Spring Training Invites: Third Base
As Pitchers and Catchers will report next week, let's spend this week looking at some final Spring Training invitee options:
Third Base Needs for 2023:
Like we discussed yesterday with the overwhelming depth that the New York Yankees have for second base going into the 2023 season, similar comparisons can be made to third base. With a former MVP winner in Josh Donaldson on the roster and making over $20 Million, he's all but set in stone to man the hot corner. Behind him, the Yankees have a gold glove winning third baseman in Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a gold glove winning utility man in DJ LeMahieu, and I'm sure they'll put Oswaldo Cabrera out for a few games there too.
Behind the MLB talent, the Yankees also have some help coming up the prospect pipeline. In Triple-A there is a hidden gem player in Andres Chaparro. In Double-A the Yankees have Trey Sweeney, who is somebody I believe will positively move from shortstop to the hot corner as he approaches the bigs. There is also some talk about Anthony Volpe to be a third baseman (to make room for Oswald Peraza at short), but I don't buy into those rumors at all.
Much like yesterday, there isn't a need for finding a pure third baseman in Spring Training. But- like always- I'll never say no to a minor league deal. Here are a few targets I'd be interested in:
2022 MLB Team: Texas Rangers
2022 MLB Stats: 68 Games, .252/.283/.357 (83 OPS+), 29 Hits, 2 HR, 12 RBI's, -0.1 bWAR
Experience: 10 MLB Seasons (2012-14; 2016-22)
I have been going to baseball games since 2001- and Yankees games since 2003- and it took until the very end of the 2021 season for me to ever get a game-used ball. I believe I've talked about it before on here, but I will always hold a special place in my baseball heart for Charlie Culberson. I went to a Baltimore Orioles game with my oldest brother and we sat field level (my first time at an MLB game). Then, after a Richie Martin groundout in the 5th inning, somehow Charlie Culberson got the ball as the third baseman and threw it to me! My brother Ryan actually made the catch, but it was the first ever baseball I've ever gotten at an MLB game. I think it helps I was cheering on Culberson all game (he made a number of good plays) and with just about nobody in the stands (attendance was 13,495), I was an easy fan to throw the ball too. So cool.
Do you want to know another very good fact about Charlie Culberson? He hit a walk-off home run in 2016 with the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch them the NL West title. That was his first and only home run he'd have with them. It was also the last call Vin Scully ever made for the Dodgers at Dodgers Stadium.
Should the Yankees target him? Yes, and sign him to a minor league deal. Put him at Triple-A and I will make the trek to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with my ball to get an autograph. Put him at Double-A and I will head to Somerset. Single-A? Hudson Valley it is! Please, somebody give this guy a good deal to play some minor league ball next year against a team in the NY-NJ-PA area!
All jokes aside, Charlie Culberson is going to be entering his age-34 season and though he hasn't been a positive bat since 2018, he's not expected to be. He's a glove-first player who has spent time in the MLB at every position but catcher and center field, and his glove is also fine in that role. He seems like one of these guys who is going to try and stick around for a few more years. And, given his versatility, his being a former 1st round draft pick, and a long-time veteran of the sport, I'd be more than willing to bring him into Spring Training this year.
2022 MLB Team: Cincinnati Reds
2022 MLB Stats: 78 Games, .214/.295/.345 (74 OPS+), 54 Hits, 7 HR, 25 RBI's, -1.0 bWAR
Experience: 12 MLB Seasons (2011-2022)
Last year the New York Yankees found themselves an aging, left-handed third baseman who had been hurt a ton and was looking for one last shot. Matt Carpenter then had an incredible 47 game stretch with the Yankees and earned his way into a deal with the San Diego Padres for 2023. If they want to continue with that playbook, I have their next player ready to go right here.
Mike Moustakas is going to be entering his age-34 season and is coming off of three straight seasons where he spent considerable time on injured lists. In 2020 it was left quad bruising. In 2021 it was from right heel contusions. In 2022 it was from a left calf strain. While these are hard to ignore, the season before all of this was happening, Moustakas popped 35 home runs. The question is out there about how much of that power has been sapped from these lower body injuries, but if they were able to get in check he could be a powerful left-handed bench option.
Should the Yankees target him? There should be some real considerations here for the Yankees to look at Moustakas. Add in how his 2023 salary is being taken care of and he would be a player making league minimum (thanks to the Cincinnati Reds for releasing him early in January) and this is about as low-risk a move as a team could make. Especially while entering into Spring Training. If you told me at the beginning of the offseason that Moustakas would be the move to bring in a left-handed bat, I'd be disappointed. At this point, however, it'd be better than nothing.
2022 MLB Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
2022 MLB Stats: 27 Games, .244/.293/.500 (114 OPS+), 21 Hits, 7 HR, 17 RBI's, +0.1 bWAR
Experience: 4 MLB Seasons (2019-2022)
A very interesting candidate out there on the free agent market, Edwin Rios has very little MLB experience but has produced with the bat during his short stints. Another left-handed bat, there are a lot of positives behind him: he was drafted and developed in the Los Angeles Dodgers system (though he was also non-tendered by them), he's going to be entering his age-29 season (thus he is in his "prime"), and he's still available and did spend a lot of time in the minor leagues last year (as I'd imagine, he'd be willing to take a minor league deal for 2023). Not having a lot of these factors are what makes me say 'no' to any thought of a player, but Rios seems to hit all of the important things to check.
Now, it is also important to note that Rios is not a good defender and he has an extensive injury history. He can play third and first base, but that's just to minimize the time he's spending as a full time player at either position. He could fill in in a pinch, but he would not be a go-to option to start. If anything, he's looking at a similar path back to the MLB as Moustakas.
Should the Yankees target him? Rios is young, a lefty, and has displayed above-average hitting prowess in very limited MLB stints. He's also the most likely (in my opinion) to stick around on a minor-league deal for the 2023 season if he came to the Yankees of this bunch. He'd be another move that wouldn't be super exciting, but it could be talked about and seen as the smart business move to get an extra left-handed bat and some infield depth in the minor leagues. Do it. Why not? There's nothing much to lose here.
Chances are that the New York Yankees are not going to need to dip into minor league third base depth to get through the 2023 season. They have a number of guys who have manned the position at the MLB level for considerable amounts of time, and they have a few other options of guys who can fill in if everything falls apart.
That being said, I don't think bringing in any of these players today would be a bad move. There are upsides to each of them (well, the upside to Culberson is that it would make me happy) and they'd provide some much needed left-handed depth to the organization as a whole.
If it happens, that's great. If it doesn't I won't be surprised because there isn't a huge need for any of these moves to happen anyway. Regardless, it will be interesting to see where these guys find their playing time in 2023.