The Twins signed former Chicago White Sox mainstay Joe Crede to play third base every day in 2009. Hoping he recovered from back surgery the season before, the Twins offered a one-year, incentives-laden contract to Crede. When healthy, he played solid defense (12.5 UZR) and was productive despite a low batting averages. In 90 games, Crede hit .225/.289/.414 with 15 HR and 48 RBI. The problem is that he was limited to 90 games due to a variety of ailments. A second back surgery in September cost him the final month of the 2009 season and left the Twins with Matt Tolbert's putrid .232/.303/.308 hitting line at third base for the balance of the season.
Until top prospect Danny Valencia is ready for MLB action, the Twins are left with a question mark at third base going into the off-season. Taking a look at potential trade or free agency options:
Mark DeRosa: The versatile DeRosa started the season with Cleveland before a mid-season trade sent him back to the National League and St. Louis. With the Cardinals, he did not hit much (.228/.291/.405) but added 10 homers to the Cardinals' powerful lineup. Overall in 2009, DeRosa hit .250/.319/.433 with 23 doubles, 23 HR, and 78 RBI in 139 games. His defense was not good (UZR of -5.6), and he is on average -6.5 runs above replacement-level at third base. He will be 35 at the start of spring training and has Type-B free agent status, meaning the Twins' first round draft pick is not at risk should they sign him. He is an offense-first option for the Twins at third base with a lower level of defensive capabilities.
Mike Lowell: The Boston Red Sox third baseman is under contract for 2010 at $12M, but could be available via trade as the Sox are looking at other options in their lineup and Lowell could be expendable. No longer the player he once was, Lowell still hit .290/.337/.474 last season in 119 games with 29 doubles, 17 HR, and 77 RBI. His UZR mark at third base was a career-worst 10.4 runs below replacement level, signaling a downward trend. Lowell is expensive, but he would be a serviceable one-year veteran option if the Twins lean toward grooming the position for Valencia in 2011. Given his age and injury history, the price for acquiring Lowell would likely not be very high, with the Red Sox likely forced to eat some of his $12M salary for next season.
Joe Crede: The Twins would know what they're getting with Crede in 2010 in terms of production. When healthy, he is productive at the plate, adding a power element not seen since Corey Koskie's departure after the 2004 season. In the field, he plays slick defense. Of course, the question is how he will recover from a second back surgery in as many seasons? General consensus was that the surgery went well, and at least he won't have to suffer through half the season on artificial surface next season as his back strengthens. He was a well-liked presence in the clubhouse last season that did good things when healthy and will certainly be cheap in this winter. As is the case with Lowell, the Twins may consider calling if they're looking for a one-season fix.
Chone Figgins: The LA Angels' leadoff man is one of the prize free agents in this year's class, and indications are that the big boys are all going to line up to sign him. He's worth the hype because he's durable (158 games played last season), productive (.298/.395/.393 with 30 doubles and 7 triples out of the leadoff spot for LA last season), speedy (42 stolen bases in 59 attempts last season), and plays solid defense (UZR of 16.7 runs above replacement in 2009 and a career 8.0 runs above replacement level per 150 defensive games at third base). He seems to fit the Twins' mold of a player, but he will undoubtedly be expensive and the Twins will have to bid against some deep-pocketed teams.
Adrian Beltre: The Seattle Mariners signed Beltre to one of the worst contracts in history five seasons ago when they inked him to a five-year, $65M contract coming off a career year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004. Beltre's time in Seattle was productive (.266/.317/.442, 172 doubles, 103 HR, 396 RBI in 715 games), but the contract was an albatross for an organization looking to move on. Furthermore, he struggled with injuries in 2009 and hit .265/.304/.379 in 111 games with just 8 HR and 44 RBI. At age 30, he may be starting a decline, but I doubt it. His defense continues to be solid (UZR marks of positive 14.3 last season and 13.9 per 150 defensive games for his career) and he will be only 31 next spring. Most importantly for the Twins, Beltre has Type-B free agent status this season thanks to his down campaign last season. He will command nowhere near what he did five seasons ago, but Beltre is a good fit for the Twins at third base and would be a productive and somewhat-affordable option for the next three seasons.
