Third Base is Still a Problem, Though

Apr. 12, 2010 - Minneapolis, MINNESOTA, USA - epa02114383 Minnesota Twins Nick Punto throws to first to get Boston Red Sox Adrian Beltre out in the fourth inning at the Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 12 April, 2010. Twins win 5-2.

In my previous post, I noted that the Twins don’t really have to add pitching at the trade deadline. The rotation looks pretty good overall, with Liriano pitching like the ace the team has sorely lacked for the past few seasons. If they do get really desperate for pitching, the Twins might be better off calling up top prospect Kyle Gibson. Gibson has been advancing through the system quickly and is probably major-league ready right now; really the only thing keeping him out of the majors is the fact that the rotation is pretty well set (there’s no point in burning up service time if it isn’t necessary). That doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have any holes, however, it’s just that pitching really isn’t one of them. Ever since Corey Koskie departed as a free agent after the 2004 season, the Twins have struggled to fill their hole at third base. Some of their experiments have been awful: the likes of Michael Cuddyer, Jeff Cirillo, Tony Batista, Mike Lamb didn’t last until the All-Star break. Really, the only half-ways decent third basemen the Twins have had in that period have been Nick Punto and Joe Crede. It’s unlikely the Twins will find a long-term solution to the problem at the trade deadline, but we will explore their options after the jump.

First, the in-house options:

Nick Punto: Nick Punto is a very good defensive third baseman, with a career 19.5 UZR/150 in 230 defensive games at the hot corner. Unfortunately, he can’t hit. Punto has a career .247/.321/.322 line, though he’s had some of the oddest odd-even year splits. Considering that he will be 33 years old and is batting just .219/.298/.272, Punto looks to be in the decline phase of his career. He has an option for 2011, and while I would be surprised if the Twins don’t pick it up, it’s unlikely he will be with the team after that.

Danny Valencia: I give my boss a hard time about a lot of things, but in this case he’s right: Danny Valencia probably won’t stick in the major leagues. Valencia is 6-for-19 with the Twins thus far, but three of those hits were infield hits and he has yet to hit for any power. He hasn’t demonstrated much plate discipline in the minors, with a 0.43 BB/K ratio (or in the majors, for that matter, with 6 Ks to just one BB), and his.298/.353/.469 line is pretty average. His ability to hit for power has given the organization hope that he will make a useful everyday player, but his defense at the position is suspect (even if he proves to be solid defensively, it probably won’t be enough to make up for his below-average bat). His closest player comp is Kevin Kouzmanoff (optimistically), and it’s worth noting that Kouz was already an everyday player at age 26.

Brendan Harris: Harris is pretty versatile (though he will never win a Gold Glove at any position he plays) and isn’t completely useless as a utility player, but being an everyday player has left him exposed. He’s batting just with a UZR/150 in starts at third base this season, though maybe there’s hope for him after all.

Trevor Plouffe/Luke Hughes: I would still like to see what the Twins have in both players, but right now it doesn’t look like either will stick at third base. Like Valencia, Hughes has some power but little plate discipline and it probably won’t hit well enough to make up for his awful defense. Plouffe is a former first-round draft pick who hasn’t shown much in the minor leagues (his .231/.214/.308 line with the major-league club wasn’t great, either), though he’s been doing better in AAA this year, batting .283/.342/.454. Plouffe is only 24, so it’s a little to early to write him off, though right now his chances of becoming a solid major-leaguer look slim (besides, people were ready to declare another 24 year-old former first-round pick a bust based on his disappointing minor-league numbers).

And then there are the potential trade targets:

Ty Wigginton: Since the Orioles are already out of contention, Wigginton’s name has already surfaced in trade rumors. He’s currently manning second base while Brian Roberts is on the DL, but he’s spent most of his career at the hot corner. Wigginton has an above average bat, with a .339 wOBA and .185 ISO in nine seasons, but he stinks on defense, worth an average -76 runs below replacement at third base (he’s marginally better at second). Since he’s only signed through the end of the season, Wigginton would be more of a mid-season rental and it’s unlikely the Twins would want to give up much in terms of prospects.

Miguel Tejada: Tejada has spent most of his career at short, though he’s recently shifted over to third with the Orioles. He’s never been a great defender (though he’s been about average at third, albeit in a small sample size), and he’s been declining as a hitter for some time. Tejada is batting just .264/.303/.368 with a .296 wOBA and .150 ISO, which, combined with his barely average defense, is just a marginal upgrade over the production the Twins are already getting.

Mike Lowell: Lowell has reportedly been on the trading block since the Red Sox signed Adrian Beltre, though he’s mostly been linked to the Rangers. Lowell is 36 years old, can’t really play in the field anymore, and is currently in the midst of the worst offensive season of his career, with a .295 wOBA and .114 ISO. Lowell is just barely above replacement level at this point in his career: do. not. want.

Alex Gordon: This is extraordinarily unlikely, given that the Royals are technically a division rival and Gordon is a former first-round daft pick, but I’ll throw this in since we are dealing in hypotheticals. Gordon has been a disappointment for the Royals given his status as a first-round pick: he’s got a little power but can’t field his postition worth a lick, and he’s been injured a lot. The acquisition of Chris Getz in the offseason essentially pushed Gordon out of his position, and he’s now down in AAA Omaha trying to learn right field. Gordon could probably be had for the right price, which would likely be very expensive for a division rival like the Twins.

Daniel Murphy: This is an intriguing option. There are rumors that the Mets are interested in dealing Murphy, as they have a ton of holes and Ike Davis has pretty much stolen his starting job. Murphy hasn’t played third base at any point in his career, but there is talk of moving him around the infield in an effort to increase his trade value. Murphy sports a shiny .330 wOBA and .160 ISO, and he’s also arbitration-eligible for the next three years. And the Twins are flush with the one thing the Mets could really use: quality major-league ready starting pitching. It’s not likely the Twins would be very interested in a career OF/1B though, (they already have plenty of those), especially since there’s no real guarantee Murphy could handle the hot corner and the Mets will likely demand a huge haul in prospects.

Tags: Brenan Harris Corey Koskie Daniel Murphy Danny Valencia Kyle Gibson Luke Hughes Michael Cuddyer Miguel Tejada Mike Lowell Minnesota Twins Nick Punto Trevor Plouffe Ty Wigginton

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