You fall into one of two camps in regards to this free agent third baseman. Either you want nothing to do with him, or you think it couldn't hurt to take a flier considering the in-house options. Where do you fit?
Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Matt Macri, Matt Moses, David Winfree, Chris Basak and Glenn Williams are your options currently under the organization's umbrella for the open job at third base. They all either have disappointing offensive histories at the major league level, or they have no experience at all at the major league level. On the positive side, none of them cost much. So, that's something.
Morgan Ensberg, as recently as 2005, was a third baseman who demanded respect at the plate. With the glove he was slightly better than average, but naturally with the firepower he provided his defensive reputation swelled proportionately with his home run totals. Coming out of 2005, Ensberg became arbitration eligible, and after three consecutive seasons of pretty decent offense landed a one-year contract worth roughly $3.8 million. 2006 was a struggle offensively, but by drawing more walks than hits managed a .396 OBP in addition to his 23 home runs, and was signed to another one-year contract for 2007 worth $4.35 million.
Of course the aftermath of these last two years for Morgan is familiar to many of us. Ensberg lost his power stroke, and while his walk-to-strikeout ratio remained intact (until he left the Astros) he was unable to recapture the parts of his game that had made him a threat at the plate. With an OPS of .707 the Astros stamped him with a DFA. Picked up two days later by the Padres, he finished the season with an OPS+ of 107 with San Diego...but the line that came with it was, in many ways, worse than the line he had in Houston.
In a few short weeks Morgan Ensberg will land on the free agent market, and organizations around the league in need of a third baseman will ponder the risks and upside/downside of giving him a contract. Minnesota will likely be one of those teams.
Year AB H 2B HR BB SO Avg Obp Slg Age
2003 385 112 15 25 48 60 .291 .377 .530 27
2004 411 113 20 10 36 46 .275 .330 .411 28
2005 526 149 30 36 85 119 .283 .388 .557 29
2006 387 91 17 23 101 96 .235 .396 .463 30
2007 282 65 13 12 38 67 .230 .320 .404 31
Year PA BB% SO% LD% GB% IF/F% BABIP ISO
2004 457 7.9 10.1 20.4 44.8 N/A .293 .136
2005 633 13.6 19.1 17.2 37.4 13.9 .311 .274
2006 495 20.4 19.4 14.6 37.8 8.6 .294 .228
2007 259 12.0 18.5 19.8 35.6 13.9 .241 .152
2007 65 10.8 29.2 23.1 30.8 22.2 .282 .259
In 2004, Ensberg's second year as a regular player, you can see what made him a success at the plate: low strikeout rates, high line-drive percentage, lots of ground balls. He didn't hit for a lot of power that season, but he was still an effective hitter.
Since then, looking at the advanced metrics makes it very easy to see which parts of his game deteriorated. His balls hit on the ground and his hard-hit balls were lower the next two seasons, but while his strikeouts increased so did his walks. He maintained good power, making him a threat at the plate even in 2006. This last season saw further deterioration as his strikeout rates maintained while his walks dropped precipitously from '06. Line drives were still hit, but when making contact he also hit a lot more fly balls; whether to the outfield or just infield flies, Ensberg wasn't the hitter he had been. His BABIP plummeted in Houston. Too many plate appearances were ending in strikeouts, fly outs and infield pop-ups, and his ineffectiveness at the plate was a large reason for his DFA.
Defensive Metrics, Third Base
Year RZR OOZ RF lgRF
2004 .644 34 2.39 2.76
2005 .769 79 2.76 2.77
2006 .750 43 2.87 2.69
2007 .637 20 2.61 2.68
2007 .808 6 3.11 2.68
RZR is Revised Zone Rating, OOZ represents the number of outs made outside of the player's "zone", then there's Range Factor and the Leage Average Range Factor. While his range has been largely league average over the last four seasons, according to THT's defensive metrics Ensberg was one of the best in his zone at third base in '05 and '06. While his 2007 .637 RZR in Houston was low, he did still make a number of plays outside his zone. Combining the numbers above, my conclusion is that Ensberg is a slightly above average third baseman. Being I have very little experience actually watching Ensberg play, this is the extent of my defensive report.
It looks like what you'd get in Ensberg could be something like what the Twins were hoping to get out of Dave Hollins back in 1996. He has a history of some offensive pop but appears to have lost something along the way these last two years, and as a result it's difficult to imagine what kind of production he's capable of. Of course ultimately with the Twins it all comes down to cost, and if nobody gets in a bidding war with Minnesota, Morgan could likely be had for somewhere between $3-$4 million on a one-year contract.
Is it worth the risk, hoping that the former Astro star could rekindle some of that offensive magic hitting behind Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer? Or is Ensberg just another low-cost risk who belongs in the same breath as Tony Batista, Sidney Ponson, Bret Boone and Ruben Sierra? Decisions decisions...