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Get To Know: The Third Basemen

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: February 3, 2011 - 8:25 AM

"[Corey] Koskie is a middle-of-the-order presence whose experience and discipline is especially valuable in October. Losing Koskie will be the biggest free agent loss of a Twins player since Jack Morris. It isn't something this organization is going to just shake off.”

 
-         from “Losing Koskie” at TwinsGeek.com, 12/10/2004
 
It took six years for the Twins to “shake off” losing Corey Koskie. They may have, finally, last year when Danny Valencia was promoted from Rochester and provided Koskie-esque production from the other side of the plate. If he can do it again this year – not a small “if” – and next year, and next year, the Twins will have finally found their replacement.
 
And it took six years for a very good reason – because good third basemen are hard to come by. I was reminded of that as I was researching the third basemen in the American League. There is a huge range, so the good ones become very, very expensive in what is always a seller’s market. Let’s take a look at them and see where Danny Valencia fits in.
 
NO QUESTIONS
 
Kevin Youkilis - Red Sox
31 years old, 975 OPS in 2010
This is the guy fans want. Power, patience, and epic facial hair. Remember when there were concerns about him taking too many walks in the minors? Good lord, how stupid was that?
 
Evan Longoria - Rays
25 years old, 879 OPS in 2010
This is the guy the GM wants. He doesn’t have the stats of several other guys on this list, but he’s also just 25 and signed to an extremely team-friendly contract that might run all the way through the 21st century. I wish I was kidding.
 
FANTASTIC! (BUT….)
 
Alex Rodriguez - Yankees
35 years old, 847 OPS in 2010
Why isn’t he in the above group? Partly because he’s the oldest guy on this list. (Which is saying something. This is an elderly group.) Partly because he had a bad year that could be a sign of things to come. But mostly because I’m a bitter, petty man, and I love to tear down Yankees. 
 
Adrian Beltre - Rangers
31 years old, 919 OPS in 2010
If you include defense, Beltre might be the best guy on this list. He was certainly paid like that this winter when he landed a 5-year contract for $80 million – and that was after seemingly everyone thought he had overplayed his hand. See what I mean about how it’s a seller’s market?
 
The question about him? The last time he signed a deal like this, his OPS fell 300 points.
 
Jose Bautista - Blue Jays
0 years old, 995 OPS in 2010
Here’s the king of this group: 54 home runs, but it came out of nowhere. Forget the question about whether or not he’s discovered some magic elixir for these superhuman feats. The real question is: however he did it, can he do it again? Because THIS time it’s a contract year. 
 
HE IS WHAT HE IS
 
Chone Figgins - Mariners
33 years old, 646 OPS in 2010
Figgins had the lowest OPS of anyone on this list AND he’s the third oldest on the list, too. That’s not a good combination. What is a good combination is:
 
a)      he was still able to get on base last year (.340 OBP) despite his terrible batting average (.259) and
b)      he stole 42 bases for the second year in a row.
 
Brandon Inge - Tigers
33 years old, 718 OPS in 2010
Good fielder, occasionally very good power, and has never hit for average. Brandon Inge is a switch-hitting Joe Crede, except he stays a lot healthier. He represents the middle of this list, his glove raising his below-average offense. He just signed a two-year deal with the Tigers this offseason that is partly justifiable given what else is available, but he isn’t likely to be better than he has been.
 
GOOD KIND OF MYSTERY
 
Mark Reynolds - Orioles
27 years old, 753 OPS in 2010
Reynolds was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Orioles this winter after hitting .195 with 223 K last year. However, he also hit 32 home runs. He’s still young, he was battling injuries, he’s just a year away from his breakthrough 2009 (44 HR, .260 BA) and it looks like he was a little unlucky getting hits to fall last year. He’s no sure thing, but there’s more good than bad.
 
Mike Aviles - Royals
29 years old, 748 OPS in 2010
Aviles has probably overachieved for the last two years, but he shows a nice combination of power and speed that a lot of teams below would envy. More of a utility infielder type, he will likely start the year as the Royals third baseman, but he likely won’t finish it because of…

 

Mike Moustakas- Royals
22 years old, 878 OPS (in AAA-Omaha) in 2010
He’s the next big thing for the Royals, and has been since Alex Gordon flamed out. Last year he absolutely torched Double-A (1100 OPS in 259 AB) and didn’t back down in AAA. There is no way the budget-conscious Royals promote him to the majors before June so he doesn’t get a jump on gaining Super-2 arbitration status, but after that they’ll want to see if he can be a cornerstone for the latest rebuilding effort.
 
Brent Morel - White Sox
23 years old, 851 OPS (in AAA-Charlotte) in 2010
He’ll need to beat out Mark Teahan for the job, but that should happen after the first dozen groundballs. Morel is also a bit of a surprise – a guy who has worked his way into prospect status by exceeding expectations the last couple years. He’s got to do the same thing at this level.
 

BAD KIND OF MYSTERY

Jayson Nix - Indians

28 years old, 705 OPS in 2010 with Cleveland

Cleveland got him off of waivers last year, which should be damning enough. But he is just 28 years old, and he has 20 home run potential. He goes into this group for now, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him join his AL Central peers in a higher group next year.

 
UGH.
 
Kevin Kouzmanoff - Athletics
29 years old, 679 OPS in 2010
Last year about this time I was being asked over and over if the Twins should try and trade for Kouzmanoff. I sure hope I said “no.”
 
Maicer Izturis - Angels
30 years old, 684 OPS in 2010
I really respected how the Angels were negotiating with Adrian Beltre this winter – right up to the moment that he signed with their division rival. You can see right here why he would have been such a great fit. Almost the whole AL West was a disaster at the hot corner last year, with the exception of the Rangers Michael Young – and THEY were the team that signed Beltre? Crazy.

 

OUR GUY

Danny Valencia - Twins

26 years old, 799 OPS in 2010

Valencia has always been a bit old for a prospect, but he’s the fourth youngest on this list. He had a very good year, and his OPS ranked sixth, behind the five studs at the top of this list. I’d definitely put him in the “Good Kind of Mystery” group, along with almost all of the rest of the AL Central. 
 
That said, I don’t think we should overlook the “mystery” for the “good.” Valencia hit very well in the majors – quite a bit better than he did in Rochester. His high rate stats were driven by his .311 batting average, but the last time he hit that well in the minors was High A ball.
 
Which isn’t to downplay his contribution. The Twins have been looking for their new Koskie for six years before Valencia came. He’s exceedingly valuable for the Twins. And he’s exceedingly valuable for the league, after you look at the other options.
 
 
 

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