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Welcome back to our ongoing series aimed at determining the best of the best at each position in Major League Baseball.
Our goal here is two-fold. First, we determine each current franchise’s best ever player at a position. Then we rank those players 1-30 to determine how they stack up in MLB history.
The only caveat being that the selected player must come from the current incarnation of each franchise. But don’t worry, we’ll throw in bonus players when warranted as well. To make things more interesting, we also require that no player represents multiple franchises or multiple positions throughout the series.
Today, we’re moving on to third base. The hot corner was home to some of baseball’s biggest stars, and a couple controversial ones as well. That’s right, we’ve officially grouped Alex Rodríguez and Pete Rose among the third baseman, which you can bet gives the position some added juice.
Where do those two would-be Hall of Famers rank among the current and future Cooperstown denizens? Find out below.
1. Mike Schmidt — Philadelphia Phillies
With Phillies: 18 seasons
Best season: 1980 (8.9 WAR, .286/.380/.624, 48 homers, MVP)
Schmidt is the standard for third basemen. His list of accolades is a mile long, and it seems like many of his homers were too. He's a three-time MVP, 12-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, eight-time NL home run leader, and his 548 homers are still the most among third basemen. How he wasn't a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer we'll never understand.
2. Alex Rodríguez — New York Yankees
With Yankees: 12 seasons
Best season: 2007 (9.4 WAR, .314/.422./.645, 54 homers, MVP)
A-Rod was difficult to rank because he was an elite player at two positions for three different teams. He made his name in Seattle, but did his most damage in New York as a third baseman.Though he wasn’t always loved by the fans, A-Rod won two of his three MVP awards with the Yankees and helped them to championship No. 27. There was no shortage of drama, but the production — tainted or otherwise — is on another level.
3. Eddie Mathews or Chipper Jones — Atlanta Braves
The Braves have two of the all-time greats at third base. We’ll fill you in on both, then we’ll let you decide who deserves the nod.
With Braves: 15 seasons
Best season: 1959 (8.2 WAR, .306/.390/.593, 46 homers)
Case for: Though Mathews spent most of his career playing alongside Hank Aaron during the Braves' Milwaukee era, his career should not go overlooked. He's firmly among the position’s elite after earning 12 All-Star appearances, winning two World Series titles, hitting 512 career homers (493 with the Braves) and being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978.
With Braves: 19 seasons
Best season: 2007 (7.6 WAR, .337/.425/.604, 29 homers)
Case for: You've had a special career when your MVP season (1999) and batting title season (2008) didn't qualify as your best season according to WAR. Jones played in 12 postseasons, hit .300 or better in 10 different seasons, and was an elite run producer for the bulk of his 19-year career. His place in Cooperstown was earned.
4. Adrián Beltré — Texas Rangers
With Rangers: 8 seasons
Best season: 2012 (7.2 WAR, .321/.359/.561, 36 homers, All-Star)
Beltré had big seasons with the Mariners, Dodgers and Red Sox, but will be best known for his final eight seasons in Texas. He was a four-time All-Star with the Rangers, and finished top 10 in the MVP voting four times. Overall, he's one of only 32 players to reach 3,000 hits. That should secure his spot in Cooperstown.
5. Wade Boggs — Boston Red Sox
With Red Sox: 11 seasons
Best season: 1985 (9.1 WAR, .368/.450/.478, All-Star)
Boggs' numbers with the Red Sox are eye-popping. From 1983-1991, Boggs won five AL batting titles while slashing .345./.436/.473. During that time, he collected 1,847 hits, scored 954 runs and drew 895 walks compared to 418 strikeouts. His 71.9 WAR with Boston ranks third all-time behind Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.
6. George Brett — Kansas City Royals
With Royals: 21 seasons
Best season: 1980 (9.4 WAR, .390/.454/.664, MVP)
How good was Brett over the long haul? He's the only player in MLB history to win batting titles in three different decades (1976, 1980 and 1990). If that's not remarkable enough, he was the first player with career totals of more than 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, 600 doubles, 100 triples and 200 stolen bases. He was an All-Star 13 times and is a Hall of Famer.
7. Pete Rose — Cincinnati Reds
With Reds: 19 seasons
Best season: 1973 (8.3 WAR, .338/.401/.437, MVP)
Finding a position for Rose was difficult because he played everywhere. Since his first base days were mainly in Philadelphia and George Foster has dibs on left field, we settled on third base. As for his accolades, we don't have to say much beyond the fact Rose is, and likely forever will be, MLB's hit king. He just won't be a Hall of Famer after being banned for betting on baseball in 1989.
8. Ron Santo — Chicago Cubs
With Cubs: 14 seasons
Best season: 1967 (9.8 WAR, .300/.395/.512, 31 homers)
One of most beloved players in Cubs history, Santo won the heart of Chicago by being a nine-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove Award winner, and a perennial MVP contender. It's just a shame he wasn't alive when the veteran’s committee elected him to the Hall of Fame in 2012, or when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.
