Trade Deadline Week: Standing Pat at Third Base?

Should the Twins be looking to acquire a third baseman at the trade deadline?  The idea has certainly drifted to the back burner in recent weeks.  The team obviously has bigger needs in the rotation and the bullpen is starting to look awfully suspect.  At the same time, Danny Valencia has performed admirably, the Twins have shown a willingness to (at least temporarily) use Michael Cuddyer at third, and Nick Punto continues to be an elite defensive infielder.

As Cuddyer spells Morneau at first, I expect the Twins to continue to use some sort of time share with Valencia and Punto at third.  I'm skeptical that Valencia will be able to maintain this level of production the rest of the season.  To me, Valencia looks an awfully lot like a guy getting by on a fluky batting average that could quickly be erased by a short slump.  That being said, it's hard to imagine the Twins sending Valencia to AAA while he's still hitting .314.

The decision of whether the Twins should pursue a third baseman rests on three important factors:

1. Is the front office willing to roll the dice with Cuddyer at third after Morneau comes back from the DL?

2. If Cuddyer is not viewed as an everyday option at third, can Valencia continue to hit well enough to garner regular playing time?

3. If Cuddy won't be used regularly at third, is there a realistic trade target that would contribute more than Valencia/Punto?

To help us answer that third question, I put together a list of potential trade targets the Twins could explore at third.  I think the list is pretty exhaustive, but if folks have other ideas, leave them in the comments and I'll add them to the spreadsheet.

The list contains a projection of how the player will hit the rest of the season (based on the median of the ZIPS and CHONE rest-of-season projections), as well as a summary of the player's defensive skill at third base, as measured by his past three year's of UZR/150 at the position (note: the UZR numbers are only for games played at third base.  I put NA for any season a player didn't play at least 25 games at 3B).

PROJECTION

UZR/150

 

Avg

OBP

SLG

2010

2009

2008

2011 Contract Status

Nick Punto

0.245

0.329

0.322

21.1

NA

NA

Under Contract

Jose Bautista

0.235

0.339

0.442

-17.8

NA

-6.7

Arb. Eligible

Edwin Encarnacion

0.242

0.325

0.420

-4.4

-15.2

-14.4

Arb. Eligible

Miguel Tejada

0.288

0.325

0.414

-5.7

NA

NA

FA

Ty Wigginton

0.269

0.331

0.445

NA

-80.1

-29.6

FA

Jhonny Peralta

0.260

0.325

0.413

-9.5

-3.3

NA

$7 m. club option ($250K buyout)

Jorge Cantu

0.271

0.325

0.432

-15.1

-29.7

-8.5

FA

Wes Helms

0.248

0.305

0.374

2.2

6.7

18.8

FA

Alberto Callaspo

0.284

0.333

0.416

7.5

NA

NA

Arb. Eligible

Andy LaRoche

0.252

0.332

0.381

-7.4

5.1

-1.8

Arb. Eligible

Jose Lopez

0.268

0.300

0.413

7.5

NA

NA

$4.5 m. Club Option ($250K buyout)

Aramis Ramirez

0.272

0.341

0.475

-5.4

-5.6

-4.1

$14.6 m. Player Option

Pedro Feliz

0.251

0.291

0.381

-13.7

8.9

11.2

FA

Mike Lowell

0.274

0.333

0.430

NA

-14.4

12.9

FA

Mike Fontenot

0.271

0.333

0.416

NA

-3.8

NA

Arb. Eligible

Akinori Iwamura

0.268

0.350

0.375

NA

NA

NA

FA

Kevin Kouzmanoff

0.264

0.305

0.425

14.7

9.9

2.6

Arb. Eligible

Some thoughts:

  • Without a doubt, the best player on this list (despite his miserable first half) is Aramis Ramirez. However, his $14 million player option in 2011 makes him prohibitively expensive for a Twins team with so much money already tied up next season.
  • Some of the most frequently talked about possibilities for the Twins (names like Wigginton, Tejada, Cantu and Lowell) range from below average to terrible defensively. Whatever upgrade they'd bring to the team's offense by replacing Punto, they'd give back some (if not all) of that value with the glove.
  • Two names I hadn't given much consideration to actually look pretty good in this comparison: Alberto Callaspo and Kevin Kouzmanoff. The A's are still in the playoff hunt, though, which means Kouzmanoff is likely not on the market. Callaspo, however, is stuck on a miserable Royals team. His offensive projections are similar to Lowell and Tejada, but over 881 innings at third base his career UZR/150 is a solid 9.4. On the other hand, Royals fans hammered Callaspo's defense in the past (when he played second). It could be that defensive metrics are glossing over his limitations with the glove.
  • Don't look now, but Iwamura has been hitting great at AAA since he got demoted by the Pirates in June. He's batted 323/475/452 in 19 games at Indianapolis.
  • One final note: outside of Aramis Ramirez, nobody on this list comes anywhere close to providing what Michael Cuddyer offers on offense.

Given the options available to the Twins, I'd be interested in hearing what the community thinks the Twins should do as far as third base.  Do we try the Cuddyer experiment once again? Do we hand the job to Valencia until he proves he doesn't deserve it?  Do we keep Punto's glove at third, especially while our starters are struggling?  Or does one of the options I've outlined about interest you?  Personally, I'm not convinced there is an option out there that represents a significant upgrade when both offense and defense are taken into consideration.  But that doesn't mean there isn't some value in bringing in a new option at third base, giving us the flexibility of having Punto as a super utility player.

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