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AL Third Basemen: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League Third Basemen with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.  B = Bats.  T = Throws.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2005.
Age = Player's Age as of October 2, 2005.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement in 2005; Adjusted RAR = RAR modified to
consider a player's 2005 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed each player in the league where he started the season.

Alex Rodriguez605194.32148130211243
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30B:R    T:R484583.196.5

The most consistently excellent all-around player in baseball since initially securing a full-time job a decade ago, Rodriguez reemerged as a dominant force at the plate after a slump in his first year in the Bronx. He won another deserved MVP trophy despite spending most of the year locked into the heart of the Yankees' order rather than the #3 hole his skills demand. Of course, we still dislike Rodriguez due to that ball-slapping incident with Bronson Arroyo, and his indecisiveness regarding the WBC similarly earned our scorn. The more significant concern for prospective owners of Rodriguez is a four-year decline in both his contact and ground-fly rates, which leaves him primed for a fall back toward a .900 OPS. Bidding much more than $40 in any league remains a significant risk, and while Rodriguez never should post bad numbers, you stand very little chance of earning a profit on him anywhere outside of New England or Dallas.

Melvin Mora593168.28327887863
BAL Orioles4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33B:R    T:R222223.423.7

While Mora avoided the DL last summer, hamstring and ankle problems bothered him much of the season, resulting in a severe downturn in his overall output. The drop from two years of a .418 OBP to a .348 mark may push him lower in the lineup this summer even as reduced patience could combine with advancing age to erode Mora's value even further. He remains one of the most likable players in the majors, but given his relative fragility and diminished skill set, you simply cannot count on more than $20 of production from Mora in 2006.

Shea Hillenbrand594173.291188259131D
TOR Blue Jays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30B:R    T:R212115.95.7

Hillenbrand apparently ingratiated himself with Toronto manager John Gibbons, securing his job at DH even as Lyle Overbay and Troy Glaus assume the corner positions. Staying with the Blue Jays should result in significant movement in Hillenbrand's quantitative stats, especially RBI, since he shifts down in the order behind Vernon Wells, Glaus, and Overbay. Any rebound in his contact rate similarly should reinforce his career-best 1.18 G-F, giving the thirty-year-old a perfect shot at a career year. Acquiring him for less than $20 could net you a double-digit profit on a player generally repudiated by most sabermetricians, creating an intriguing discount in many fantasy leagues.

Eric Chavez625168.269271016923
OAK Athletics4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27B:L    T:R191921.344.4

Complete abandonment of the excellent plate discipline Chavez displayed in 2004 resulted in an initial two months of a .218/.276/.317 with 4 HR, 23 RBI, and a 16:47 BB:K in 202 AB, horribly unacceptable numbers for the key to Oakland's offense. Although his production spiked in June, he settled into a perfectly pedestrian second half of a .265/.319/.495 performance with a 25:56 BB:K in 283 AB. The best news here is that he comparatively excelled hitting cleanup behind Bobby Crosby, the role to which he returns this summer. Chavez also only turned 28 in December, so any rebound in his contact rate toward his 2003 numbers finally could result in the power surge we expected to see over the last couple of years. Expect a strong rebound near $30 as Chavez carries Oakland's offense back to the playoffs.

Bill Mueller519153.29510620693
BOS Red Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 34B:S    T:R151520.817.5

An awful fit on a Dodger club with a multitude of preferable internal options, Mueller appears poised to collapse in his return to the NL. Diminishing plate discipline and a home in the lower half of a far worse offense than the Boston run machine requires an unlikely rerun of this performance for Mueller to avoid losing much of his fantasy value. I simply see no reason to risk exiting single digits when he hits the table for bids.

Hank Blalock647170.26325921803
TEX Rangers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24B:L    T:R14149.117.2

Nearly dealt to Florida in a deal for Josh Beckett, Blalock instead returns to the Rangers' cleanup slot and seemingly minimal prospects for immediate improvement. However, he owns one of the game's choicest lineup slots, bordered by Mike Young and Teixeira and followed by Kevin Mench and David Dellucci. He also just turned 25 in November after completing his third full season in the majors. All Blalock requires to rebound to his 2004 level of excellence is a year of good health, and if he reverses some of the skill erosion suffered last summer as he approaches his prime, he still should enjoy a superb career. Remember that few players accumulate 89 homers in nearly 2000 big league at-bats before their twenty-fifth birthdays, so even though his current trends do not indicate much hope for progress this year, you will not be disappointed if you push over $20 to secure a post-hype Blalock.

Brandon Inge616161.26116727753
DET Tigers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28B:R    T:R13137.313.8

Leaving catching clearly proved the right move here given Inge's improved performance after a couple of terrifying years at the plate early this decade. His drastically improved skills resulted in a bizarre season that saw Inge spend dozens of games near the end of the order despite a .285/.371/.409 performance in 298 at-bats in the #1 hole. Now some combination of Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, Curtis Granderson, and Nook Logan should occupy the top slots of the lineup, which pushes Inge back down but may provide the necessary incentive for further power development. Although you cannot count on him to provide more than a passable BA, Inge may evolve into the 20/80 power producer teams generally target as the minimum requested production from their third baseman.

Adrian Beltre603154.25519873693
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:R    T:R1111-0.215.4

From the multitude of suggestions offered to explain Beltre's collapse, I believe that leaving his comfort zone in Los Angeles provided the biggest impetus for his return to his previous level of performance following his MVP-caliber season in 2004. He still just turns 27 in April and owns the skill foundation necessary to reemerge as a top player. While he might turn out another clunker, he also could build on his impressive numbers in June and August, months where he avoided the struggles that plagued him in April, May and September. Consider Beltre a perfectly viable gamble anywhere below $20 with the potential to earn within $10 of either side of that mark.

Third Base Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Hillenbrand, Chavez, Blalock, and Beltre all own intriguing skills yet did not impress in 2005 for a variety of reasons. All four third basemen enter this season in team situations better from a year ago, so when one of this quartet hangs on your draft board longer than expected, snatch up the nearly guaranteed profit by buying low on a former and likely future All-Star.

Click here to read the previous article.

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