Pedro Feliz: The Philadelphia Phillies elected to move on after two seasons of Feliz at third base. The former SF Giant mainstay had two decent seasons in Philly, but his numbers slumped in 2009. He hit .266/.308/.386 in 158 games last season with 12 HR and 82 RBI. Although the RBI total was his highest in four seasons, his HR total was his lowest since 2002, when he appeared in just 67 games. His defense did not suffer, however, as Feliz posted a UZR mark of 5.3 runs above replacement level. Feliz will be 35 on opening day next season and his production numbers appear to be sliding downward.
Troy Glaus: 2009 was a complete disaster for Glaus. He was limited to just 14 games and 29 at bats last season due to back and shoulder injuries. His previous four seasons were largely injury-free before last year and he hit at least 20 homers in each of the four seasons. He is a Type-B free agent this winter. Still, Glaus has been plagued by injuries for his entire career and it is unlikely the Twins would take a chance on him coming back from injuries rather than someone they already know (like Crede).
Robb Quinlan: A native of St. Paul and the University of Minnesota, Quinlan has served in a platoon role with the Los Angeles Angels for seven seasons and it is hard to believe he will be 33 years old next season. He has never been a regular player throughout his career, but has shown a tendency to hit at the Major League level. He is a career .281/.326/.408 hitter in part-time duty and can fill in at a number of defensive positions. However, he is, at best, a short-term fix at third base that would be a question mark in that he has never played regularly.
Melvin Mora: It seems like Mora played in Baltimore forever, but it was only 10 seasons. He was a solid contributor for some bad Baltimore teams and is a career .278/.352/.436 hitter. He was pushed into a part-time role in the second half of last season, and his 8 HR and 48 RBI were his lowest figures since 2001. However, Mora had hit at least 15 HR each season since 2002 prior to last season. He will be 38 next season and his days as a big-league regular are numbered. Still, he likely has one productive season left and would warrant consideration as a one-season Type-B free agent signing.
Danny Valencia: Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is in love with Nick Punto and seems hell-bent on playing him somewhere every day. If the Twins sign a third baseman for next season, it is likely Punto will play second base, and vice versa. Punto is decent in the field but simply cannot hit - at all. He needed a solid month of September to raise his hitting line to .228/.337/.284 in 2009. For his career, he is a .248/.322/.324 hitter in nine seasons. Valencia is a top prospect at third base. Since being drafted and signed by the Twins in 2006 out of the University of Miami, Valencia has played in five minor league levels and has posted career hitting marks of .299/.354/.480 with 111 doubles, 54 HR, and 241 RBI in 432 games. He is 25 years-old and has yet to receive even a sniff at the Major League level. In fact, he wasn't even on the 40-man roster last season, which is likely why the Twins elected to scrape by with the putrid hitting of Punto and Tolbert at third base in Crede's absence last season. Right now, Valencia is the long-term prospect at third base, barring a signing, and it would be nice to see how he can handle big league pitching.
So, to rank the options:
- Beltre - Offensively and defensively, the best fit; may be too expensive; Type-B status helps
- DeRosa - Good hit, but give up some in the field; will be more affordable than Beltre; Type-B status is a plus
- Valencia - Tremendous offensive numbers in the minors; worth a look in the Majors thsis season
- Lowell - Veteran leader would fit in well in this clubhouse; shouldn't commmand too much in return; expensive in 2010
- Crede - When healthy, plays good defense and provides solid production; health concerns are major
- Figgins - Will be too expensive, but a good catalyst at the top of the order; Twins already have a leadoff hitter in Denard Span, so they'll take a pass
- Mora - His decline deserves scrutiny, but is a professional player who would fit in well
- Quinlan - Local ties make him an option; never been a regular at the MLB level
- Feliz - His power numbers are slipping
- Glaus - Health concerns too great for consideration