and Juremi Profar, who are just organizational guys, and veteran journeyman Chase d’Arnaud. Eli White could probably play some third base, though he didn’t last year, but he didn’t hit in Nashville and was left off the 40 man roster this past offseason.
So the Rangers are going to have to go outside of the organization for their third baseman. We all know what Plan A was. I was going to do a write-up on the failed Anthony Rendon pursuit, which had everyone really angry for about 72 hours until the Corey Kluber trade made everyone happy again. I probably still will later this week. But clearly, the Rangers wanted to land Rendon, and failed.
Plan B is probably Josh Donaldson. I, personally, preferred Donaldson to Rendon in the first place, due to my bias in favor of shorter-term deals over long term deals, particularly when your window of contention probably isn’t quite open yet. Donaldson turned 34 earlier this month, has been terrific every year from 2013-19 except in 2018, when he was hurt, and would be a great short-term solution on a two or three year high AAV deal.
Alas, Donaldson supposedly wants four years. The Rangers don’t appear to be inclined to give him four years, and reports indicate that the Rangers are out. That being said, as we all know, players ask for things all the time that they don’t get, and if Donaldson were to be willing to take a three year deal, I suspect the Rangers would be very interested. And in adding Kluber, they make themselves more attractive as a contender, and thus may make themselves more attractive to Donaldson, who was (briefly) Kluber’s teammate in 2018.
The third base market this offseason reminds me of Alec Baldwin’s scene in Glengarry Glen Ross* when he is discussing the sales contest: “We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is, you’re fired.”
* That scene, and Alec Baldwin’s character, didn’t exist in David Mamet’s original stage version. He was added for the movie. If you go see Glengarry Glen Ross performed on stage, you won’t see Blake.
Anthony Rendon is a Cadillac Eldorado. Josh Donaldson is a set of steak knives. Everyone else is the type of player who can get you fired.
Nevertheless...someone has to play third base for the Rangers this offseason. That someone probably isn’t on the team. Donaldson is still a possibility. But if not Josh Donaldson, then who?
Jed Lowrie — New York Mets
This is my favorite non-Donaldson option. Lowrie, a 2005 first round pick of the Boston Red Sox out of Stanford*, is one of those who is always pretty good when he is not hurt and is pretty much always hurt. After going from Boston to Houston to Oakland back to Houston back to Oakland, Lowrie signed a 2 year, $20 million deal with the New York Mets after the 2018 season.
* The BoSox had five first round picks that year. They selected Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Lowrie, and Michael Bowden. That’s a really good group of picks. Interestingly, no one else drafted and signed by the BoSox in that draft made the majors, though they drafted (and did not sign) future major leaguers Pedro Alvarez, Charlie Blackmon, Kirby Yates, and Jason Castro.
Lowrie was coming off a pair of 4 win seasons for Oakland, so it seemed like a reasonable move. And Lowrie is a former Brodie Van Wagenen client — Van Wagenen, who was hired as the Mets g.m. last offseason, seemed to prioritize his former clients last offseason. Lowrie is currently represented by Casey Close, who is married to Gretchen Carlson, which is something that it may be only I find interesting.
Anyway, reasonable move or not, Lowrie logged a total of 8 plate appearances for the Mets in 2019, with an impressive .000/.125/.000 slash line, and missed pretty much the entire season due to a knee sprain.
With Jeff McNeil and Robinson Cano slated to man third base and second base, and with Peter Alonso at first base, the Mets don’t have a spot for Lowrie, and reportedly want to get out from under his $10 million due for 2020. The Rangers have reportedly inquired about Lowrie and Dom Smith, a former top prospect who had a solid year in a part-time role in 2019, but who, as a first baseman, is blocked by Alonso.
I suggested on Twitter that, with the Mets needing pitching depth, and the Rangers needing position players and having a good amount of pitching depth, a Kolby Allard, Jonathan Hernandez and Kyle Bird for Lowrie, Smith and Francisco Alvarez trade might make some sense.
Whether it is that deal, something more complex, or something simpler, the Rangers need a third baseman and have the ability to absorb payroll for 2020, the Mets have an extra third baseman who they want to get off their 2020 payroll, and there are enough expendable pieces on both sides that a deal seems workable. Lowrie, who turns 36 in April, gives the Rangers a one year stopgap while they see how quickly Josh Jung or Sherten Apostel might be ready and allows them to spend dollars and prospect capital elsewhere.
Todd Frazier — Free agent, formerly of the New York Mets
Frazier was a first round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, selected out of Rutgers one pick before the Rangers took Julio Borbon. After spending the bulk of his career with the Reds, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox prior to the 2016 season as part of a three team deal that sent ChiSox prospects to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dodgers prospects to the Reds. He was traded in July, 2017, along with Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson to the Yankees, then signed a two year, $17 million deal with the Mets after the 2017 season.
Frazier wasn’t particularly good in 2018, but was better in 2019. He’s a low average, high-K, quality defensive third baseman with some power. He was a consistent 3-5 win player from 2012-2017, and is now on the downside of his career.
