After moving Matt Carpenter across the diamond, the St. Louis Cardinals will more than likely see a drop in production at the hot corner.
The National League Central has a clear top third baseman, but the next four spots could be argued in any order. After the young superstar heading the list, we have a handful of players who can each provide solid production. Without further ado, let’s figure out these power rankings.
1. Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant
Sorry, Cardinals fans, but the North Siders are going to have this one locked down for a while. Bryant has gotten off to a blistering start in his career, racking up two National League All-Star nods, the 2015 Rookie of the Year Award, the 2016 Most Valuable Player Award and, oh, a World Series ring through his sophomore campaign. His numbers weren’t too shabby last season (39 home runs, 102 runs batted in), but he’s still getting better, having turned 25 just yesterday. In fact, he managed to cut his strikeout total from 199 to 154 between 2015 and 2016. Bryant isn’t a plodding slugger by any means, though: his 7.3 runs of value on the basepath were sixth in baseball. Plus, he managed to make appearances not only at third base and first base, but every outfield spot, and even got an inning in at shortstop. All that and you have a guy who finished second only to Mike Trout in FanGraphs wins above replacement last year. Odds are, he’ll be just as good–or better–going forward.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates: Jung Ho Kang and David Freese
Kang’s biggest problems right now are off the field, where he’s been involved in a sexual assault investigation and (another) driving under the influence incident. On the field, however, Kang has been fabulous since coming over from South Korea. Despite playing only 103 games in 2016 due to injury, Kang slashed .255/.354/.513/.867, good for a 133 weighted runs created plus, or 33 percent better than league average. His method of production was slightly different than it was during his rookie year; in 2015, he had a .173 ISO and .344 batting average on balls in play, good for solid power and a high average. During his sophomore year, though, his ISO spiked to .258 while his BABIP dipped to .273, hence the drop in average and extra pop. Regardless, Kang is a legitimate three to four WAR player who simply needs to get his life in order to continue being a valuable member of the Pirates.
Freese, as we all know, is a Cardinals fan favorite who will continue to get a standing ovation every time he comes to the plate in Busch Stadium regardless of the uniform he wears. Though he no longer has a starting job, he continues to provide the utmost consistency at the dish. His last four wRC+ marks: 105, 105, 110, 110. Consistent. He’s been a roughly two fWAR player in each of the last three seasons, but it’s hard to tell if he’ll get enough playing time in 2017 to do it again. Still, Freese provides strong depth at both corners for Pittsburgh.
3. St. Louis Cardinals: Jhonny Peralta and Jedd Gyorko
After moving Matt Carpenter to first base, third base becomes arguably the weakest spot on the diamond for the Redbirds. Peralta had a stellar debut season in St. Louis, good for 5.3 fWAR in 2014. He was solid again in 2015, with a characteristic 1.7 fWAR campaign. Last year, however, was a disaster, as Peralta played just 82 games around injuries, hitting to a measly .260/.307/.408/.715 line and play poor defense for a total value of minus-0.5 fWAR. We’ve seen Peralta at his best; the question is if the veteran, going into his age-35 season, can rebound to provide at least decent production.
If not, enter Gyorko. Expect Gyorko to back up pretty much everywhere on the infield in 2017, so chances are he’ll see time at third. By this point, we all know about Gyorko: the Cardinals acquired him for cheap after two down seasons with the San Diego Padres, and he bounced back in a big way in St. Louis. Still just 28 years old, Gyorko hit 30 home runs, his ISO spiking from .150 in 2015 to .253 in 2016. He was worth 2.3 fWAR this go-round, but I wouldn’t quite expect that as the power inevitably takes a tumble. Still, Gyorko should provide quality insurance for St. Louis.
4. Cincinnati Reds: Eugenio Suarez
Suarez, a shortstop by trade, originally signed with the Detroit Tigers back in 2008, ending up in Cincinnati via the Alfredo Simon trade. The 2016 season was a breakout one for Suarez, who bashed 21 home runs while playing every day for the first time. It was the continuation of a strong finish to 2015, when he posted a .167 isolated power en route to a .163 mark in 2016. Still, the sudden big league pop is a bit surprising from a guy who hit just 41 home runs in 2461 minor league plate appearances (he now has 38 home runs in 1302 major league PA). Is that power sustainable? One reason it might not be: last year, before the All-Star Break, Suarez hit .228/.295/.402/.697 with 15 home runs. After the break, he was better across the board, hitting .272/.344/.421/.765, but with just six long balls. Whichever Suarez is the real one, the Reds should be able to count on solid production from the hot corner.
5. Milwaukee Brewers: Travis Shaw and Hernan Perez
The Brew Crew acquired the Mayor of Ding Dong City (don’t ask me, that’s his official nickname according to Baseball-Reference) in a trade with the Boston Red Sox this offseason. He wasn’t all that good in 2016, hitting 13 percent worse than league average, but wasn’t all that bad, I suppose, providing enough defensive value for a 1.5 fWAR campaign. There’s hope to be found in his strong 2015 cup of coffee, when he hit .270 with 13 home runs in just 65 games (116 wRC+).
Still, I’m not sure how much Milwaukee actually gained in making this deal. The Brewers were set to have Jonathan Villar play second base and Hernan Perez, who had a solid 2016, man the hot corner. Perez has both power and speed, hitting 13 homers with 34 stolen bases last year. Though he’ll no longer start regularly, he’ll get his fair share of playing time, as he managed to play every position other than pitcher and catcher at least once in 2016.
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