With Adrian Beltre likely leaving, the Mariners have a gaping hole over at third base for the 2010 season. It’s almost certainly going to end up being a downgrade from what we’ve grown accustomed to, but we do have some options. One option that wouldn’t require any trades or signing, would be to simply put Matt Tuiasosopo there.
We know Tui can hit – that’s never been his problem. He’s a good hitter, but his defense has always been in question. From most accounts, though, he has improved significantly in that respect over the last year or so. He’s been a third base prospect for as long as we’ve had him, but it’s looking more and more like that might not be where his future lies. Recently, he’s gotten a decent amount of time over at second base, including 6 games at the big league level, and he’s looked fairly solid there. It’s way too small of a sample size to really gather much from, but it does help to entertain the possibility of Tui playing second base, and either Lopez getting traded, or moving to third base – a position that fits his skill set much more than second base does.
The other realistic in-house option, would be a Jack Hannahan/Bill Hall platoon. I’m not exactly thrilled with what Hall has shown us in his time here, and I don’t see him ever reverting back to ’06 form, but he might be a perfect candidate for a platoon. Neither he or Hannahan have the bat necessary to be an adequate starting third baseman, but platooning them eliminates some of their weaknesses. Both of them have noticeable platoon splits – Hannahan with a .666/.535 OPS split in 2009, Hall with an .558/.893 OPS split in 2008, and .606/.589 OPS split in 2009. With Hall, I wouldn’t expect him to OPS .893 again, even part of a platoon split, but he could probably find a happy medium. If the Mariners were to go this route, it wouldn’t be flawless, but it could be adequate from an offensive standpoint, and excellent from a defensive standpoint.
That takes care of the realistic in-house options (unless you think Russell Branyan playing third base is realistic), so let’s look at a couple of free agents.
The best third baseman on the market this off-season is absolutely Chone Figgins. Figgins was one of the most valuable players in baseball in ’09, and he’d fit in very nicely with the Mariners. He’s a switch hitter, which we desperately need, he gets on base, and he’s a solid defensive player. He’ll no doubt be one of the most coveted free agents in the game. He won’t come cheap though, and I don’t think we’re going to sign him. We might, and I wouldn’t complain, but I really don’t see Jack Zduriencik dishing out the kind of money it would take to sign Figgins, on a third baseman. In all likelihood, the Mariners will need to make a splash in the free agent market this year, but probably on a position with more urgent necessity – like DH, or a #2 starter.
I guess I might as well mention the slim possibility of bringing Beltre back – but I’ll make it short. I’d love to have him back, Jack Zduriencik would love to have him back, and the Mariners would love to have him back, but he probably won’t be back. He’s a very nice asset, but it’s no secret that he’s a bad fit for this team. Safeco Field hampers his offensive production and his value severely, and because of that I doubt he or Scott Boras want him to stay here. I’ll be ecstatic if it happens, but I don’t think it will.
There are a few other free agent third baseman that will certainly be explored at some point – Joe Crede, Mark DeRosa, Troy Glaus, and Adam Kennedy, to name a few, but I see the aforementioned 4 as the most interesting, and realistic, at this time.
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