Orioles' Top 5 third basemen: Trezza's 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 their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Joe Trezza’s ranking of the top five third basemen in Orioles history. Next week: Shortstops.

• Baltimore's All-Time Team: Catcher | First base | Second base

1) Brooks Robinson, 1955-77
Key fact: First-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, MLB position-player record 16 Gold Glove Awards

Who else? In any historical conversation about what he made an extremely top-heavy position, every discussion begins and ends with Brooks.

2) Manny Machado, 2012-18
Key fact: Averaged more than 5 WAR per season from 2013-17

Twenty years in, it’s fair to call Machado the Orioles’ best homegrown player this millennium, a generational defender who grew into an offensive superstar as well. The No. 3 overall Draft pick in 2010, Machado debuted two years later as a 19-year-old. He won a league doubles title on his way to All-Star and Gold Glove honors at age 20, then compiled three 30-homer seasons, three more All-Star nods, two top 5 American League MVP Award finishes and another Gold Glove Award before his 26th birthday.

Machado was at his best producing consecutive 7 WAR seasons in 2015 and ’16, hitting .290 with 72 homers and an .869 OPS over that stretch. Before being traded to the Dodgers in '18 and signing a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres the following offseason, Machado did a number on the Orioles’ record books. He remains the club’s all-time leader in hitting, slugging and OPS among third basemen, and ranks second behind Robinson in homers and WAR.

3) Melvin Mora, 2000-09
Key fact: 908 games played at third, second most in Orioles history behind Robinson

Longevity matters for Mora, perhaps the O’s most recognizable name from their most forgettable decade. A late bloomer who did not debut until age 27 with the Mets, Mora arrived in Baltimore via the Mike Bordick trade in 2000. He spent the next decade as an Orioles stalwart, first in a utility role and then for six seasons as the everyday third baseman. Playing third, short, second and even some outfield, Mora racked up 158 home runs in 10 seasons in Baltimore to go along with a .280 average and a .793 OPS.

The two-time All-Star enjoyed his best season in 2004, hitting .340 with 27 home runs and a .981 OPS. Mora led AL hitters with a .419 OBP and won Silver Slugger honors that season, the same campaign in which he grabbed hold of the third-base job.

4) Doug DeCinces, 1973-81
Key fact: Replaced Robinson, was traded to make room for Cal Ripken Jr.

Few reach the Majors with as daunting a task as DeCinces: Replace Robinson at the hot corner in Baltimore. No pressure, kid.

Of course, there was pressure, which DeCinces spoke openly about overcoming during his sometimes-contentious nine-year tenure in Baltimore. Still, DeCinces followed Robinson admirably after grabbing the hot corner reins full-time in 1976, hitting 103 homers and averaging 3.5 WAR over the next six seasons. Though he didn’t turn into an All-Star or MVP candidate until being traded to the Angels in '82 (to clear room for Cal Ripken Jr.), DeCinces sprinkled in one terrific year -- 28 HR, 149 OPS+, 7 WAR in ’78 -- with the O’s that hinted at that potential. It remains arguably the most productive single season by a third baseman in Orioles history.

5) Tony Batista, 2001-03
Key fact: Hit 69 homers across 406 games with Baltimore

This was essentially a toss-up between Batista and Leo Gomez, who actually took the same number of at-bats during their tenures in Baltimore. While Gomez stretched those across parts of six seasons, Batista binged them across 2 1/2 seasons as the O’s everyday third baseman. He gets the edge here due to his slight advantage in homers (69 to 62), All-Star Game appearance in 2002 and his legendary batting stance.

Honorable mentions
We are only considering Orioles players for this exercise, but Harlond Clift was a top slugger for the St. Louis Browns in the 1930s and ‘40s, and he remains the franchise all-time leader in third baseman OPS. … Jimmy Austin spent nearly the entire '10s as the Browns’ starting third baseman, stealing 192 bases across 16 seasons with the club, and he served as a player-manager for 75 games. … Gomez hit double-digit homers in each of his first four full seasons, earning AL Rookie of the Year Award votes in ‘91. … Cal Ripken Jr. finished his Hall of Fame career at third, but he is being considered as a shortstop for this exercise. … Todd Cruz drove in six runs in his Orioles debut in 1983, ultimately finishing his MLB career with the team. … Craig Worthington placed fourth in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1989.