Minnesota Twins: Fixing Third Base

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer IJuly 15, 2008

First off, a hearty congratulations to Justin Morneau for winning the Home Run Derby. I normally do not watch things like this, but I was forced to check up on it every once in a while.

The obvious storyline is Josh Hamilton and his record-breaking 28 home runs in the first round, but Morneau showed great consistency and eventually beat out the slugger.  

While I do think Morneau deserves the honor of the award, I think the story of the night belongs to Hamilton.  

In this third and final installment of how I would go about "fixing" the Twins, I will address the hole at third base.


Fixing the Twins No. 3: Sign Adrian Beltre, Whatever the Cost 

Mike Lamb was signed this past offseason to fill the hole at third base and provide some much needed punch in this lineup. The previous year, with the Houston Astros, he hit a solid .289/.366/.453 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI.  

That move seemed like a major improvement over the inept Nick Punto. He started 108 games at third base for the Twins in 2007 and recorded a pathetic line of .210/.291/.271.

I think it would be safe to say that the majority of Minnesota fans were pleasantly surprised when they found out that Lamb would start at third base in 2008. As it turns out, Lamb isn't doing much better than Punto did in 2008. In fact, with a line of .220/.257/.292, he is almost doing worse.  

The good news is that Brian Buscher has emerged as a potential third baseman for the Twins this year. Buscher had a brief tryout with the major-league club in 2007, but made his first extended start in 2008. Through 24 games, Buscher has a line of .313/.337/.410.  

While better than both Lamb and Punto, Buscher certainly lacks in the power department. He only has one home run on the year, and has a total of three in his major-league career.  

A slugger at third base may be just the addition the Twins need to get over the hump and beat out the White Sox for the AL Central.  

With the need for offense at the left corner established, let's discuss defense.  

Lamb, in his 54 third-base starts this year, has only four errors, taking his fielding percentage to .970. The fielding percentage of an average player in the same number of opportunities is only .960, so Lamb is above average in that category.  

However, Lamb is below the league average in the same number of opportunities in range factor. Punto is also below average, but Buscher is 21 points ahead.  

Punto has only eight starts at third this year. He hasn't given up an error, but his small sample size is deceptive. Buscher, on the other hand, has 23 starts at third in 2008, and has three errors. The fielding percentage of an average player with the same opportunities is seven points higher than Buscher.  

While not as big of a need as offense, the defense could always stand to be upgraded.  Enter: Adrian Beltre.  

It is common knowledge now that Minnesota has inquired to Seattle regarding Beltre. The Mariner third baseman is an obvious upgrade at the plate, as Beltre is hitting .259/.329/.440 through 92 games. He also has 16 home runs and 46 RBI.  

With the absence of Michael Cuddyer (possibly for quite a while) the Minnesota lineup has a noticeable dip in production against left-handed pitchers (save for Alexi Casilla).

Beltre, a right-handed batter, has a huge increase in numbers when facing a left-handed pitcher. When Beltre faces right-handers, he is currently hitting .234/.288/.410. Against lefties, however, his numbers drastically improve to .351/.467/.554.  

Beltre is also a defensive improvement.  

While just about even with the league average for the same number of opportunities for fielding percentage, he is noticeably higher in range factor. In fact, his RF/G of 2.59 is just below last year's AL third base RF/G leader, Melvin Mora (2.90).  

Beltre is one of the best third basemen in the league, and is always in the running for the Gold Glove award. With a Beltre/Punto combination at third, Minnesota would have one of the best defensive duos at that position in the entire league.  

There shouldn't be a question that Beltre is an improvement over the current options the Twins have at third base. The only question that remains, then, is how much Minnesota would have to surrender to acquire such a talent.  

Beltre is set to earn $13.4 million in 2009. While that number may immediately turn some people off, let's not forget that Minnesota can afford it.

After the loss of both Hunter and Santana, the Twins' opening-day payroll in 2008 was $14,506,734 less than it was in 2007. Also, this contract needs to be put into perspective. Justin Morneau is set to make $14 million a year from 2010-2013.

Seattle's payroll, however, has been steadily increasing since 2004. They would love to unload a big contract like Beltre's on a team like the Twins. In fact, their main purpose would probably be to simply unload the contract without having to pay a significant portion of it.

In a perfect Mariner world, though, they would like to get a few good prospects in return for Beltre, as they attempt to reload their farm system. If Terry Ryan was still the GM of this Minnesota team, this possible deal would have been thrown out the window long ago. However the new GM, Bill Smith, is about to show a lot about his temperament.

Is he a mover and shaker at the deadline? Or is he more like Ryan, who tends to lay back and watch the action unfold? Whatever the case, I believe that Beltre should at least be pursued before the deadline gets too close.

Beltre would immediately transfer the Twins from a borderline team to a team that is a threat to go deep in the playoffs.  

Minnesota will have to give up at least one top prospect if they expect a chance at Beltre, but I think they can stay away from having to give up too many good players, if they offer to pay the majority of Beltre's contract.  

I would predict an opening offer of Brian Duensing, Kevin Mulvey, and another minor leaguer for the slugging third baseman. Another possibility is getting rid of Buscher, if we have plans to acquire a 29-year-old third baseman.  

What do you think are some possibilities at third base for the Twins? Will Minnesota go after Beltre at all? Should they?