Red Sox: Top five third basemen in franchise history

The BoSox Injection staff ranks the top handful of players in Boston Red Sox history at each position. Up next is third base.

Sep 24, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) works out prior the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 24, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) works out prior the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The hot corner is a hot mess for the Boston Red Sox entering 2017.

The team will enter the season relying on a slimmed down Pablo Sandoval to cover third base, with a questionable backup plan in the event that the former All-Star fails to return to form.

Last year’s third baseman, Travis Shaw, was shipped out of town to acquire a setup man for the bullpen and the future of the position was dealt to Chicago in the Chris Sale trade. That leaves Brock Holt as the best available option to play third base if Sandoval falls flat for the third consecutive year.

Third base may be a potential black hole for the Red Sox this season, but it wasn’t always that way. A glance back at the history of the position shows this franchise has had a number of quality options covering third.

Which former Red Sox players have the honor of being considered among the best in franchise history at the position? Here are our top five.

John Valentin

Valentin began his career as a shortstop, but moved off of the position in 1997 to make room for the arrival of Nomar Garciaparra. He would end up settling in at third base, where he spent the bulk of his time over the next few seasons.

During that ’97 season, Valentin hit .306 with an .871 OPS and a league-leading 47 doubles.

Valentin developed into a solid defensive player after making the adjustment to third base, providing value even after his skills at the plate began to diminish. In 1998 he had 21 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average, which for comparison’s sake, would have equaled the major league lead among third basemen last season.

His career 31.2 fWAR puts Valentin third among Red Sox players that have ever played third base for multiple seasons with the franchise.

Injuries limited Valentin to a mere 30 games over his final two seasons in Boston. He left to join the New York Mets as a free agent in 2002, where he finished out the final season of his career.

Oct 2, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox former pitcher Pedro Martinez (45) shakes the hand of another former teammate Mike Lowell as part of pregame ceremonies for designated hitter David Ortiz (34) before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Lowell

Josh Beckett may have been the headliner of the blockbuster deal with the Marlins in 2006, but Mike Lowell proved to be equally as important to the championship they would help bring a year later.

While Beckett struggled to adjust in his first year in Boston, Lowell delivered a respectable .284/.339/.475 line in his Red Sox debut season, along with his usual solid defensive play at third base.

Lowell was already a known commodity after making three All-Star appearances with the Marlins, but his 2007 season with the Red Sox was the best performance of his career. He set career highs with a .324 average and 120 RBI, earning him a fifth place finish on the AL MVP ballot.

The veteran third baseman had an impressive season, but the postseason was where he truly shined. After going 12-for-26 (.333) through the opening two rounds of the playoffs, Lowell followed by hitting a blistering .400 with a 1.300 OPS in the sweep over the Colorado Rockies to earn World Series MVP honors.

Lowell spent five seasons in Boston, compiling a .290/.346/.468 slash line with 80 home runs and an 8.6 fWAR that ranks 13th in franchise history at the position (in fairness, many of the names ahead of him on that list spent significant time at other positions as well).

Bill Mueller

Bill Mueller only spent three seasons in Boston, but they were the best three years of his career.

The Red Sox signed Mueller as a free agent in 2003. In his first year in Boston, the veteran set career highs in virtually every offensive category. He won a batting title by hitting .326 to go along with a .938 OPS, 19 home runs and 85 RBI. Those numbers earned Mueller a Silver Slugger Award and enough votes to finish 12th on the MVP ballot.

A year later Mueller put together another solid season, but what cements his status on this list is that he was a starter on arguably the most beloved Red Sox team in franchise history – the curse breaking 2004 World Series champions.

Everyone remembers the Dave Roberts steal in Game 4 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees, but it was Mueller’s base hit up the middle against Mariano Rivera that drove in Roberts to tie the game in the 9th inning, sparking the greatest comeback in postseason history.

Mueller hit .303/.378/.474 during his three seasons in Boston. He doesn’t have the longevity with the franchise to rank higher than 12th at the position in WAR, but his 123 wRC+ is third all-time among Red Sox third basemen.

Jun 2, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis (20) during their game against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 2, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis (20) during their game against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Youkilis

Youk already appeared in our ranking of the top Red Sox first basemen, but considering he spent nearly half his time in Boston at the hot corner we’re including him again.

Youkilis quickly established himself as a fan favorite for his gritty style of play and ability to grind out at-bats to wear out the opposing pitching staff. The “Greek God of Walks” is third among Red Sox third basemen with a 12.4 BB% and .388 OBP, while ranking second in the more advanced metrics of wOBA (.381) and wRC+ (130).

The three-time All-Star finished third in MVP voting in 2008 when he hit .312 with a .958 OPS, 29 home runs and 115 RBI. He was arguably even better the following season when he posted a higher OBP and OPS, but dropped to sixth on the ballot that year – likely due to a slight dip in home run and RBI production.

Debuting in 2004, Youkilis is one of the forgotten members of that historic championship team. He appeared in 72 games that season, but his 0-for-2 showing in the ALDS was the only impression he made on the postseason that year. By 2007, Youkilis would become a force in the middle of the lineup. He would finish his career with an overall slash of .306/.376/.568 in the postseason and a pair of World Series rings, all accumulated in a Red Sox uniform.

May 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Former Red Sox player Wade Boggs is honored with the retiring of his uniform number 26 before the start of the game against the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

May 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Former Red Sox player Wade Boggs is honored with the retiring of his uniform number 26 before the start of the game against the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Wade Boggs

What, you were expecting Pablo Sandoval? As the only Red Sox third baseman to have their number retired, Wade Boggs is the clear choice for the top spot on this list.

Hanging No. 26 on the right field facade at Fenway Park was a long overdue honor that the Red Sox finally bestowed upon Boggs in May 2016 – over a decade after he had been enshrined in Cooperstown.

Boggs was a master of getting on base long before the baseball world came to appreciate that skill. He won five batting titles, led the league in OBP six times and OPS twice, finishing with a remarkable .338/.428/.462 line over his 11 years in Boston.

At a time when home run power was all the rage, Boggs was wise enough to realize that even though he could hit the ball out of the park, swinging for the fences would come at the expense of his elite on-base ability. Instead of hitting double-digit homers every year, all Boggs did was churn out 200+ hits for seven straight seasons. He racked up 40+ doubles eight times, leading the league twice in that category.

In addition to being the all-time leader among Red Sox first basemen in batting average and on-base percentage, Boggs also tops the list with a .394 wOBA, 142 wRC+ and 70.8 fWAR.

Boggs was a 12-time All-Star, eight of which came as a member of the Red Sox. The issue that skill irks a dwindling population of Red Sox Nation is that those other four appearances came when he played for the hated Yankees.

They say time heals all wounds, so over two decades after Boggs left Boston, the franchise and most of its fan base has forgiven him for jumping ship to their biggest rivals. Now one of the greatest hitters in franchise history can take his rightful place among the other legendary figures to wear a Red Sox uniform.

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