9. Brooks Robinson — Baltimore Orioles
With Orioles: 23 seasons
Best season: 1964 (8.1 WAR, .317/.368/.521, 28 homers, MVP)
Robinson remains the standard by which all defensive third baseman are judged. He's the all-time leader at third base in terms of value generated in the field with a 38.8 defensive WAR. He also won every award imaginable, including AL MVP, All-Star Game MVP and World Series MVP, not to mention his 16 Gold Gloves. His 268 career home runs and 2,848 hits aren't bad, either.
10. Paul Molitor — Milwaukee Brewers
With Brewers: 15 seasons
Best season: 1982 (6.2 WAR, .302/.366/.450, 41 steals)
Molitor could hit anywhere in the lineup and produce. He could play multiple positions without costing his team on defense. Then he went on to become a successful manager. Over 21 seasons, Molitor hit .300 or better 12 times. He finished with 3,319 career hits before Cooperstown called in 2004.
11. Sal Bando — Oakland Athletics
With Athletics: 11 seasons
Best season: 1969 (8.3 WAR, .281/.400/.484, 31 homers, All-Star)
In due time, this spot could belong to Matt Chapman. Then again, it may have belonged to Josh Donaldson had he not been traded to Toronto. Regardless, Bando is a solid choice. He was a big part of Oakland's three straight World Series from 1972-1974, while finishing top four in the AL MVP balloting twice.
12. Ken Boyer — St. Louis Cardinals
With Cardinals: 11 seasons
Best season: 1964 (6.1 WAR, .295/.365/.489, 24 homers, MVP)
Scott Rolen was in the conversation here, but Boyer's peak in St. Louis was too strong to overcome. From 1958-1964, Boyer hit .303/.372/.500 with 179 home runs. He capped that run with a World Series Game 7 homer that helped St. Louis beat the Yankees. Overall, Boyer earned 11 All-Star selections and won five Gold Gloves.
13. David Wright — New York Mets
With Mets: 14 seasons
Best season: 2007 (8.3 WAR, .325/.416/.546, 30 homers, All-Star)
A Met until the end, Wright finished his career as the franchise's all-time leader in hits (1,777), RBIs (970), runs (949) and doubles (390), while posting an excellent .296/.376/.491 batting line. Unfortunately, injuries forced him to retire at age 35. Had he stayed relatively healthy, we'd likely be talking about a Cooperstown career.
14. Evan Longoria — Tampa Bay Rays
With Rays: 10 seasons
Best season: 2010 (8.2 WAR, .294/.372/.507, 22 homers, All-Star)
This will be our easiest Rays decision. Longoria is the franchise leader in home runs (261), runs (780), RBIs (892), doubles (339), walks (569), extra-base hits (618); and total bases (2,630). Simply put, he's the best player in franchise history.
15. Miguel Cabrera — Miami Marlins
With Marlins: 5 seasons
Best season (with Marlins): 2006 (5.8 WAR, .339/.430/.568 , 26 homers)
With all due respect to Mike Lowell, three years as the Marlins primary third baseman was more than enough for Miguel Cabrera to earn this nod. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to put him higher on this list. Cabrera's best seasons — two MVPs, Triple Crown — would come later as a first baseman in Detroit.
16. Robin Ventura — Chicago White Sox
With White Sox: 10 seasons
Best season: 1992 (6.0 WAR, .282/.375/.431, All-Star Gold Glove)
Best known for getting pummeled by Nolan Ryan, Ventura had a career worth talking about, too. Over his decade in Chicago, Ventura posted a 39.4 WAR. That's more than double the next closest White Sox third baseman. He's a five-time Gold Glove winner and his 171 homers are seventh in franchise history.
17. Ron Cey — Los Angeles Dodgers
With Dodgers: 12 seasons
Best seasons: 1975 (6.7 WAR, .283/.372/.473, 25 homers, All-Star)
First of all, "Penguin" is an all-time great nickname. Beyond that, Cey was a fantastic player who earned six straight All-Star selections to end the 1970s. In 1981, he split the World Series MVP award with Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager after hitting .350 with 6 RBIs.
18. Nolan Arenado — Colorado Rockies
With Rockies: 7 seasons
Best season: 2019 (6.7 WAR, .315/.379/.583, 41 homers, All-Star)
Still only 29, Arenado already has a higher career WAR (37.5) than Hall of Famer Pie Traynor. He will pass another HOFer, George Kell, within a week of MLB's return. Toss out the Coors Field argument, too. Arenado's road slash .265/.323/.476 is solid and his defense is sterling. He's won the NL Gold Glove in each of his seven seasons.
19. Josh Donaldson — Toronto Blue Jays
With Blue Jays: 4 seasons
Best season: 2015 (7.1 WAR, .297/.371/.568, 41 homers, MVP)
Donaldson's Toronto tenure was short, but man did he do some damage. During his three healthy seasons in Canada, he slashed .285/.387/.559, while mashing 111 home runs, 94 doubles and driving in 300 runs. In 2015, he became the Jays’ second MVP award winner.
