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Houston Astros: How the Stros can improve at third base in 2016

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Free agent third base options

Nov 1, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) celebrates with catcher Salvador Perez (13) after scoring a run against the New York Mets in the 12th inning in game five of the World Series at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

There are three intriguing free agent options for the Astros with Ben Zobrist, David Freese, and Brett Lawrie (if the Athletics non-tender him. He’s arbitration-eligible, so his status is a little in flux at the moment).

Freese has upside with his knowledge of division opponents, the fact that he’s still posting a respectable WAR at the age of 32 (2.3 according to Baseball-reference), and that he’s making less money than you might think ($6.43 million this year). But is it worth it to sign a veteran who looks like he will do basically what Duffy will do but with a much higher price tag? No.

Lawrie is young (25), athletic, cheap ($1.93 million this year), and has a poor on-base percentage (.299) and lots of strikeouts (144) to match his bad attitude. Even if the Athletics non-tender him, I don’t think he’s what the Astros need from a skills perspective or an attitude perspective.

Then there’s Zobrist. The prodigal son from one of the worst trades in Astros history. I know he’s not technically a third baseman, but I’m thinking a little outside the box on this because there are no other options that I’m in love with. I thought Eric Huysman made a good point yesterday when he said the Astros should raid the Royals roster if they want to beat them next year.

And Zobrist might be obtainable since the Royals have so much to focus on to maintain their winning ways next year, with Zobrist, Johnny Cueto, and Alcides Escobar all headed into free agency; and Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain going into arbitration. That’s a lot to work on, and Zobrist seems like the least likely to return.

Zobrist is old (34) and pricey ($7.5 million this year), but he’s also exactly what the Astros need in their lineup — a pesky contact guy who never strikes out and is durable.

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I have no idea how he would work out at third base. He has played there (naturally, where hasn’t he played?) but not very much. It could be risky trying to make him their full-time third baseman. But if anyone could make it work, it’s the ultra-versatile Zobrist.

And I like the possibilities it gives their lineup. They can put him in either the number one or two spots, presenting an epic headache for pitchers having to face him and Jose Altuve back-to-back, and dropping George Springer to a lower power spot in the lineup that might be better suited for his muscle.

Or, they could put him in a non-traditional spot for a guy with his skillset. He could look good in the fifth spot breaking up all of those high-strikeout guys and providing them with a mid-lineup table setter.

He could go in the ninth spot and basically serve the role that they tried early in the season with Jake Marisnick as another turnover leadoff guy.

Next: One way the Astros can beat the Kansas City Royals next time

I think it’s worth a shot if the Astros can lure Zobrist with a short-term contract while they keep the spot warm for Duffy. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s worth pursuing as I really think it’s his best shot. And if he doesn’t work out at third base, the worst situation is that they have another super utility player that they can plug and play anywhere. Who could be mad at that?

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