Comparing the NL East Third Basemen

Third base is important for what a player can bring to a lineup both offensively and defensively. After all, they don't call it The Hot Corner for nothing. We've got a look at the third basemen in the National League East.

The Chipper Jones era in Atlanta is officially over, but the Braves didn't waste a lot of time in finding a replacement, who could handle Atlanta's hot corner for years to come. When the Braves acquired Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks, they also got 28-year old Chris Johnson in the deal. Johnson, who hit a career-high 15 home runs last season, will take over at third base this season. Johnson's numbers compare very favorably to the offensive output that Jones brought to the Braves in his final season, so they've effectively filled that part of losing Jones to retirement.

Defensively, Johnson isn't quite as strong at third as Jones was, even though Jones had lost a step or two over the years. It's not that Johnson is a liability at third, but he's not going to make a lot of spectacular plays and doesn't cover a lot of ground defensively. If young Andrelton Simmons is healthy and takes his shortstop job from Paul Janish, some of Johnson's lack of range will be covered up by Simmons who seemingly gets to anything hit on the left side of the diamond.

The Marlins are again going for a youth movement, but you wouldn't know it by looking at third base. Right now, two former Phillies - Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs - are the options at third base. Polanco is still a strong defensive third baseman and got off to a nice start offensively in 2012 before tailing off badly before winding up on the DL with back issues. Reports are that Polanco is healthy, but back issues with an older player don't go away, so he's not destined to be the type of player that he was prior to last season and some time on the DL, or at least some stretches of time off, are likely for Polanco.

Dobbs is adequate at third defensively, but he's been a decent left-handed bat, primarily as a spot third baseman and utility player.

Between Polanco and Dobbs, the Marlins should be able to get decent play at third base, but it's not going to be anything exceptional and it's certainly not a setup for the long-term.

The Mets did the smart thing and signed third baseman David Wright to a long-term deal that will keep him in New York through the 2020 season. Wright isn't just one of the best in the NL East, he's one of the best in baseball. Wright rebounded from injuries in 2011 to play in 156 games for the Mets in 2012, hitting 21 home runs with 93 RBI and a .306 average. Because of his stats and the fact that he's a fan favorite in New York, the Mets were all but forced to throw money at him to keep him in New York, but it was a smart move, since they now have a veteran player to keep building their club around.

Defensively, Wright isn't spectacular, but he's going to make the routine plays and will turn in a highlight play every now and then. He's also a smart player who plays the game the right way and is a natural team leader both on and off the field.

Wrapping up Wright long-term may have been the final nail in the coffin of R.A. Dickey in New York, but it was worth it, since the Mets got a good return of prospects in exchange for Dickey, helping their rebuilding effort.

Third base has been an issue in Philadelphia for the past couple seasons. Polanco gave the Phillies limited offense, but gold glove caliber defensive play. When he came up with the back injury last season, the Phillies didn't have much of a Plan B. Luckily, Kevin Frandsen responded and gave the Phillies some decent play out of the position. For a while, it looked like Frandsen and young Freddy Galvis would be battling for the starting job at third, but then the Phillies pulled off a deal with the Texas Rangers to bring Michael Young to the City of Brotherly Love.

Young comes with some question marks, mainly since he hasn't played everyday at third base for a while, being used a lot as a designated hitter with the Rangers. Young is 36 and certainly not in his prime, but odds are that he'll be able to handle playing third and it's likely that Frandsen will still see a decent amount of time on the diamond to give Young a day off here and there. Offensively, Young is still strong enough that the Rangers were using him as a DH, so they could keep his bat in the lineup.

Part of the plan in Philly is just to keep the position warm until Cody Asche can work his way up to being major league ready. That could be as soon as 2014, but may be a little longer. Young is a free agent following the 2013 season, so if Asche is deemed ready, Young could be a one-year rental for the Phillies. If Asche isn't ready, then the Phillies will have to find a way to fill the spot for another season.

Ryan Zimmerman has been a mainstay in the Washington Nationals lineup since long before they were any good. The only real negative on Zimmerman is that he will occasionally blow a throw to first base, thanks to somewhat unconventional mechanics that he just can't seem to fix. He makes the majority of plays though and has enough range to make plays that a lot of other third basemen simply can't.

At the plate, you can pencil Zimmerman in for 20 home runs and 80-90 RBI per season, while hitting in the .280 range. There were a lot of scouts who thought Zimmerman would produce numbers - 33 home runs, 106 RBI - like he did in 2009 on an annual basis. That hasn't quite been the case, but he's still strong offensively and fits well in the Washington lineup. Injuries here and there have been part of what has limited Zimmerman's numbers slightly.

Overall, Zimmerman is strong and he's still only 28-years old, so he figures to be a mainstay for the Nationals for the foreseeable future.

Ranking the NL East Third Basemen:

  1. David Wright (New York)
  2. Ryan Zimmerman (Washington)
  3. Chris Johnson (Atlanta)
  4. Michael Young (Philadelphia)
  5. Polanco/Dobbs (Florida)

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