When Billy Eppler elected to pass on extending David Freese a qualifying offer, he did so armed with the knowledge that this year's third base market would be as scant as the bargain aisle at Wal-Mart come the end of Black Friday. His moves since then - acquiring Andrelton Simmons, Cliff Pennington and Geovany Soto - have made it apparent that the decision to part with Freese was likely made with an eye toward improving the defense at third. Aside his injury-plagued final year in St. Louis, Freese has statistically been a roughly average defender through his career. Still, with his age and modest skill set, it would be unwise to expect Freese to be anything but below average going forward. I argued at the time that it was foolish to not make him a qualifying offer and lose out on a free draft pick, but it seems the deep free agent pool changed incentives for fringe players like Freese, as Colby Rasmus, Brett Anderson and Matt Wieters all accepted their offers.
If defense at third is going to be a priority for Eppler, he won't have much luck finding it on the free agent market. With Thanksgiving behind us and offseason shopping coming into full gear, let's have a look at what potential fits around baseball exist to help solidify the Angels' hot corner.
The prime target
The Twins find themselves with a surplus on the corners with the emergence of Miguel Sano, the winning bid for Korean first basemen Byung-Ho Park and of course the presence of Joe Mauer at first. This would seemingly squeeze third baseman Trevor Plouffe out of the picture, enabling the Twins to shop him around as possibly the most attractive third base option on the market.
Plouffe, a California native, has been a dead-average hitter throughout his career, much like David Freese. Unlike Freese, he has been an above-average defender at the hot corner the last two years, making him a more valuable all-around option. The 29 year-old has two years of arbitration remaining, making him an affordable plug for the third base hole in Anaheim. It is unclear what the Twins would want in exchange for the third basemen, though there has been speculation that they are in the market for relief help. Something involving Trevor Gott, Cam Bedrosian or Nick Tropeano might be a good start.
Oakland's crowded infield
Jed Lowrie is back in the fold in Oakland and at $7.5 million this year, it is a safe assumption Billy Beane isn't looking for him to ride the pine. This presumably makes Brett Lawrie or Danny Valencia a nice trade chip for Beane, who is already fielding calls about the two infielders. Lawrie had the unenviable task of replacing Josh Donaldson, whom of course went on to win AL MVP in 2015 while Lawrie once again failed to live up to expectations at the plate. Quietly, Lawrie hit a career high in home runs at the Oakland Mausoleum while crossing 600 plate appearances for the first time in his career. He is considered solid defensively and has done very well by the metrics when playing second base. This would make him especially valuable to the Halos, who could start him at third and bump him to second late in the game to cover for Giavotella.
The A's stealthily snatched Valencia off waivers from Toronto and he promptly tore things up in Oakland, slashing .284/.356/.530 with 11 HR over 205 PA. It was no late-season fluke, either, as Valencia was in the midst of a career year in Toronto while playing out of position in left field before ultimately getting squeezed out by their ridiculously deep roster. The 31 year-old did fine in left and has been a solid defender at third throughout his career, mostly as a bench piece. Beane could look to cash in on his waiver find, fresh off a career year. He also could be buying his newfound success at the plate and instead elect to move Lawrie and erase the ugly stain of the Donaldson trade. I would never speculate what Beane looks for in trade, though I'd bet the Halo's pitching surplus would be the target.
The solid-but-unspectacular veteran route
Martin Prado is a name that has been bandied about on Halos Heaven and the Marlins can always be counted on to purge some salary. Even with the Yankees covering $3 million of the $11M Prado is owed next year, that figure still puts him second on Miami's highest-paid list, behind Stanton. Prado provides solid glove work all over the diamond and has been excellent at third. He has no power but is a very good approach/contact guy who could fill out the bottom of the order nicely. So long as the Angels pick up his salary, he could probably be had for a nominal fee.
The international auction
Going a bit outside the box, the Lotte Giants of the KBO will be posting Jae-gyun Kwang after receiving zero bids on outfielder Ah-seop Son. The 27 year-old Hwang enjoyed a career year in the hitter-friendly KBO, launching 26 HR to go along with a .290/.350/.521 batting line. Notable for his epic bat-flippery, Kwang lacks the impressive track record of recent KBO defectors Jung-ho Kang and Byung-ho Park but is still expected to draw interest from major league clubs thanks to the unimpressive third base market.
Kwang is a bit of a wild card and won't command near the $12.85 million Minnesota bid for the rights to KBO contemporary Byung-ho Park, making Kwang a nice low-cost option. As exciting as it would be to see the Angels dip into the Asian market for the first time since winning the rights to Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Kwang's good-not-great KBO numbers make him a much riskier proposition than the above options to fill the hot corner.