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Third base remains problem for Braves despite impressive legacy

Third base in Atlanta has seen some of the greatest players ever, but the Braves are still searching for stability at the hot corner.

David Justice

The Atlanta Braves have been to the bottom, have stripped their team to its core of Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran, and bet their entire future on their farm system. A farm system that, even after suffering loss of players after the IFA sanctions handed down by Major League Baseball, is thriving and is still overflowing with talent. The Braves are nearing the end of this long and rocky rebuild as the future stands on the forefront in Atlanta with players like Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Luiz Gohara and many more ready to push the team back into contention.

Now, Braves fans have been spoiled in the past with the team winning and even making the playoffs for an unprecedented 14 straight seasons from 1991 to 2005 so this new territory of losing seasons has been hard. Something Braves fans are even more accustomed to is good play from their third basemen. Tracing its lineage all the way back to 1952 when the Braves were still in Milwaukee and the great Eddie Mathews began his Hall of Fame career for the club, the Braves third base position is historically one of the greatest in all of baseball. Mathews with his career WAR of 96.1, to Bob Horner and his 215 homers in eight seasons with the Braves, and Terry Pendleton handing the baton to the great Chipper Jones who is assuredly a first round Hall of Famer himself, the Braves have always had the best at the hot corner.

However, since Chipper retired after the Braves’ Wild Card run in 2012, Atlanta has been scuffling to find a suitable successor to an act that is tough to follow. The next season in 2013 the team’s eyes were still on contention and the man chosen to pick up where Jones left off was Chris Johnson who, somehow, managed to come in and play a really good third base for the Braves with a season where he competed for the NL batting title. The Braves took this 2.5 WAR season to heart and gave Johnson a three-year extension of $23.5 million which predictably backfired as Johnson carried a BABIP near .400 in 2013. After his play regressed in 2014, the Braves began to explore other options eventually shipping Johnson to Cleveland in a bad contracts swap for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn.

In 2015, when the Braves decided to rebuild, a bevy of different players manned the third base spot, from Juan Uribe to Alberto Callaspo and even Hector Olivera taking turns at the spot until the Braves ended up giving the job to rookie Adonis Garcia in July of that season. Garcia, much like Johnson in his first season, came up playing well posting 10 homers in less than 200 at-bats and nearing a 1 WAR season in under 60 games played. Garcia began the 2016 season as Atlanta’s starting third baseman. He too, despite playing in 134 games during 2016, regressed on both defense and offense putting up just a 90wRC+ and committing a ton of errors.

Despite Garcia playing a mediocre third base Atlanta opened up 2017 with Adonis featured yet again at third. The season ended rather quickly for Garcia when a sprained ring finger turned into a surgery that basically ended his career with the Braves. So, the Braves returned to the drawing board trying to find stability at a position that has been the franchise calling card forever, going to lengths of even experimenting with franchise cornerstone Freddie Freeman at third for 16 games. Eventually Atlanta brought up promising young talents Rio Ruiz and Johan Camargo to platoon the position. The higher touted prospect, Rio Ruiz, played in 53 games posting a negative WAR, but played well through it all at AAA. Johan Camargo, the lesser known prospect without a pedigree, came to Atlanta ready to play and posted what may have been the best season from a Braves third baseman since Chris Johnson’s fluke 2013. Camargo played to the tune of a 1.2 WAR with plus-plus defense at the hot corner for much of the season, and some time coming at shortstop after the Braves star prospect Dansby Swanson began to struggle.

So now, as a new administration takes place in 2018 there are decisions to be made regarding a position that Braves fans expect to see played at a high level. After having rough times with one year teases in the past from players like Chris Johnson and Adonis Garcia the Braves are sure to take Johan Camargo’s 2017 work with a grain of salt. It is entirely possible that he opens up 2017 as Atlanta’s starting third baseman, and assuredly is the option that makes the most sense at this point. Todd Frazier remains on the open market as a free agent, but is unlikely to draw interest from the Braves in a long term deal as 2019’s free agent class is one of the best in recent memory with third basemen the caliber of Josh Donaldson, a one time Anthopolous acquisition, and Manny Machado becoming available. The Braves also have highly regarded prospect Austin Riley waiting in the wings trying to play his way into the major leagues.

Either way, in 2018 the Braves will need to decide on what their course of action will be surrounding the future of third base in Atlanta, and with the history and legacy of greatness surrounding the position, it should be priority number one. Especially for someone like Alex Anthopolous, who has led teams that have built around third base specifically; the Blue Jays with Josh Donaldson and the Dodgers with Justin Turner. Atlanta is ready to find the next heir to the lineage of greats to play third base for the Braves that has eluded the team since Chipper hung up his cleats 6 years ago.

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