The next stop on our little tour around the American League East is discussing the fine players who man the hot corner within the division. We've already covered that Cano, Zobrist, and Pedroia lead the division at second base, that Adrian Gonzalez took first base in a landslide offensively, and that Matt Wieters ruled over the other AL East catchers, but who leads the pack at third?
Brett Lawrie is the only new face in the mix this season at third base, and he's not even wholly new. He did quite well for himself in a small sample size of 43 games in 2011. Alex Rodriguez was plagued with injuries last season, missing a good chunk of the season to this or that. Evan Longoria is signed to one of the most team-friendly deals in baseball and continues to live up to the expectations placed upon him, but has also dealt with a few injuries of his own recently. Mark Reynolds...hits dingers? Yep, that about sums it up. I don't really know how much that counts in his favor, though, because all these guys hit their fair share of dingers. Definitely something to consider, I guess.
I'm running out of things to say in these intros, so follow the jump for the less rambling portion of the post.
I must say, finishing second in WAR among third basemen after only playing 99 games either says a whole lot about the third basemen of this division, or a whole lot about A-Rod. Not really sure which. Aside from that, there is really not anything very surprising about this.
All stats via Fangraphs.
By WAR standards, Longoria has everyone beat. He was second in the division to only Mark Reynolds in home runs last season with 31 while playing very solid defense at third. His walk% was the highest and his strikeout% was the lowest among the other AL East third basemen, demonstrating his strong plate discipline. For the salary the Rays pay him, it would be hard to argue that you wouldn't love to have him on your team.
Alex Rodriguez is basically the anti-Longoria in terms of salary, but is certainly a highly productive force in the lineup when healthy. He missed out on 30 home runs/100 RBI for the first time in 2011, and saw most of his power zapped by nagging injuries. On the advice of Kobe Bryant, Rodriguez traveled to Germany to have an experimental procedure performed on his knee in hopes of staying productive and on the field in 2012. He has definitely looked healthy so far in Spring Training with very encouraging results that Yankee fans can only hope continue when it counts.
To make room for Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox had Kevin Youkilis move to third base at the beginning of last season. His offensive numbers were not great, and very comparable to what A-Rod did over the course of the year, hitting 17 home runs to Rodriguez's 16. His defense was unspectacular, but certainly not the train wreck it could have been when switching to a more demanding position. The Red Sox will definitely be hoping that Youk returns to the Youk of old for 2012.
Brett Lawrie only played in 43 major league games last season, but definitely made his presence felt in the Blue Jays' lineup in that short amount of time. He hit nine home runs and played very solid defense to go along with it. If Lawrie can continue his hot hitting during his first full season in the majors, he will definitely challenge the veterans around the division in production, which the Blue Jays desperately need to add to their lineup along side Jose Bautista.
Oh, Mark Reynolds. What encouraging things can I say about you? He hits a lot of home runs, which is helpful. Aside from that, things are not so positive. He plays a dreadful defense and struck out in 31.6% of his at-bats last season. There isn't much room to hope for better, because that's just who Mark Reynolds is.
A-Rod is signed for the next millennium at a salary that makes puppies cry, but when healthy, he is an offensive force in the Yankee lineup, which is very valuable. To have that value, he absolutely must stay healthy though, and he hasn't been able to prove that just yet. The amount of money and length of contract, especially, will always be an issue, but for all the grief he gets from the masses, A-Rod has been a great teammate and player during his time in New York. The Yankees will definitely be hoping to get a couple more seasons out of him at third base before moving him permanently to DH, and the 2012 season will be a good indicator of whether or not that's a realistic expectation.
With that being said, there are still plenty of fine choices for the top AL East third baseman. It's hard to argue against the production you get for your money with Longoria or the promise of Brett Lawrie, but Alex Rodriguez is a mythical creature, so no one would really blame you for giving him the edge because of that.