Third base was an adventure for the Oakland Athletics in 2015, after the departure of All-Star Josh Donaldson in a trade to the Toronto Blue Jays. In truth, it was one of the biggest differences between the 2012-14 American League playoff rosters in Oakland and the AL-worst roster in 2015. We don’t blame Brett Lawrie for that; after all, no one could fill Donaldson’s shoes, but by the end of the regular season, the A’s had figured something out at the hot corner.
The first part of looking forward to 2016 is assessing the season that just ended, and we’re now going over the team’s results, position by position. That’s 11 articles in the 11 days, finishing before the end of the World Series and by the opening of free agency. By Halloween, you’ll know exactly what the A’s need for 2016. We promise. We’ve looked at catcher, first base, second and shortstop already this week, and now we move on to third base—and we do know.
Remember, Billy Beane is no longer the Oakland general manager: That role is now David Forst’s to fill, as Beane was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations at the end of the team’s worst season since 1997. It will be up to Forst now to see if he can get the A’s that elusive 10th World Series title that has haunted the team over its last 10 playoffs appearances since the 1989 MLB championship.
Oakland third basemen finished sixth in the AL when it came to OPS (.764), trailing No. 1 Toronto (.939) by a big margin. The A’s were also sixth in RBI from the position, seventh in home runs and eighth in runs scored. The Oakland contingent at the position was basically average in the league over the course of 2015 offensively. On the glove side, the A’s finished dead last in errors and fielding percentage for the hot corner. Yeah, they missed Donaldson a bit.
However, the team expected the drop off, so it can’t be all that shocking to see the final numbers. Lawrie was just as bad as Marcus Semien was at shortstop, defensively, as he also finished last in the AL among regular third basemen in fielding percentage. However, his defensive Wins Above Replacement at the position wasn’t as bad, as Boston’s Pablo Sandoval and New York’s Chase Headley were rated lower in the league. As we saw earlier, Lawrie isn’t a defensive wizard at any position, and his future may be at second base for Oakland.
Offensively, Lawrie was seventh among AL third sackers in batting average and ninth in OPS. His whole game is probably better positioned for second base. Luckily for the A’s, they found a guy better suited for third base, courtesy of the Blue Jays. Even though Danny Valencia didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, his bat was the second-best piece of lumber at the position in the AL this year (trailing only Donaldson, of course). Defensively, he made only three errors in 55 games at the position, too, good enough for a .980 fielding percentage.
Valencia may end up being the last great steal Beane made as general manager for the A’s, especially if Oakland can sign him to a reasonable contract as he enters his first arbitration year in 2016. Valencia hit .284 in 47 games with the A’s, along with an .886 OPS as well. He solved all the third-base problems for Oakland in the final two months of the season. He can be the future there for the A’s, since he’s not eligible for free agency until 2018.