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Bret Sayre kicks off a week of coverage on third basemen here at Fake Teams by taking a step back and analyzing the position as a whole.
You're going to see a lot of information this week on individual third basemen, whether it's player profiles, rankings or prospect information. But before we get into those specifics, it can be very helpful to take a step back. The idea behind this State of the Position series, which will run at the beginning of each week of coverage, is to give you a sense of what to expect from the position as a whole in various types of leagues.
It's very easy to notice the difference between the third base position for 2013 drafts and the third base position for 2012 drafts. The top-10 alone has three new names in it -- two who have gained eligibility from another position (Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez) and one, in Chase Headley, who had a true breakout season in 2012. And that's not even taking into account the two new faces in the AL East, Will Middlebrooks and Manny Machado, who are in that next group down. On top of that, the only players the position lost from last year were outside the top-15 -- Chipper Jones to retirement and both Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Reynolds to 1B (E5 had a great season, but ranked 18th at 3B in the pre-season).
One additional thing you'll notice when you look across the position categorically is that there's very little speed to speak of -- though that should not come as much of a surprise. In fact, in 2012, only Hanley Ramirez and Chase Headley stole more than 15 bases from the position. This is what gives players like Hanley, Wright, Brett Lawrie (who stole 13 bases in just 125 games) a little extra boost in value -- as when the entire position combines for less than 300 SB, having a guy who can steal 20 (in addition to contributing in the power categories) can give you a nice advantage. For reference, that's nearly half of what 2B and SS provided in the category and only about 100 more than the SB production at first base.
The League Breakout
In the official Fake Teams consensus ranks (which will be coming out in subsequent posts), the National League leads the American League in our top-25 by a score of 13 to 12. The interesting part is that the leagues break out in very different ways, with the American League hogging most of the star power and the National League claiming most of the useful depth. In fact, after the top three guys off the board (Miggy, Beltre, Longoria -- All AL), 9 out of the next 12 on the list are from the senior circuit.
The different strengths of each league lead to very different strategies for single league participants. In AL-only leagues, I'm doing what I can to get one of the big three guys. There's a big drop-off after them and the owners who don't have their position filled early on will get into bidding wars for the likes of Brett Lawrie, Manny Machado and Kyle Seager -- then before you're looking at A-Rod and Youkilis. Not ideal. In NL-only leagues, sit back and let the market dictate where you go. David Wright is the biggest name, but that whole group of A-Ram, Zimmerman, Panda and others have considerable upside. You just don't want to wait too long, as the pool really dries up very quickly once guys like Todd Frazier, Michael Young and Eric Chavez are off the board. After that, you're effectively down to Luis Cruz and Matt Dominguez -- and that might put you squarely behind the 8-ball.
Playing Russian Roulette
Third base has settled into a position which is more about the known than the unknown, which can lull owners into a sense of security they probably shouldn't have. Yes, there are a lot of options and most of them are pretty reliable, but every year one of the big guys at the position gets hurts and puts your team at a severe disadvantage. In 2012, it was Evan Longoria, who only managed to play in 74 games after tearing his hamstring. In 2011, it was David Wright, who not only missed more than 60 games, but played poorly even when he was healthy. And the problem is that all of these players are getting older.
Of the top-8 players at the position, only Evan Longoria will be younger than 29 years old for the majority of the 2013 season -- and he comes with his more injury risk than most of his counterparts anyway. In fact, of the top-12 players at the position, Miguel Cabrera is the only one who does not have a season of 125 games played or less (because of injury reasons) on their resume in at least one of the last three years. Not to say there's really anything you can do about this, other than hope the chamber is on an empty when it's your turn, but it's at least worth mentioning as you may want to have a reserve in tow when you leave your draft.
The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
Both the depth and statistical similarities between many of the top third basemen lead to a pretty simple conclusion on draft day at the position -- set your values and see where you can get the most bang for your buck. Getting Miguel Cabrera is great, but getting Aramis Ramirez for half the price (or a 6th-7th round pick) might be even better. Same with getting David Freese for a quarter of the price. And the list goes on.
In shallow leagues, I would not only wait out the position and see where you can clean up, but I would also reach a little for Manny Machado in the later rounds of the draft. He is unlikely to go before the last four to five rounds of a 10-team draft and there's a chance he could really break out (not Mike Trout break out, but if that's the baseline for a break out these days, I give up).
In deeper leagues, I would make sure to grab one of the top-7 guys in our consensus ranks (and I'd even add Pablo Sandoval to that list, as you can tell by my individual rank of him) as it just gets pretty risky after that. And that's regardless of whether you're paying the premium you'll need to for Brett Lawrie, Will Middlebrooks and Chase Headley or waiting for a likely overpriced shot at Kyle Seager or Todd Frazier. The big guys at this position are big guys for a reason -- and they are not to be trifled with.
The Rest of the Week
Now that we've covered the position from a macro perspective, it's time to dig into the players. Ray will be bringing you the first part of our 2013 consensus positional rankings next (in just a few short hours), so stay tuned for that - along with our third base prospect coverage which starts tomorrow morning with Jason and Craig. The rest of the writing staff here will be working on bringing you in-depth profiles and sleeper picks. We've got a lot of information coming your way for both the rest of this week and the rest of the off-season, so empty some space in your brain and be prepared for an informational avalanche. Remember, if you haven't started your 2013 draft prep yet, you're already behind someone in your league (especially if you play in a league with me).