5. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
The sweet swinging San Diegan enjoyed the breakout campaign of the summer, capturing a silver slugger, gold glove, and finished 5th in the National League MVP voting. Prior to this year, Headley was a solid player who would showed the ability to hit for average, get on base, and play solid defense at the hot corner. What fueled his 2012 breakthrough was the drastic increase in power. Headley hit 31 home runs, saw his isolated power increase 100 points, and drove in a league leading 115 runs. What makes this emergence even more remarkable was the fact that Headley played in one of the most extreme pitcher’s parks (PETCO Park). On defense, Headley may not have deserved the Gold Glove awarded to him this past season, but still remains a strong fielder. He was six runs above average according to Ultimate Zone Rating and had the second highest fielding percentage among third baseman. Headley possesses a good amount of tools that allow him to be a threat on both sides of the ball. The only real question is what Headley will show up in 2013? Will he be the player that only hit 4 home runs in 2011 or the one that drove in 116 with 31 home runs in 2012? That remains to be seen and although it will be hard for Headley to repeat his successful 2012, Headley’s offensive improvements should be enough to make him a 4-5 win player.
4. Evan Longoria , Tampa Bay Rays
Despite missing over 80 games this past season, Longoria remains one of the best in the game. If healthy, I view Longoria as the preeminent third baseman and one of the best players in baseball. Offensively, there is little Longoria cannot do. He hits for solid contact (.289 AVG in 2012, .276 for career), gets on base at an above average clip (.369 OBP in 2012, .361 for career), and hits for good power as well (.527 SLG in 2012, .516 for career). Additionally, like Headley, Longoria plays half of his games in a pitcher's park, which make his numbers look even more impressive. However, Longoria's on-field talents do not stop there as he is a justifiable two time Gold Glove winner (as compared to those that win Gold Gloves with their bat) and excellent defender. He has averaged 14.4 defensive runs saved per year and has consistently been among the league leaders in fielding chances at the hot corner. Furthermore, even though Longoria is not a characteristic "burner" on the base paths, he is an above average base runner according to the Ultimate Base Running statistic (career +9 runs above average). There is little doubt that Longoria is an extremely talented ballplayer but the question with him remains his health. He has missed parts of every season with various injuries and ailments and should be a major concern for a player locked up for $136 million through the 2020 season. However, for the time being, Longoria is one of the best at his position and if healthy, could very well be a 5-6+ win player.
3. Adrian Beltre , Texas Rangers
Beginning here with Beltre, the next three decisions were extremely difficult, as each player has various strengths and weaknesses. With Beltre, he lacks any obvious weaknesses and is deservedly one of the best third baseman in the game. Defensively, Beltre is one of the best in the game with four career Gold Gloves and double-digit defensive runs saved in every season except for 2005 and 2007 (and in both of those seasons, Beltre still produced above average DRS ratings). Undoubtedly, whether from the eye test or defensive metrics, Beltre is lauded for his defensive prowess. Offensively, believe it or not, is where Beltre falls slightly behind his hot corner counterparts. The main reason for this comes down to his worse on-base skills and home-ballpark aid. This is not to say Beltre is a poor hitter by any means; he rates as one of the best in baseball as exemplified by his .321/.359/.561, 36 HR, and 102 RBI 2012 campaign. But when his ballpark is factored in, his numbers come out slightly worse than his competitors. Additionally, it should be noted that Beltre is the oldest player on this top five list (34) and is most likely to experience age-related decline in the coming years. Nevertheless, Beltre should be a good bet to be a 6+ win player, just as he has been over the past three seasons.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Before the torches and pitchforks are raised, what separated the reigning AL MVP from being the top third basemen in the game is his defensive deficiencies. Although the fact that Cabrera moved to third base was admirable, frankly, Cabrera just wasn't very good defensively. He was a -4 run defender going by defensive runs saved and was ten runs below average according to Ultimate Zone Rating. As good as Cabrera was with the bat, his defensive deficiencies definitely cut into some of his value at the hot corner and justify his ranking as the game's second best third basemen (still high praise, by the way). Offensively, there is not much to say except that Cabrera was a beast with the bat in his hands. Obviously, he won the first Triple Crown since 1967, but his offensive success does not stop with those three statistics. He lead the league in OPS, total bases, runs created, and extra base hits. Additionally, he was third overall in OPS+ (165, which I might add was behind Mike Trout's) and lead the AL in slugging percentage (.606). Overall, Cabrera's one sided-game, as good as it is, just is not enough for the honor of being the best third baseman. Regardless, Cabrera is one of the most consistent offensive performers of our generation and in my mind a slam dunk Hall of Famer barring a complete disaster to the rest of his career. It is very reasonable to see Cabrera being a 6-6.5 win player in 2013.
1. David Wright, New York Mets
Nowadays, Mr. Met has everything going for him. Owner of a brand-new $138 million contract, Wright stands alone on top of our third base rankings. Wright matches both the offensive abilities of Miguel Cabrera and defensive talents of Adrian Beltre. Defensively, Wright had 16 runs saved and a career low 10 errors in 155 games at the hot corner. Additionally, he had the second highest dWAR total (2.1) for a third baseman in 2012 and was 15 runs above average going by Ultimate Zone Rating. Offensively, Wright may not match Cabrera's exploits in the batter's box, but is no slouch himself. He had a 143 OPS+, .302/.391/.492 triple slash line with 21 HRs and 93 RBI. In addition, he accomplished this in a pitchers park that especially suppresses HR numbers and for the lowly 69-93 Mets. Wright will still be in his prime for the 2013 season (30 years old on Opening Day) and should remain one of the most productive players in the game. It would not be unthinkable for Wright and his multi-faceted game to again be around his 2012 WAR of 6.7 and be a 6+ win player next season.
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
BY: AIDAN FLYNN