That title sounds odd, considering they have a guy making $21 million per year to play the position. Josh Donaldson has an MVP award, three All-Star appearances, and two Silver Slugger awards. What he doesn’t have is a track record of health, nor is age on his side anymore. Meanwhile, his primary back-up, Luis Arraez has 15 MLB starts at the position, and the rest of the Twins infield options have exactly 300 (nine for Jorge Polanco, 11 for JT Riddle, and 280 for Miguel Sano.) Overall, the Twins still need another option though.
Last year, Donaldson started 25 games for the Twins at third base. Ehire Adrianza started 14, and appeared at third in a total of 23 games. Marwin Gonzalez started 21 games there. Since the latter two guys have moved on—Ehire to Atlanta and Marwin still a free agent (linked to Boston most recently,) That creates a big potential hole.
Luis Arraez certainly could be a successful third baseman in a pinch — he’s played a total of 69 games there between the minors, foreign leagues, and the majors; with defensive numbers that shouldn’t be too embarrassing. He’s primarily a second baseman, and was slated to start there for the Twins until yesterday’s Andrelton Simmons signing reshuffled the infield. His bat played well at second base, but would be a massive liability at third though. Moreover, if he is playing third for an extended period, he won’t be filling the utility role, and whoever does will likely be a step down.
Those other guys would likely be Nick Gordon, Travis Blankenhorn, or JT Riddle; at least as the roster stands. Riddle has the most experience in the majors and the least upside of the three, as such he may have the inside track to that second opening-day utility spot on the bench. He’s just not a player to get excited about however, as his career .222/.261/.355 batting performance has trended downward every season.
Gordon, on the other hand, could be running out of leash with the organization. Of course, he could get back into good graces with a solid spring, but last season was a waste for him due to a long-running case of COVID. He has a MLB pedigree and the draft status to expect big things, but overall, he looks more like a utility guy at this point in his career. Even in the minors, he’s played at third exactly once.
Blankenhorn made his debut in 2020, and the Twins would probably like him to play everyday, so assuming there is a minor-league season, he’ll likely start in Wichita or St. Paul. His 142 games at third base in the minors is second to his 210 at second, but overall, if Donaldson misses a couple weeks, I believe he is the most likely guy to get a call.
Of course, the Twins’ former third-baseman shifted across the diamond last season to first base. Miguel Sano is probably not moving back—the Twins didn’t consider it in 2020 when they lost Donaldson for basically the entire season. Furthermore, even in 2019 he was a defensive liability at third. Moving him back there and plugging someone else in at first creates two defensive black holes in the infield.
The Twins certainly could add another utility man into the mix. They’ve reportedly been in contact with Marwin Gonzalez, for example. He was overexposed and struggled in 2020 as an everyday player, but would be fine at the end of the bench. However, there is a larger price tag associated with a guy like that, and the Twins are likely to only spend another $15-20 million this winter, and still have several large holes to fill, especially on the pitching side.
The best option, then, is probably for the Twins to sign another third baseman. They don’t have to spend a lot of money on it, a minor league deal should do. A guy with some experience and ability at the hot corner that can be stashed in St Paul, and the team can break-glass-in-case-of-emergency. That’s the point of having your Triple-A team seventeen minutes away, after all. There are a few guys out there who might fit the bill. Jake Lamb is a possibility, and I’d also see what Maikel Franco’s market looks like. With the slow market, maybe Eric Sogard, Todd Frazier, or Brock Holt loses a game of musical chairs, and accepts a deal to play in the minors. Wouldn’t hurt to ask.
Josh Donaldson, when healthy, is one of the best third basemen in the league. Given his injury history, the Twins need to make sure they have a solid Plan-B, and right now they don’t. I doubt they’re done with signing players, so I think one of those guys needs to be able to play fifty games at third base.