Monday, November 2, 2009

Filling the Hot Corner

During the trading deadline, many sportswriters wrote about teams asking the Twins for 3B prospect Danny Valencia, with the Twins immediately telling those teams they weren't trading Valencia. This led to many of the same sportswriters declaring Valencia as the '3B of the future' (probably true) and the 'odds on favorite to win the job for the start of the 2010 season' (unlikely). I have to admit, after the Twins refusal to trade Valencia for Freddy Sanchez, according to reports, I also assumed the plan was for Valencia to be the team's starter at the Hot Corner next season.

Unfortunately, that seems very unlikely. The Twins refused to promote Valencia in September, even with Joe Crede seemingly out for the season. The Twins instead gave most of the at-bats to Matt Tolbert, who hit surprisingly well during his September starts, but his career numbers make him a light hitting, borderline major league utility player, certainly not a starting caliber 3B.

If the Twins were going to give Valencia every chance to win the job this Spring, I believe they would have at least given him a few at bats with the big league club during September. I realize the team didn't do that with Joe Mauer, but he was blocked at the time by a healthy and very good AJ Pierzysnki. Mauer almost certainly wouldn't have gotten more than a few at bats, so it was understandable that the team didn't want to rush their future. However, as mentioned above, the Twins passed over Valencia for a utility player.

I do believe the team is high on Valencia, I just don't think they see him as being the Opening Day starter. A mid-season call up seems much more likely, and if Valencia becomes a solid contributor over the next few years delaying his arbitration clock by a few months will in fact allow the Twins to control him for an extra season, so it might not be all bad. That said, the team does need to find a starting caliber 3B this off-season, because Tolbert is not a starting caliber player and likely shouldn't even be on the roster at all.

With Joe Crede entering the market again, coming off a productive yet injury plagued season, it seems entirely possible that the Twins will wait out the market yet again and try to sign Crede or another buy low candidate to an incentive based contract. Here are the free agent 3B that I believe would be starting caliber:

Chone Figgins
Mark DeRosa
Joe Crede
Adrian Beltre
Troy Glaus
Miguel Tejada?
Pedro Feliz?

Tejada seems willing to move to third, but many people believe he'd only do it to stay in Houston, so he seems very unlikely to be available as a 3B upgrade for the Twins.

Feliz has a $5 million team option that the Phillies seem likely to exercise, but if they don't he could be a potential bargain for the Twins.

Those are the only players I see as potential starters this off-season. Melvin Mora, Juan Uribe and Adam Kennedy are all free agents as well, but I don'see any of them having a good enough season next year to warrant what they'll likely get paid.

Figgins is undoubtedly out of the Twins price range, and while he would be a perfect fit in the #2 hole, he's likely going to be extremely overpaid and for too long. I think DeRosa is a possibility for the Twins, but I expect him to match or exceed the 3 years $18 million Casey Blake signed for last year. That's too many years for a guy that will be 35 when the season starts, which is unfortunate because DeRosa's versatility would extremely valuable for the Twins.

Crede, Beltre and Glaus seem to be the kind of player the Twins will target. All have injury concerns, and are coming off disappointing seasons for different reasons. Personally, I'd rank them as Beltre, Crede, Glaus--in that order-- and I think Beltre will get someone to commit to him for at least two seasons. That seems too long for the Twins, especially with Valencia likely ready by mid-season. Crede seems like the ideal player this year, even more so than last year, because if he gets hurt the Twins can simply promote Valencia and allow him to fill in during Crede's injuries. Of course, Crede was productive when healthy last season and a team may be willing to pay him enough on a 1-year contract to keep him out of the Twins price range.

Glaus likely will end up signing a 1-year incentive based deal, and if Crede and Beltre are given contracts too rich for the Twins, I'd have no problem with a Glaus signing. That's also assuming the Phillies pick up Feliz's option, or he is priced out of the Twins range as well.

After playing in just 14 games last season Glaus likely won't garner a ton of interest on the open market, but he's only one year removed from a .270/.372/.483 line in which he hit 27 bombs and knocked in 99. If the Twins can get even a .250/.350/.450 season from him he'd be a major upgrade in their lineup. It's very possible that his brief appearance last year is a sign of things to come, but with only 14 games played it's hard to know for sure. In my opinion, the most likely 3B next season for the Twins is Joe Crede, but if the Twins decide to settle on a different buy low candidate, Glaus could prove to be the bargain of the off-season.

*If anyone is curious, Glaus projects as a Type B free agent, meaning the Twins wouldn't lose a draft pick to sign him. I got that information from MLB Trade Rumors and Eddie Bajek*