Frazier turns 34 in February. He’s not sexy, and he could fall off a cliff, but he’s a righthanded bat with pop who is competent defensively at third base and would give the Rangers a cheap, hopefully league average stop gap for a year.
Kris Bryant — Chicago Cubs
Bryant is, like Joey Gallo, a Las Vegas native, and there’s been speculation about reuniting the two with the Rangers. Bryant was the #2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, with the Astros picking Mark Appel first overall, and famously was held down in the majors in favor of former Ranger Mike Olt at the start of the 2015 season so the Cubs could get an extra year of control from him.
The Cubs, having disappointed the last couple of years, are said to be looking to shake things up while not increasing payroll, and as part of that, are reportedly open to moving Bryant.
Bryant was an MVP-caliber player in 2015-2017, but has regressed offensively and defensively the past two seasons. He’s still really good — he was a 3.6 bWAR/4.8 fWAR guy in 2019, and around a 2 win player while missing a third of the season in 2018 — but he hasn’t been the 6-8 win player he was his first three years.
And there’s the business side of things. Bryant is likely going to be making $17-20 million in 2020 through arbitration. If he ends up going to arbitration in 2021, he is likely a $25 million player — however, there’s a grievance pending over the Cubs manipulating his service time, so he could end up being a free agent after 2020.
So a team trading for Bryant is looking at, best case, paying $45 million to a guy who has been an MVP caliber performer in the past, but has been “just” an above-average regular over the last couple of seasons. Its hard to get a read on what that is going to command.
Jon Daniels said at the Winter Meetings, in regards to guys who don’t have much team control left, something to the effect that the Rangers aren’t going to part with significant assets to acquire someone with one or two years remaining. Then the Rangers acquired Corey Kluber, who has just two years of team control remaining, but as we have previously discussed, giving up Delino DeShields and Emmanuel Clase doesn’t make a significant dent in the Rangers collection of talent.
Bryant might be different. Or Bryant might be a case where, as with Kluber, the Cubs are a motivated seller and they have identified someone with the Rangers that they really like, and who the Rangers are more than happy to part with to get a deal done. It just seems unlikely, to me.
And on a separate note, I’m rooting for Bryant to win his grievance. The Cubs clearly manipulated his service time, and they did it because they felt they could and there would be no repercussions. Monkeying with service time is something that is distasteful and is the result of teams refusing to act in good faith in their dealings with the players. It is unlikely that Bryant will win, but I’m rooting for him anyway, in the hopes it will help change the team-player dynamics.
Nolan Arenado — Colorado Rockies
I don’t even really want to mention Arenado, because it seems so unlikely, but people continue to talk about him, so here we are.
Arenado is one of the best third basemen in the league. He just finished the first year of an 8 year, $260 million contract. He will make $35 million per year from 2020-24, then $32 million in 2025, and then $27 million in 2026.
And he has an opt out after 2021. That means that, if the Rangers acquire him, they are either getting a guy who they will have for two years, and who will then opt out of his deal and become a free agent, or they will be getting a guy who, after two years, will have a contract paying him more than he could get in the open market.
And the Colorado Rockies probably aren’t dealing him without getting quality talent back.
Yes, its possible the Rockies could subsidize some of the deal, and its possible that Arenado could agree to give up the opt-out in exchange for other considerations, and its possible Texas could be willing to part with talent for a guy they’ve coveted.
It just seems really unlikely. Arenado is, I think, a pipe dream.
Matt Duffy — Free agent
Duffy has had two full, healthy seasons in the majors — one in 2015, when he put up a 4.7 bWAR for San Francisco, and one in 2018, when he put up a 2.4 bWAR for Tampa Bay. He’s considered a very good defensive third baseman who isn’t going to hit a ton, but hits enough to have value.
After a .252/.343/.327 slash line in 169 plate appearances in 2019, the Rays — who acquired him from San Francisco in the Matt Moore trade in 2016, and then saw him miss all of 2017 and much of 2019 — non-tendered him. He doesn’t turn 29 until January. He’s like Plan W, but if the Rangers don’t get a legitimate third baseman, he’s worth looking at as someone who could be an NRI and compete for a job this spring.
Evan Longoria — San Francisco Giants
Longoria, 34, was the #3 overall pick in the 2006 draft out of Cal State Long Beach by the Tampa Bay Rays. After they monkeyed with his service time, he signed a cheap long-term extension, and then signed another extension which takes him through 2022, with a 2023 team option. Tampa sent him to San Francisco after the 2017 season, and is paying someo f his deal through 2022.
Longoria, net of the Rays’ obligation, is owed $13 million for 2020, $16.5 million for 2021, and $14.5 million for 2022, with a $13 million option in 2023 that includes a $5 million buyout. he was a 2.0 bWAR guy in 2018 and had a 2.4 bWAR in 2019. He’s on the down side of his career, and its doubtful that you’ll want him as your starting third baseman in 2022.
That said, if the Giants are looking to shed salary, and are willing to absorb some of his contract to move him, or are willing to include a prospect or two to move him (though they just took Zack Cozart from the Angels in order to buy the #15 pick in the 2019 draft, Will Wilson, from them), he’s a possibility.