A's Top 5 third basemen: Gallegos' take

April 13th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on each player’s career while with that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, vote in the Twitter poll for your favorite at this position.

Here is MLB.com’s ranking of the top five third basemen in A’s history, as selected by Martín Gallegos. Next week: shortstops.

A's All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B

1) “Captain” Sal Bando, 1966-76
Key fact: 33.0 total bWAR from 1969-73 led the Majors

In an organization rich with talent at third base over the years, there has only been one captain. His name is Sal Bando.

Fresh off their 1968 move from Kansas City to Oakland, the A’s were searching for an identity. Bando only had one full big league season under his belt, but his aggressive and hard-nosed style of play caught the eye of manager Hank Bauer enough to earn himself the role of team captain in ‘69.

What proceeded after Bando’s arrival was the start of a dynasty. With Bando as the glue that held down a club with no shortage of stars like Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter, the A’s won three consecutive World Series titles from 1972-74. Bando got it done on offense and defense during that three-year championship run, finishing in the top four in American League MVP Award voting for two of those seasons.

Bando never captured the elusive MVP Award, with the closest a second-place finish in 1971 when he was just beat out by his teammate in Blue, who also won the AL Cy Young Award that season. But the award was not necessary to validate one of the greatest careers of any player to don the green and gold. Bando’s legacy as the greatest third baseman to come through Oakland was established in his 11 seasons with the club that featured four All-Star selections.

Bando’s top season in Oakland came in '69. He played all 162 games, which was the first of three times he would accomplish that feat in his career, and slashed .281/.400/.484 with 31 home runs and 113 RBIs. Bando slashed .255/.359/.418 with 192 home runs and 796 RBIs in 11 seasons with the A’s. He remains Oakland's all-time leader for third basemen in RBIs and walks (792).

2) Frank “Home Run” Baker, 1908-14
Key fact: .321 career batting average with A’s is highest among third basemen in club history

Manning the hot corner as one-fourth of the famed "$100,000 Infield" assembled by Connie Mack in the early 1900s, Baker earned his nickname after his performance in the 1911 World Series. He blasted a game-winning homer off New York Giants and Hall of Fame pitcher Rube Marquard in Game 2 and followed that up with another game-winning home run off another Hall of Famer -- Christy Mathewson -- in Game 3. The latter sealed the A’s second consecutive World Series title.

Playing in a time referred to as the “Deadball Era” due to low scoring, Baker’s power numbers actually stood out for the period. He led the AL in home runs for four straight seasons from 1911-14 and also was the league’s RBI leader in '12 and '13.

Baker was a member of the original A’s dynasty that won three championships in four years from '10-13. He played seven seasons for the A’s before his contract was sold to the Yankees, the club with which he played six seasons and finished his career.

Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, Baker still leads all A’s third basemen in batting average, stolen bases (172), BABIP (.336), wOBA (.402), and wRC+ (148).

3) Eric Chavez, 1998-2010
Key fact: His 230 home runs with the A’s lead all third basemen in club history

The only thing standing in the way of establishing himself as the greatest third baseman in A’s history was a rough string of injuries.

Drafted 10th overall by the A’s out of Mount Carmel High School in 1996, Chavez quickly lived up to the hype by putting together a six-year stretch of greatness from 2001-06. It was a performance that led to the A’s making Chavez the face of the franchise by rewarding him in '04 with a six-year, $66 million contract extension that remains the largest contract ever handed out by the A’s.

That six year-year tear featured a .273/.351/.495 slash line with 173 home runs and 574 RBIs over 882 games. As impressive as he was at the plate, Chavez was even better as a defender, establishing himself among the elite with six AL Gold Glove Awards in that stretch.

It was looking like the start of a Hall of Fame career. Chavez averaged a 5.2 WAR over those six seasons, which put him among the top 10 position players in the AL for that period. Unfortunately for the A’s and Chavez, back issues soon began to take a toll on the star third baseman.

Starting with the 2007 campaign, Chavez spent more time in the trainers’ room than the field over his final four seasons with the A’s. He appeared in just 90 games in ‘07, hitting 15 home runs, then combined to play in just 64 games with three homers from ‘08-10.

Chavez became a free agent after 2010 and split the final four seasons of his career with the Yankees and D-backs, never quite returning to the form that made him a star in Oakland. There will always be a “what if” surrounding Chavez’s career, but his contributions in 13 seasons with the A’s still make him one of the club’s all-time greats. Chavez currently holds the seventh-best career fielding percentage (.970) by a third baseman in MLB history, and his 35.0 bWAR with the A’s remains third highest among third basemen in club history.

4) Matt Chapman, 2017-present
Key fact: Since making his big league debut in 2017, Chapman’s 79 Defensive Runs Saved lead all Major League players

You can almost flip a coin here between and Carney Lansford. The case for Lansford is he starred on the high-powered Oakland clubs of the late 1980s and has the longevity over Chapman for now. But we’re going to give Chapman the edge based on his current trajectory.

Just entering his prime at age 26, the accolades are already piling up. With only two full big league seasons under his belt, Chapman has two Gold Glove Awards, two Platinum Glove Awards, an All-Star selection and two top-seven finishes in AL MVP Award voting. His defensive WAR in each of those two seasons (3.9 in 2019 and 3.6 in 2018) led the AL and rank as the two highest by any player in club history. In those two years (2018-19), his combined 12.8 fWAR ranks sixth among all Major Leaguers, only trailing stars Mike Trout (18.4), Mookie Betts (17.0), Alex Bregman (16.0), Christian Yelich (15.4) and Anthony Rendon (13.2). Chapman’s career 15.5 fWAR currently ranks sixth highest among third basemen in A’s history, well in line to catch the all-time leader in Bando (47.5) should he remain in Oakland for the long term.

Having mastered the art of defense with his wizardry at the hot corner, Chapman is now focused on evolving his offense to elite levels. His career .500 slugging percentage currently stands as the highest of any third baseman in club history, and he’s quickly rising on the A’s all-time home run list for third basemen, currently seventh with 74 homers.

5) Carney Lansford, 1983-92
Key fact: .288 career batting average is the highest of any third baseman in Oakland history

A Bay Area native who grew up in nearby San Jose, Lansford had a storybook ending to his career as he finished it with 10 seasons in Oakland. He was a pure hitter, never striking out more than 62 times in a season with the A’s. Lansford’s finest campaign came in the team’s 1989 championship run that culminated in a World Series win over the Giants. Lansford lost out on the AL batting title to Kirby Puckett by three points that year with a .336 batting average. He was also clutch for the entirety of that '89 postseason, going 12-for-27 with a double, home run and eight RBIs.

Lansford was an All-Star in '88 and led AL third basemen in fielding percentage in '87 (.980), '88 (.979) and '90 (.970). He amassed a 27.3 bWAR in his A’s career, which ranks 19th among all position players in A’s history.

Honorable mentions

Jimmie Dykes split time almost evenly between second and third base over 15 seasons with the A’s and was a key piece on offense. He won a pair of World Series titles with the A’s and hit over .300 five times.

• Before Josh Donaldson became an MVP with the Blue Jays, he spent the first four seasons of his career thrilling A’s fans on offense and defense. Donaldson was an All-Star in 2014 and the heart of a squad that made the postseason three consecutive years from '12-14.

Wayne Gross was an All-Star in 1977 and his 88 home runs with the A’s are fourth-most by a third baseman in club history.