20. Matt Williams — San Francisco Giants
With Giants: 10 seasons
Best seasons: 1993 (5.8 WAR, .294/.325/.561, 38 homers)
Had the strike not ended the 1994 season in mid-August, Williams may have broken the single-season home run record then held by Roger Maris. He would earn four All-Star selections, while topping 30 homers four times.
21. Troy Glaus — Los Angeles Angels
With Angels: 7 seasons
Best season: 2000 (7.8 WAR, .284/.404/.604, 47 homers, All-Star)
It's very close between Glaus and Doug DeCinces. Glaus gets the nod because his peak came at the right time. Between 2000-2002, he launched 118 home runs and 99 doubles. During the 2002 postseason, he hit seven homers to help lead the Angels to a World Series title.
22. George Kell — Detroit Tigers
With Tigers: 7 seasons
Best season: 1949 (4.8 WAR, .343/.424/.467, All-Star)
Considered to have borderline Hall of Fame numbers, Kell was ultimately voted in by the veteran's committee in 1983. We agree the numbers aren't overwhelming, but he was good enough to get the nod over Travis Fryman. Kell won the batting title in 1949 and was a six-time All-Star.
23. Pie Traynor — Pittsburgh Pirates
With Pirates: 17 seasons
Best season: 1923 (4.5 WAR, .338/.377/.489, 19 triples)
Would you believe Traynor has the second-highest lifetime batting average among third baseman? It's true. His .320 average trails only Wade Boggs. The Hall of Famer was a steady contributor, but not an overpowering force. He only hit 58 career home runs, but was a triples-hitting machine with 164.
24. Al Rosen — Cleveland Indians
With Indians: 10 seasons
Best season: 1953 (10.1 WAR, .336/.422/.613, 43 homers, MVP)
It's close between Rosen, Ken Keltner, Bill Bradley, and José Ramírez thanks to his spectacular 2017 and 2018 seasons. The nod goes to Rosen based strongly on his MVP campaign in 1953. Rosen led the league in homers, RBIs (145), slugging percentage and total bases (367).
25. Gary Gaetti — Minnesota Twins
With Twins: 10 seasons
Best season: 1986 (5.8 WAR, .287.347/.518, 34 homers)
Gaetti was solid at the hot corner throughout the 1980s. He topped 20 homers six times and won four consecutive AL Gold Glove awards. In 1987, he was MVP of the ALCS leading up to Minnesota's dramatic seven-game World Series win against the Cardinals.
26. Anthony Rendon — Washington Nationals
With Nationals: 7 seasons
Best season: 2019 (6.4 WAR, .319/.412/.598, 34 homers, All-Star)
We're sure Nationals fans would prefer franchise stalwart Ryan Zimmerman, especially after Rendon left in free agency this winter. But we actually bumped Zim over to first base. Rendon can’t be overlooked anyway based on his overall career and his 2019 postseason. Rendon slashed .328/.413/.590 in October, with key homers in World Series Games 6 and 7.
27. Alex Bregman — Houston Astros
With Astros: 4 seasons
Best season: 2019 (9.1 WAR, .296/.423/.592, 41 homers, MVP runner-up)
Bregman over Ken Caminiti? Yes, and here's why. In just four seasons, Bregman already has a higher WAR (22.4) than Caminiti did in 10 seasons (16.7). We’re aware the Astros are involved in a sign-stealing scandal. But it's not like Bregman came out of nowhere. He's an elite athlete and his best is still to come.
28. Ken Caminiti — San Diego Padres
With Padres: 4 seasons
Best season: 1996 (7.6 WAR, .326/.408/.621, 40 homers, MVP)
Caminiti made it anyway. Though his time in San Diego was relatively short, it was undeniably productive. He slashed .295/.384/.540 with 121 home runs, 396 RBIs and 40 steals over four seasons, while winning his lone MVP.
29. Kyle Seager — Seattle Mariners
With Mariners: 9 seasons
Best season: 2016 (6.7 WAR, .278/.359/.499, 30 homers)
We're all in agreement that Edgar Martinez doesn't qualify, right? Good. That leaves Seager as the only possible choice. His 32.5 WAR is higher than the next three candidates combined, and he also leads all Seattle third basemen in hits (1,218), doubles (268), home runs (198) and runs (597).
30. Jake Lamb — Arizona Diamondbacks
With Diamondbacks: 6 seasons
Best season: 2016 (2.9 WAR, .249/.332/.509, 29 homers)
Cover your eyes. Matt Williams was the best choice. Unfortunately, we could only choose him once. That left Lamb as the only viable option since his 8.5 WAR over six seasons is higher than Mark Reynolds' entire career WAR (6.8).
Previously in this series:
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