To call third base a patchwork position for the Mets last season would put it mildly. Five players logged more than 100 innings at the hot corner, while the leader Wilmer Flores barely reached 425. Nolan Arenado played more than 1,300 innings at third base, to get an idea of the scale.
Injuries no doubt played a role, first and foremost the perpetual maladies David Wright seems to now deal with. But no player earned a regular spot in the lineup either. Asdrubal Cabrera led the way in terms of WAR and wRC+, but most of that came while he played shortstop before Amed Rosario’s promotion. His defense at third was also brutal according to UZR, though DRS rated it as roughly average.
The Mets could keep Cabrera at third to start the 2018 season, but it would probably be more prudent to move him over to second and hit the free agent market for a more steady solution—especially when you take a look at some of the players they could add.
The Top of the Crop
Todd Frazier led free agent third baseman in terms of WAR last season. Splitting time between the White Sox and Yankees, the consistent slugger hit 27 home runs, his lowest total in four years. Frazier is no doubt a flawed player; he strikes out a ton and had a .213 batting average last season. But the power combined with good defense would make him a staple in the Mets lineup.
Other Good Options
While Frazier outdid Mike Moustakas in terms of WAR last season, the Moose may be a better fit for the Mets. He set a Royals franchise record with 38 home runs in 2017, all while playing half his games in the cavernous Kauffman Stadium. The lefty hitter was much worse against southpaws, with a wRC+ of just 98 compared to 119 versus, but that’s somewhat mitigated as long as lefty punisher Wilmer Flores is still on the active roster. Moustakas is also the youngest player on the list. At 29 he’s no prospect, but he arguably has the most prime years left in his career.
Eduardo Nunez put up equally impressive numbers, despite missing time due to injury. He put up an impressive slash line of .313/.341/.460 over 114 games with the Giants and Red Sox. He’d also bring some speed to the top of the lineup, notching 24 stolen bases in 2017. The Mets could also bring Jose Reyes back if speed is what they’re looking for. He was, however, not nearly as good a hitter as Nunez was last season.
Three guys who spent time with the Angels last year could serve as decent stopgap measures, if that’s the way the Mets choose to go. Brandon Phillips is the best players, but third base is by no means his natural position. He had a 96 wRC+ and 1.6 WAR while spending most of his time at second base. Yunel Escobar and Cliff Pennington essentially split time last season, playing 89 and 87 games respectively. Escobar was the much better hitter, with a slash line of .274/.333/.397 compared to Pennington’s .253/.306/.330.
Josh Rutledge, Conor Gillaspie, and Jhonny Peralta all had negative WAR in limited action last season. It could be they would’ve been more respectable with more time on the field, but none of them has a recent track record of of being an above-replacement level player. Darwin Barney was equally bad over more time on the field, with a .602 OPS over 362 plate appearances.
No one, however, was as bad as Trevor Plouffe. He posted a pitcher-worthy stat line of .198/.272/.318 and wRC+ of 58. He also played below-average defense, leading to a -1.2 WAR. Yet somehow, he played 100 games with the Athletics and Rays. My one piece of advice to the Mets: don’t sign him.
It’s not a deep free agent market at third base, but there are certainly some options for the Mets that would be a major upgrade from last season. If Sandy Alderson and the front office want to devote big bucks elsewhere, there are also several wallpaper options to plug in. It’ll be interesting to see whether they look for the quick fix or try to find a long-term solution at the hot corner.