CLEVELAND -- Opinions could change drastically depending on who the general manager becomes, but there has been a growing desire to re-sign David Freese among those who remain in the Angels' front office. They like what Freese brings to the clubhouse, and they've seen how much the offense has dropped off ever since he landed on the disabled list with a fractured right index finger on July 23.
But there won't be many quality third basemen available in the open market this offseason, with Aramis Ramirez expected to retire and the likes of Juan Uribe, Alberto Callaspo and Casey McGehee rounding out the other options. Freese could price himself out of the Angels' plans.
If he does, it'll probably come down to Kaleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza.
The Angels sent a valued starting-pitching prospect in 18-year-old Ricardo Sanchez to the Braves on Jan. 8 because they felt Kubitza could be their everyday third baseman by 2016, when Freese hits free agency. At that point, Cowart was coming off two rough seasons at Double-A Arkansas and was looking like a busted prospect.
"Did you expect them not to?" Cowart said. "I was hitting .220 for two years. They had to do something."
Kubitza began the year in Triple-A and was called up twice when the Angels needed a temporary replacement for Freese. But Cowart turned his career around with an in-season mechanical tweak at Class A Advanced Inland Empire then went on a tear at Triple-A Salt Lake -- a promotion that came while Kubitza was in the big leagues -- and has spent the past 11 days as the Angels' everyday third baseman.
"There's always competition with everybody, man," Cowart said. "If it's not Kubitza, there's somebody else. Always. It's just how the game works. If you're not getting it done, somebody else will."
Cowart, a switch-hitter, entered Saturday 4-for-29 with a home run and 14 strikeouts in his brief big league stint (the left-handed-hitting Kubitza had gone 7-for-35 with 15 strikeouts). The 23-year-old said nerves affected him early on, then he adjusted to an increase in velocity by starting his load a little sooner. Since then, he's felt comfortable.
"I'd like to get some more hits, obviously, and contribute a little bit more," Cowart said. "But defensively, I feel good."
Cowart is a premier defender, widely considered better than both Freese and Kubitza in that aspect. But it'll come down to offense at the hot corner, and with Freese expected to return to the lineup on Monday or Tuesday, Cowart won't have many more opportunities to prove himself before an offseason of major decisions.
Rival evaluators feel Kubitza strikes out too frequently for someone without much home-run power, and they're not sure what to make of Cowart's sudden turnaround.
"We feel these guys both have really good skill sets," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Hopefully they're going to continue to improve and reach their potential. If they reach their potential, you absolutely have two legitimate everyday third basemen."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.