The Texas Rangers face the prospect of a rotating door at third base for a second consecutive season in 2020.
After the departure of Adrian Beltre, Texas made the decision to just bridge the gap until the next anchor at the position comes along. By all intention, that anchor was supposed to come this winter.
Texas had three opportunities to make a headline-grabbing upgrade, but as the calendar turns to February, the Rangers might have to start the season with an average-at-best, middle-aged third baseman leaving them in a similar situation as the 2019 season.
Third Base In 2019
Opening Day: Asdrubal Cabrera
Throughout the Season: Logan Forsythe, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Nick Solak, Danny Santana
Going into 2019, Asdrubal Cabrera had played a total of 165 games at third base – over the course of four seasons. He was mostly a shortstop, but upon his signing a one-year deal, he was also viewed pretty much as a flippable trade piece from the start. That’s not to say he wasn’t serviceable for Texas. His defense struggled at various times during the season, especially early on, but he showed he could handle some plays at third. Nobody was going to step into Beltre’s shoes right away. But Cabrera handled it the best he could.
Cabrera’s time in Texas was ultimately as short-lived as expected – a half-season of fairly average-to-below average baseball, slashing .235/.318/.393 with 12 homers and 51 RBI. He was released by Texas and went on to sign with the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals to pick up a ring for his effort.
As for the Rangers, they played the rest of the season with a hodgepodge of pieces at the hot corner. Logan Forsythe would end up handling the bulk of the duties, while Isiah Kiner-Falefa moved back out from behind the plate for some action there.
Prospect Nick Solak – whom the Rangers acquired from Tampa Bay in exchange for right-handed relief fireballer Peter Fairbanks – was brought over as an infielder without a home.
Before Rougned Odor did his second half turnaround act, Solak was gearing up to replace the embattled second baseman. However, the 24-year old found a few reps at third, handling himself well after being thrust into a position he had rarely played. Third base isn’t considered to be where Solak will wind up in the future but he got valuable at-bats by being flexible enough to play there when asked.
Projected Opening Day: Todd Frazier
Depth: Nick Solak, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Danny Santana
Anthony Rendon. Josh Donaldson. Nolan Arenado. Kris Bryant. All four were names that Texas had been rumored to be in on when the winter started and the Rangers seemed hot and heavy for each at various times over the last few months.
Rendon instead went to the division rival Los Angeles Angels on a seven-year, $245 million contract. Texas reportedly offered six years and just under the $200 million mark as a first salvo that so turned Rendon and agent Scott Boras off, it eliminated them from the negotiations.
Donaldson instead went to the Minnesota Twins for four years and $92 million. The Rangers apparently didn’t want to go four years for the 34-year-old with just one bounce-back season under his belt and injury concerns potentially ahead of him.
Nolan Arenado is technically still on the table, but the Rockies’ leadership seems far less motivated to move him as the season gets closer to Spring Training. Their off-season moves, or lack thereof rather, haven’t indicated to the sensational Arenado that a championship is closer than, say, the Rangers would be. Texas could still trade for Arenado but every day they don’t it seems less likely and there are other teams waiting to jump them in line the moment it’s clear he’s really available.
And that leaves Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs as perhaps the last bastion of hope at the hot corner. On top of being close friends with fellow Las Vegan Joey Gallo, Bryant has only two more seasons remaining until free agency. That would bring the price tag down to something prospect-wise that Texas may be a little more comfortable exchanging, but Jon Daniels may also request a window in which to negotiate a contract extension.
As it stands now, Texas goes into their new stadium with the Toddfather Todd Frazier at third base. The longtime Cincinnati Red spent a year and a half with the White Sox, a half-season with the Yankees and the previous two seasons with the Mets.
He’s been fine, slashing .243/.320/.450 over his nine-year career. During that time, he’s started 1,000 games at third base and played them admirably. Texas is likely hoping for a decent year from Frazier as a temporary solution. He signed a $5 million, one-year deal with the Rangers with an option for 2021.
The signing of Frazier is not a bad move by any stretch for Texas – it’s a low risk one-year contract that is easily tradeable by July if Daniels suddenly has a larger name rabbit to pull out of his hat at the position or if Frazier is performing well and the team is out of it. In addition, if the Rangers do somehow stumble into a better situation at third base, Frazier can slide over and be the right-handed hitting platoon bat at first base to couple with Ronald Guzman. That would offer a genuine upgrade.
The problem with the Frazier signing is that it looks like that’s as far as the Rangers are willing to go for the 2020 season. It could pay some decent dividends for a few months, but Todd Frazier isn’t exactly a needle-mover. In a year where the third base market was rich with players and the Rangers supposedly had money burning a hole in their pockets, landing on Frazier feels like a disappointment.
Unless something happens between now and the start of the season, a transformation from Cabrera in 2019 to Frazier in 2020 looks like a marginal upgrade at third base – at best. Coming into the off-season, merely a marginal upgrade at third base seemed like the least likely, and lease palatable outcome.
Do you think the Rangers made a mistake by not acquiring a better solution at third base? Share your thoughts on the hot corner goose chase with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.