July 29, 2008

Decisions, decisions Pt. 3: Third Baseman

Last week I posted Part 2 of "Decisions, decisions" which highlighted a few relief pitchers that the Twins may target as we approach the deadline. As we stand right now, it seems that 2 of those players are now off the market with Damarso Marte being traded to the Yankees and the Rockies wanting to make a strong push in the 2nd half makes it unlikely for them to trade Brian Fuentes, their best reliever.

The Twins have been dying for a right-handed bat, particularly one that plays 3rd base as they've been unsuccessful at filling that hole since Corey Koskie left as a free agent after the 2004 season. Casey Blake seemed to be a likely candidate, but he was traded for a couple good prospects from the Dodgers which partially set the bar for the remaining 3rd basemen in terms of return value. Since Blake was traded for a few good prospects, it makes it even harder to imagine the Twins trading for a third baseman at this time. And with Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris having a serviceable platoon how it is, the Twins desire for a third baseman has declined over the last month or so. Here are some options that may intrigue the Twins:

Adrian Beltre, 29, Mariners
Beltre's name has come up the most in Twins rumors, and for obvious reasons. The two things they want in a third baseman is a strong defender and a guy who hits well off of left-handers. And Beltre provides both of those qualities for the Twins. He mashes lefties, hitting .362 with an OPS of 1.013 in 94 AB's. Although the Twins have been very happy with Buscher's play thus far, Beltre would not be used as a platoon player in part to his salary, but mainly because of his outstanding defense at third base which made him the 2007 Gold Glove winner. Speculation is that the Mariners want 1 of the Twins' young pitchers (Slowey, Blackburn, Baker or Perkins) as well as at least one good prospect in return for Beltre. I doubt the Twins even think about trading any of their young starters, and I think the most they would do is two mid-level prospects as we'd be taking on the remainder of his contract, and I don't see the Mariners doing that right now. The talks reportedly are "far from dead", but I doubt the Twins wind up with Beltre.

Garrett Atkins, 28, Rockies
Atkins likely isn't going anywhere as it looks as if the Rockies are going to try making a 2nd half push at the playoffs and will need Atkins. Atkins doesn't defend that well, but he does mash southpaws. Another frightening thought about acquiring Atkins is that his home/away splits are fairly significant, although his power is about the same. The only reason why that scares me is that out of the list of candidates, he'd require the most in a trade, so the Twins need to feel 100% positive with a package for Atkins that he'll be able to produce as well as he does in Colorado. Still, I think Atkins would be a good addition to the Twins lineup and could be the right-handed bat we've been longing for.

Blake DeWitt, 22/Andy LaRoche, 24, Dodgers
With the Dodgers' acquisition of Casey Blake both LaRoche and DeWitt have been sent down to Triple-A as the Dodgers don't have a need/room for either of them at this time. With that said, both are now expendable and could probably be moved for help elsewhere. The Dodgers still want to acquire a shortstop as Nomar Garciaparra cannot be counted on to stay healthy down the stretch. Perhaps an Andy LaRoche for Trevor Plouffe trade would appeal to the Dodgers, however I'm not sure if the Twins would want to trade Plouffe for an unestablished third baseman. DeWitt probably wouldn't cost as much, but his potential is not as high as LaRoche's either.

Hank Blalock, 27, Rangers
Blalock's name has come up quite a bit recently and it doesn't quite make sense. He is not great against left-handers and he may be a product of the short dimensions of the Park at Arlington since his road/home splits are drastically different. At home, he has nearly a .900 OPS with 73 HR's compared to his under .700 OPS and 46 HR's on the road, in more at bats. Now, it's not uncommon for a difference in home/road splits, but I think that this is drastic enough to be concerned about acquiring him. He is dreadful against left-handers which doesn't really help the Twins' cause of finding a lefty masher. The only reason why they'd want to acquire Blalock is because he is a solid everyday player (when 100%) and a good run producer. He could sure up 3rd base until Danny Valencia (or someone else) is ready to handle the position from within the organization, but unless he comes at a big discount, I don't want to see the Twins look into acquiring him.

Melvin Mora, 36, Orioles
Mora is an above average defender with very good numbers against left-handers, but it seems unreasonable for a team to trade for him because of his love for the Orioles organization. It's confusing why he'd want to stay on a team that is guaranteed to miss the playoffs, but that's his own agenda. Still, he is someone the Twins could look for and if it weren't for him being nicked and bruised he'd probably be putting up better numbers this season. One wouldn't think that it'd take a lot to get him, but the Orioles are known for demanding top quality in any of their players.

Bill Hall, 28, Brewers
Hall is the left-handed masher the Twins could certainly use, but being that the Brewers are making a strong push this second half, I don't know if they'll get rid of Hall who's come up big for them on several occasions in the last couple weeks. Hall has an OPS of .558 against right-handers and an OPS of 1.046 against left-handers. He's signed through (at least) 2010 being owed $15.2 million over the next two years, so unless the Brewers eat a lot of salary (meaning that they'd demand more for him), I don't see him being a great match for the Twins since he's obviously not an everyday player at this time.

Edwin Encarnacion, 25, Reds
Although he's been said to be "untouchable", I'm sure if the Twins were willing to part with a starting pitcher I'm sure that Encarnacion would quickly become available. I've been a big fan of his in the past, but watching him be benched numerous times due to his laziness and for making nonstop rookie mistakes since 2005 has made me a little down on the 25-year-old. Still, he has a lot of potential and I think that one of these years he's going to erupt into being one of the best offensive third basemen in the league.

Dallas McPherson, 28, Marlins
McPherson is not a great defensive player, but he may have the most offensive potential than anyone else on this list. He missed all of the 2007 season and signed a minor league contract with the Marlins over the winter and is back to doing what he does best, torment AAA pitching. He leads the minor leagues with 38 home runs and has a hitting line of .298/.406/.690 which looks damn near Barry Bonds-like. Although he's best suited for a DH position, which is why the Marlins haven't recalled him yet this season. The Twins may look at him in the off-season if he becomes available.

Ty Wiggington, 30, Astros
Wigginton has also been mentioned multiple times over the last couple of years and is again a possibility. The Astros seem to be reluctant to part with any players this deadline, but Wiggington has been a platoon mate with Geoff Blum all season which makes him seem a little more expendable. He hits very well against left-handers and can play 3 different infield positions. The Twins probably could get him for a pitching prospect, but the Astros have made some strange trades in the last year or so which makes it questionable what they may seek.

Ian Stewart, 23, Rockies
Stewart is under team control through 2013 and although they don't currently have a spot for him, they aren't going to get rid of him for nothing. He has a world of potential and hits both left-handers and right-handers very well. He's played very well in a small sample this summer and although most of his playing time has come at 2nd base, he is still the 3rd basemen of the future. Atkins' defense is not good enough to hold Stewart back for long, and the most logical move would be to move the beloved Todd Helton for some pitching help and move Atkins to first leaving 3rd base for Stewart. Still, if the Rockies want to trade him, I'd love to see the Twins look at acquiring him.

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 27, Padres
Kouzmanoff's name has been rumored to being dealt ever since Chase Headley has emerged as a top prospect in the Padres system. Headley is currently playing in left field while Kouzmanoff mans the hot corner. The Padres would certainly demand at least one of our four starters as well as Denard Span or Michael Cuddyer and I just don't see the Twins parting with any of those players right now. Kouzmanoff is under team control through 2012 which doesn't make the Padres in any rush to move him.

Other players the Twins might take a look at: Matt Brown ( 25, Angels), Brandon Wood ( 23, Angels), Jose Castillo ( 27, Giants).