Rangers' Top 5 third basemen: Sullivan'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 TR Sullivan’s ranking of the top five third basemen in Rangers history. Next week: Shortstops.

• Rangers' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B

1) , 2011-18
Key stat: Three All-Star nods, three Gold Glove Awards, two Silver Slugger Awards and four-time Rangers Player of the Year

Beltré might not have ever played for the Rangers if Cliff Lee had said yes. Re-signing Lee was the Rangers' No. 1 goal going into the 2010-11 offseason. But Lee spurned the Rangers and signed a five-year, $120 million contract with the Phillies. Beltré took six years and $96 million to come to Texas.

At the time, the deal was not widely assumed to be a great one for the Rangers. For one, it booted Michael Young off third base and into a curious role of “super-utility infielder.” That caused a lot of hard feelings and didn’t get smoothed over until Spring Training.

Secondly, Beltré was not considered a Hall of Fame candidate at the time. Not in the least. His 13-year career slash line at the time was .275/.328/.462, and he was averaging 25 home runs and 89 RBIs for every 162 games. He had been to one All-Star Game and won two Gold Glove Awards to that point.

Beltré had a superior defensive reputation but was 31 years old. There was some question how he would hold up physically. One opinion was Beltre would end up as a designated hitter. Also, Beltré was close to a five-year deal with the Angels. But agent Scott Boras wanted a sixth year, and Angels owner Arte Moreno refused.

The Rangers are forever grateful.

2) Buddy Bell, 1979-85, '89
Key fact: Four-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove Award winner.

Bell was similar to Beltré for a large part of his career. Bell was a solid if not spectacular third baseman for his first 12 years in the Majors. But he did not have the terrific finish Beltré had in Texas.

Bell had to deal with bad knees through the twilight of his career, and the Rangers had a hard time trying to move him during the 1985 season, when the club needed to go through a rebuild. They finally traded him to the Reds on July 19 for pitcher Jeff Russell and outfielder Duane Walker. Russell ended up being a two-time All-Star but at the time it appeared the Rangers had been short-changed.

Bell had a couple of solid seasons with the Reds in 1986-87, was a part-time player for the Astros in '88 and then returned to the Rangers in '89 to be their designated hitter. The knees wouldn’t hold up.

His last game was on June 17, 1989. Six weeks later, the Rangers tried to fill their designated hitter void by trading for Harold Baines. If Bell had held up physically, Baines might never have come to Texas and Sammy Sosa would have stayed with the Rangers.

3) Dean Palmer, 1989, '91-97
Key fact: Career .809 OPS as a third baseman -- 20th highest among third basemen since 1974 (min. 800 games)

Palmer and Juan Gonzalez came up through the Rangers farm system together and both were highly regarded as prospects. Gonzalez ended up being a two-time American League MVP Award winner while Palmer ended up being really good for about a 10-year stretch.

Palmer's apex with the Rangers came in 1996, when he hit 38 home runs and tallied 107 RBIs on that first AL West title-winning team. Both Palmer and the Rangers fell off the next season when a surprising trade came down on July 25. The Rangers traded Palmer to the Royals for outfielder Tom Goodwin. Texas was ready to turn over third base to Fernando Tatis Sr., who was another highly touted prospect. Goodwin gave the Rangers a leadoff hitter with great speed patrolling center field.

4) Hank Blalock, 2002-09
Key fact: As rookie in 2003, 17th in AL batting average (.300) and 19th in OPS (.872)

Blalock was terrific in 2003-04 and ended his career with the Rays in '10 as a two-time All-Star who could hit .300 and drive in 100 runs. His game-winning home run for the AL in the '03 All-Star Game was one of the more memorable Midsummer Classic moments in Rangers history.

Then he slid downhill. Injuries were a big part of it; right shoulder surgery in 2007 took away his ability to play third base. The Rangers tried him at first base, but his offensive production just fell off. He was 29 when he played his last game in the Major Leagues.

5) Steve Buechele, 1985-91, '95
Key fact: .968 career fielding percentage is 11th among third basemen in past 50 years (min. 650 games)

Buechele was a fifth-round Draft pick out of Stanford in 1982. He started out at second base in the Rangers' system but began playing more at third when it became evident that Bell wasn’t going to be with Texas much longer. Buechele was called up after Bell was traded. Everybody made a big deal about whether Buechele could replace Bell because ... well, there wasn’t much else to talk about with a team on its way to 99 losses.

Buechele had a good six-year run in Texas before returning for a short stint in 1995. He was popular with fans, respected by teammates and solid defensively. Offensively, he was productive at the bottom of the order. He would later return to the organization as its first-base coach.

The Rangers ended up trading Buechele to the Pirates during the 1991 season to make room for Palmer. The Rangers received pitchers Kurt Miller and Hector Fajardo in the deal. Miller had been a first-round Draft pick and everybody thought this would be a great deal for Texas because both pitchers were top prospects.

Turns out, that’s all they were. Prospects.

Also receiving consideration:
: All players are being ranked at the position where they played the most games. Tune in next week to see where Young ranks among shortstops.

Roy Howell: Rangers' first ever Draft pick, taken with the fourth overall pick in 1972 after the move to Texas.

Ken McMullen: Solid third baseman for the Senators from 1965-70. His offensive numbers aren’t great, but pitching was dominant back then.

Todd Zeile: Acquired at the 1998 Trade Deadline, went to the postseason with the Rangers in '98 and '99 and then moved on. He played with 11 different organizations over 16 years.