Competition for Plouffe?
As Nick wrote yesterday, when Terry Ryan says something over and over, it generally is true. Initial response by Twins fans (myself included) was that, with all of the Twins pitching needs and maybe needs in the middle infield, why would third base be such a focal point?[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
Plouffe’s 24 home runs in 2012 was the most by a Twins third baseman since Corey Koskie hit 25 homers in 2004, his final season with the team. It is also hard for Twins fans to forget how Plouffe hit in June and July. In 26 games in June, he hit .327/.391/.735 (1.126) with seven doubles and 11 home runs. In 16 games in July, he hit .302/.343/.476 (.819) with three more homers.
It was at that point, in mid-July that Plouffe hurt his thumb, and although initial reports said he would be day-to-day, he missed a month, and when he returned, he hit like he did in April and May. That’s the part that we might forget. In April, Plouffe hit .121/.274/.242 (.517). In May, he hit .185/.254/.400 (.654). In August, he hit .161/.232/.226 (.458). In September, he hit .218/.269/.416 (.684), although he did add four home runs.
At the end of the day, er… season, Trevor Plouffe hit .235/.301/.455 (.756) in 119 games. Combined in 2010 and 2011 (103 games), he had hit .226/.286/.382 (.668).
Plouffe has been willing to play all over the field. He went to spring training, and started the season, as an outfielder. However, when the Twins DFAd Luke Hughes in April and then optioned Danny Valencia to Rochester in May, Plouffe took over at third base. Initially, he looked quite good at the position. However, in 95 games at the position, he made 14 errors and had a .935 fielding percentage. However, after his return from injury, it appeared that his range, particularly to his right, decreased. If you like UZR, he posted a -6.8 UZR at third base.
For all of the struggles, that hot stretch in June and July is encouraging and exciting. Still just 26 years old, Plouffe still has a chance to improve.
With so much of Plouffe’s 2012 offensive success coming in about a six week time frame, and struggles with the bat most of the other four months, it’s understandable that Ryan and all of the Twins decision-makers would not be sure what to make of Plouffe’s season or his long-term potential.
Ryan has also commented that he isn’t just looking for any third baseman. He wants a third baseman who could be a starter. So, who are the options? Kevin Youklis would seem to be too high-priced to be competition and a backup. Scott Rolen could retire or would stay close to the Reds. Eric Chavez wants t keep playing, but we have to assume he’ll want to play on a contender. Here are some possibilities:
Placido Polanco – His numbers have steadily declined the last couple of seasons with the Phillies. He also has not been able to stay on the field consistently. He could play third base while at the same time being a backup option at second base.
Brandon Inge – Ron Gardenhire gushed about Inge when the Tigers released him last year during the middle of the season. Solid defensively at third base, he has shown power in the past. When he signed with the A’s, he had some big hits right away, and then was hurt again. Inge could also play some second base and in a pinch, I guess he could go behind the plate.
Chone Figgins – He got the big contract from the Mariners three years ago, and has gone from big free agent acquisition, to bust, to utility, to hardly-plays-at all, to the Mariners paying him a lot of money in 2013 NOT to play with them. However, he can play third base, second base and likely some in the outfield. He still has speed. I’m sure he would like an opportunity to get into a nice role and show teams he still has something left.
Jack Hannahan – The former Gophers infielder will turn 33 years old in March. Cleveland non-tendered him last week, making him a free agent. He has played 110 and 105 games for the Tribe the past two seasons. Combined, he hit .247/.323/.366 (.688) with 32 doubles, 12 homers and 69 RBI. Certainly not great numbers, but decent for a backup. In 451 games as a big league third baseman in his career, he has a .968 fielding percentage. Last year, that number dropped to .949 (although it was .983 in 2011). In 2011, his UZR was 8.7. In 2012, his UZR was -3.9.
Ryan hinted to reporters that the Twins could sign someone for the position this week in Nashville. A case could be made for each of these players, although the assumption (by me) is that Hannahan just makes the most sense. Another local guy who, other than last year, has provided really solid defense at the hot corner. As a left-handed hitter, he could platoon (in theory) with Plouffe if it came to that. He could be an everyday player for a period of time if necessary. And, frankly, he should be available on a minor league deal at around $1 million if he makes the team.
A year ago, a 23-year-old Eduardo Escobar was the White Sox opening day utility infielder. He would come in to play third base in late innings. It was more the case later in the season when the Sox acquired Kevin Youklis. They would move Youklis to first base in the late innings and take out Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn (whichever was playing first base). Escobar came to the Twins in the Francisco Liriano deal and can play all three infield positions well. He is very much similar to Twins utility infielders of the past. However, the Twins typically have two backups in the infield, so that may factor in as well.
So, what do you think? How much value do you put into Trevor Plouffe’s six-week power binge as it relates to his future? Can he be an .800+ OPS third baseman? Can he make the necessary defensive plays at the hot corner? Do the Twins need to bring in someone as competition who will all but be ensured a big league job? Should third base be getting this much attention when pitching remains a black hole for the Twins?