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Oakland Athletics third baseman Luke Hughes misplays a grounder by Chicago White Sox' Alex Rios during the first inning of a Major League Baseball game, Tuesday, April 24, 2012, at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. Rios was safe at first. Hughes was charged with an error. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

For years, the A's were a model of stability and productivity at third base. Sal Bando, Carney Lansford and Eric Chavez each played nearly a decade at the position for Oakland, and decent players such as Wayne Gross and Scott Brosius bridged the gaps between those three standouts.

But in the five-plus years since Chavez's last Gold Glove season, the hot corner hasn't been so hot in Oakland. An astounding 23 players have started at third base for the A's since 2007, and as uninspiring and unsettled as the position has been, 2012 might represent a new low if early returns are any indication.

Through 20 games, the A's third basemen -- Josh Donaldson, Eric Sogard and Luke Hughes -- are batting .111 (8 for 72) with one home run and four RBIs.

Equally alarming is that they have committed eight errors. In 2006, Chavez made five errors in 133 starts.

The A's hadn't anticipated this problem. Scott Sizemore, acquired from Detroit last May, had given them reason for hope based on the 2011 season. Though he hit just .249 and made 13 errors, he'd improved as the season progressed.

But Sizemore blew out a knee in the first full-squad workout this spring and was lost for the season. Since then, almost every day brings a "Who's on third?" question for manager Bob Melvin.

Sogard is a classic utility infielder who is probably better suited to second base or shortstop. Donaldson, a converted catcher, opened the season as the starter but went 3 for 32 (.094) and was shipped to Triple-A this week. Next up is Hughes. Claimed off waivers from Minnesota this week, he made three errors in his first two games and then came down with a 102-degree fever.

"We have who we have," Melvin said. "We're going to take a hard look at Luke Hughes, and that's where we are right now. We did the same thing with Donaldson and it didn't work out. That doesn't mean he potentially won't be back at some time. The fact is, Sizemore was the guy we expected to get 550 at-bats, and without him, it's created a little bit of a hole for us."

Said bench coach Chip Hale, who along with third-base coach Mike Gallego works with the infielders: "It's definitely going to be a matter of trial and error right now, and I guess you could say opportunity. Whether it's somebody in our system that pops up or it's somebody from somewhere else that we make a move for."

If Hughes doesn't pan out, and Donaldson doesn't make it back, it could turn out to be the worst season at third base since the A's moved to Oakland in 1968. That's saying something, too, because the last five seasons haven't been good.

Jack Hannahan assumed the position when Chavez started to encounter health problems in 2007 and played most of the games there in 2008. Adam Kennedy was an adequate one-year fill-in in 2009, and Kevin Kouzmanoff did a fair job in 2010, making 140 starts. But Kouzmanoff got off to a horrible start in 2011, was shipped to the minors after the A's acquired Sizemore and ultimately was traded.

It might take another trade to fix the problem because, after Hughes and Donaldson, prospects are thin.

Until Donaldson was sent down, Stephen Parker, a 2009 fifth-round draft pick, had manned the position for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. Parker, 24, has moved steadily through the system after a standout career at BYU and shown some power potential, but he's played fewer than two dozen games at Triple-A. He's not ready.

The A's flirted with the idea of Wes Timmons at third base in spring training, but the career minor-leaguer was quickly thrown over for Donaldson. Timmons is in Sacramento, but he's not getting much time at third and, on top of that, was hitting .146 in 14 games through Wednesday.

Josh Horton, a 26-year-old who has been in the system since 2007, is the third base starter at Double-A Midland and probably isn't an answer, long-term or short. The A's selected two third basemen high in the 2010 draft, Chad Lewis (in the fourth round) and Tony Thompson (sixth round). Thompson just began his first season at Single-A Modesto. Lewis is a step below in Burlington, Vt. One of them could be the answer someday, but that day is a long way off.

Meanwhile, Melvin has 142 games to deal with the question: Who's on third? He doesn't care which man answers it, only that somebody does and soon. "I think everybody wants that," he said. "We're just not at that point right now."

HOT CORNER NIGHTMARE

In 2012, the A's have not received stellar play from their third basemen.

Player G AB H HR RBIs Avg. E
Eric Sogard* 9 34 5 1 3 .147 2
Josh Donaldson 9 32 3 0 1 .094 3
Luke Hughes 2 6 0 0 0 .000 3

Totals 20 72 8 1 4 .111 8
* Includes only statistics while playing third base.