- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The weekend was not kind to third basemen around the fantasy baseball world, as bad news was delivered to those who own Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval and David Freese, among others. Let's take a look at each of these situations and how fantasy owners should react.
Zimmerman: When the Washington Nationals slugger hit the DL three weeks ago I blogged that a short DL stint for an abdominal strain was no big deal, and I controversially compared him to Scott Rolen in terms of a lack of durability. That feedback was interesting! Now we hear that Zimmerman's abdominal strain needs sports hernia surgery. The team says he'll miss at least another six weeks, with some reports pushing his return past the All-Star break. Look, this update doesn't exactly endear Zimmerman to fantasy owners more than the original injury. However, as a top 25-overall draft selection, someone regarded at the same level of Alex Rodriguez, you can't cut Zimmerman. Now we must hope for a 15-home run second half.
According to the Washington Post, the Nationals could move Michael Morse to third base in an effort to give outfielder Laynce Nix more playing time, but unless Morse hits that really doesn't matter much to fantasy owners. Morse has been a huge disappointment. Jerry Hairston Jr. and Alex Cora can handle third base, but they can't hit much. At this point it's difficult to call Morse, Nix or Hairston even close to fantasy relevant.
Sandoval: It's a shame, because Kung Fu Panda ranks ninth on the ESPN Player Rater among third basemen, as he was hitting .313 with five home runs and 14 RBIs before breaking the hamate bone in his right hand. Surgery will be required and Sandoval is expected to miss four to six weeks. Like Zimmerman, I think Sandoval is good enough to remain 100 percent owned in ESPN leagues, though he's already down to 98 percent the day after the announcement. He was certainly hitting like this was his 2009 breakout season all over again. There is the risk that Sandoval's power doesn't immediately return, but because this position is weak statistically, you likely would not be able to get him back.
Early rumors on how the San Francisco Giants would replace Sandoval, one of the few productive hitters in the Giants' lineup, centered on hotshot prospect Brandon Belt. No, he cannot play third base, but Aubrey Huff does have experience there, though he's not very good defensively. Belt is hitting well at Triple-A Fresno since his demotion and might get called up regardless of the Sandoval injury, so keep an eye on that. He would be mixed-league ownable right away. The Giants moved Miguel Tejada to third base and Mike Fontenot handled shortstop Sunday. Fontenot hit a pair of doubles and is hitting .265, but there's not much to see here. The Giants called up Ryan Rohlinger, but he's more utility guy than feared hitter. Basically, the Giants can't really replace Sandoval's bat unless the struggling Huff moves to third base and Belt comes up.
Freese: This poor guy just can't stay healthy. Now 28, perhaps we'll never see Freese play a full season and reach his potential. He was hitting .356 with 14 RBIs when a Scott Linebrink pitch broke a bone in his left hand Sunday, and he might require surgery. Unlike Zimmerman and Sandoval, Freese wasn't owned in 100 percent of leagues, but he was close; since the injury, he has dropped to 84.7 percent owned, and that number will continue to fall. I'd drop Freese, too. Maybe he returns in a month, but considering he played in only 70 games a year ago, and was mainly a factor in batting average and RBIs only, he's droppable. The Cardinals say Freese will miss at least a month, and perhaps significantly more.
Those who play in leagues in which one game in the field defines eligibility had to be overjoyed to see Albert Pujols moving over to third base Sunday, the first time he had played the hot corner since 2002 (in ESPN leagues the threshold to add eligibility is 10 games). Don't look for Pujols to move to third base regularly, though that would seem enticing to get Lance Berkman out of the outfield to first base, and the Cardinals have more outfield depth than third-base depth.
Manager Tony La Russa likely will give Daniel Descalso a shot, and he is somewhat interesting. The lefty hitter possesses good plate discipline and could probably hit double digits in home runs and perhaps stolen bases with regular playing time and 450 at-bats, but he hasn't shown he can hit major league pitching yet. Tyler Greene and Nick Punto aren't exciting offensively, though Allen Craig is. Whether the Cardinals would use Craig at third base is problematic, but the bat is legit and he should come off the DL on Monday from a groin injury. The team could also promote prospect Matt Carpenter. He is hitting .270 at Triple-A Memphis with two home runs but more walks than strikeouts, and while spring training numbers don't mean much, Carpenter represented himself well with a .924 OPS.
As for available third basemen in more than half of ESPN's leagues, the list isn't strong. Juan Uribe, Chase Headley, Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta don't seem like difference-makers. Mike Aviles just passed the 50 percent owned threshold over the weekend. Wilson Betemit and, gulp, Jack Hannahan and Greg Dobbs are hitting, but that's about it. I still think Ty Wigginton will hit, and he is eligible at three infield spots.
Eric Karabell discusses injury news surrounding third basemen Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Zimmerman and David Freese.