Votebook: Deep pool of NL third basemen
With Arenado injured, Frazier, Rendon, Carpenter vie for All-Star bid
Balloting continues for Major League Baseball's 85th All-Star Game on July 15 at Target Field in Minnesota, and fans can cast their votes using the 2014 All-Star Game Ballot Sponsored by Experian. Deciding who should get voted into the starting lineup can be challenging. Today, Phil Rogers and Richard Justice discuss National League third basemen.
ROGERS: Hey, Richard, have you looked at the crop of third basemen in the National League? There are a lot of All-Star candidates in the group and not a whole lot to separate them. This is going to be a fun process to watch over the next few weeks as Mike Matheny's team starts to take shape. Nolan Arenado was probably the frontrunner a few weeks back before he slid into second and suffered a broken finger on his left hand, but these other guys aren't exactly waiting for him to return and take his spot in Minneapolis. I know you love Arenado. It's easy to do that given how great of a two-way player he is -- an .823 OPS from a guy who is going to win a bunch of Gold Gloves. But Todd Frazier has been bashing home runs lately in Cincinnati and there are a whole lot of guys to like. Matt Carpenter and Anthony Rendon both jump out, and if you talk to Mike Redmond long, you'll think we should also be talking about Casey McGehee -- the former Rakuten Golden Eagle who has been hitting behind Giancarlo Stanton in Miami. McGehee might have just one home run himself, but he's hitting .305 and has driven in 39 runs. His most important role is protecting Stanton. Back in Spring Training, we wouldn't have been surprised if David Wright and Pedro Alvarez were the All-Stars. Maybe Pablo Sandoval, but a whole lot of guys are outproducing them, don't you think?
JUSTICE: Frazier is my guy. He's an impact defensive player. Other than Arenado, no other NL third baseman is even close defensively. Frazier leads NL third basemen with an .846 OPS, 13 home runs and .500 slugging percentage. He's probably a reminder that it's really risky to jump on and off the bandwagon with younger players, even though Frazier isn't really a young player anymore. He made his big league debut at 25 and has had some ups and downs along the way. But he only has 1,297 career at-bats, and has had to adjust and readjust as scouting reports have found the weaknesses in his game. I just love the guy in terms of makeup and approach. In a clubhouse with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, etc., he seems to fit nicely. He seems finally to be on his way. Other teams probably are pretty happy with what they're getting at third. Carpenter is getting on base, as always, and Alvarez and Sandoval are hitting home runs. Wright does everything well, but if Mike Matheny takes three third basemen, it'll probably be Frazier, Carpenter and possibly McGehee (presuming Arenado is not healthy).
ROGERS: You're right about Frazier. He has been slow to develop but a lot of that was because he was given time to understudy Scott Rolen, hardly a waste of time. Frazier was a really valuable utility-type guy for the Reds in 2012, Rolen's last year. He played a lot of first base and some outfield, and all the while was learning from Rolen. Those lessons are paying off. But when you say the top three are Frazier, Carpenter and McGehee (assuming Arenado hasn't bounced back quickly), you overlook a guy I think is very worthy of a spot -- Rendon, the natural hitter from Rice. Rendon has done a lot to keep the Nationals afloat with Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper out, and has played so well at third base that there's little chance Zimmerman gets that job back. Rendon has a .797 OPS and has scored 41 runs while driving in 34. According to WAR, he ranks just a tick below Frazier (2.4), Carpenter (2.1) and Arenado (1.9) but I think his value has been higher because he stepped up when the hitters that were counted on were hurt. There's no way I'm leaving him off my All-Star team. I wouldn't argue if he was elected as the starter. What's your take on him?
JUSTICE: Remember when the Nationals drafted Rendon? There was a feeling he'd be blocked getting to the big leagues by Zimmerman? So they moved him to second base, and he did just fine. In the end, though, it's pretty clear he's a third baseman, a natural one. He's probably going to end up being an All-Star third baseman for a long, long time to come. That's probably why Zimmerman is playing left field. They seem to be saying that Rendon is contributing so consistently at third that it would be silly to shift him again. I hope Matheny can find a spot for him on the NL roster. That's the tough part as managers try to come up with a roster that covers every position, have every team represented and -- oh by the way, give them a chance to win the game. Some guys are going to be left out. I still can't believe Josh Donaldson didn't make the AL team a year ago. You know what's funny, given Sandoval's history, he could be leading the NL in everything by the time we get to the game. He's one of those guys that just when he seems on the verge of playing his way out of the lineup (and he has done that), he goes on a stretch when no one can get him out. Keep an eye on Panda, Phil. He hit .177 in April, .318 in May and is at .194 in June. Does he have a Panda run in him?
ROGERS: I bet there aren't many times that the Tigers see Sandoval on highlights and don't think of Game 1 of the 2012 World Series. I've never seen anything shift quicker than that series did after the Panda hit three homers in the first five innings of Game 1 -- two of them off Justin Verlander. That's the kind of stuff that breaks the hearts of fans. The Tigers looked so ready to finally win a championship and pfffft, that chance was gone. There's no doubt that Sandoval has the talent but I have to wonder if his contract situation has contributed to his up-and-down season. Unless the Giants lock him up before then, the Sandoval situation could become a distraction for the Giants in September and October. It's surprising that the Giants have morphed into such a beast without him being on top of his game, isn't it? You'd think he or Buster Posey would be the guys carrying them, but instead it's the deeper part of the order that Brian Sabean built by adding Hunter Pence and Michael Morse, among others. The Giants should be well represented in Minneapolis, even without Panda. The third baseman I think has a shot for a huge second half is Carpenter. He's been solid but hasn't hit for power and produced runs like he did a year ago. You've got to like a guy who can hit .294 and push for a spot on an All-Star team when he's not firing on all cylinders. Since I started this, here's my conclusion -- Rendon deserves to start, with Frazier and Carpenter also on the team, with the caveat that one of those guys could be left off if Arenado returns strong. How would you line them up?
JUSTICE: The beauty is that there's no wrong answer. On the other hand, it's important to the guys, and there are a bunch of them who deserve it. Let's set Arenado aside because he probably will be on the disabled list for awhile. So I'd go Frazier, Carpenter, Rendon and Alvarez. Matheny surely will want his guy, Carpenter. Rendon/Alvarez could come down to roster makeup. Also, you know Matheny will be thinking Alvarez is the guy who could come off the bench late in the game and win the game for the NL. Again, no wrong answers. Fun stuff.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.