Minnesota Twins 2018 positional recap and 2019 predictions, part 5- Third base
By Matt Smith
Let’s move on from 2018 and look forward to 2019. Many hoped that Eduardo Escobar would return to the Minnesota Twins and take over third base once again, but those dreams were crushed recently after he signed a 3-year extension with the Diamondbacks.
Gregorio Petit was DFAed early in the offseason by the Twins, leaving the team with Sano and Adrianza as the likely candidates to fill third base with an in-house solution. Adrianza has proven he can play third base on any given day, but his profile is better suited as a backup/utility infielder rather than a starter.
As for Sano, the front office is likely going to be hesitant to count on a full season from him. His recent performance has certainly been concerning as well. His situation is difficult in that he still has a lot of potential and the Twins need to keep space for him in the big leagues in case he does figure it out, but time is running out for him to realize that potential, and he hasn’t done enough for the Twins to be confident in him being able to cover the full season at third.
It’s tough to say if the Twins should be trying to leave space for him at third beyond the 2019 season or not. If he comes out and has a great year, then he would of course be someone you’d want to have space for in 2020 and beyond. But, if he has a year similar to 2018, then the Twins will be seriously considering moving on from Sano. All this adds up to the Twins probably looking for another option at third base for 2019, but it’s difficult to say how long of a solution they should be looking for.
There aren’t really any options for third base in the minor league system right now (it’s worth mentioning that Willians Astudillo could see some time at third after proving he’s competent all around the diamond, but he is far from a proven commodity, so the Twins should probably only count on him as a utility player for now), so the team may need to turn to free agency to be sure to have a good option at third base for the full season. The situation with Sano has created a bit tricky of a scenario. The team needs someone they can rely on to play a decent third base, but they also need to keep at bats open for Sano. Perhaps the best solution at this point would be to think of Sano as more of bench player for now that can rotate around from 3B, 1B, and DH, while trying to find a starter for third base through free agency.
Finding a free agent option could be a little bit tricky. There are a few options at third in the current free agent class, but not many. The biggest name available is Josh Donaldson. He’s intriguing because he has a very impressive resume, but his performance has fallen off each of the past few seasons as he has aged and dealt with some injuries, making him one of riskier free agents on the market. Given the uncertainty the Minnesota Twins are already experiencing at third base, Donaldson probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Another decent option would be Adrian Beltre. The former Hall of Famer has had a long and successful career, but he is undoubtedly on his last legs. In fact, he’s likely considering retiring this offseason and may not take a contract if one were offered to him. If he does not retire, he could be a match for the Twins in terms of contract length, as they would be looking at a 1-year deal for him. This could allow the Twins to have an option for 2019 without committing to anything beyond that, leaving the door open for Sano in 2020, or another free agent if Sano doesn’t earn it. However, Beltre is a bit of a risky option as well, given he has played in just 94 and 119 games in 2017 and 2018 respectively as he has dealt with injuries. He has continued to play well, but it’s tough to say how much longer his body will allow him to keep playing.
Perhaps the only “safe” third baseman on the market this winter is Mike Moustakas. The former Kansas City Royals 3B was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers this past season. He was actually a free agent last year as well, but teams showed very little interest in him. He was forced to accept a 1-year deal with the Royals on March 8th, very late in the offseason. Moustakas has been a solid player over his career. He’s a career .257 hitter and averages 24 home runs in a year.
He’s also a reliable option, playing in at least 125 games in each of the past 7 seasons, excluding 2016 when he tore his ACL early in the season. He appears to be a pretty good fit for the Minnesota Twins. He’s good, but not so good that teams will be falling over left and right trying to sign him. He just turned 30, so he should have several quality seasons left in him, creating an opportunity for the Minnesota Twins to sign him to a multi-year deal.
The problem with Moustakas may come down to how much he’s willing to accept. At the end of the 2016 season, he declined a $17 million qualifying offer from the Royals, choosing to risk free agency instead. This backfired tragically on him, as he ended up signing for 1 year and $6 million with the Royals. This may indicate that Moustakas believes he’s worth much more than teams think. His agent is Scott Boras, which is another sign he may hold out for as big a contract as he can. Don’t get me wrong, Moustakas is a solid player. The issue is, he’s not a stud. If he thinks he’s worth $15 million per year but he’s actually worth just $5 million (these numbers are purely for example), teams could have a hard time signing him.
Still, if you look at everything else, Moustakas appears to be the only good option for the Twins this offseason. Donaldson and Beltre are too risky of options for the Twins right now, and after Moustakas, there really isn’t anyone of much quality. Yangervis Solarte has had a few decent years in the MLB, but he’s coming off a poor .226 average season, which doesn’t do much for a team looking for a safe, reliable option. After him, the best 3B free agents are the likes of Mark Reynolds (career .238 hitter averaging 189 strikeouts in a full season) and our old friend Trevor Plouffe (who played in just 7 games in the MLB in 2018). Yeah, not very many options.
All in all, it’s a difficult situation for the Minnesota Twins. They’ll have to balance making sure Sano gets another (final?) chance while not putting too much stock in him, finding a third baseman that’s good enough without getting too picky in a year without many options, and so on. The team does have a few options, but there’s not many of them.