Sunday, August 12, 2007

On Zen, Fast Food and Third Base

I don't know exactly where this Zennish story comes from, because like most Americans, I like my Zen the way I like my fast food - quick, made to order and mostly forgetable. But the story goes something like this....

A kid is walking in the jungle and happens across a really hungry man-eating tiger looking for something quick, made to order, and mostly forgetable. The boy tries to run away but finds himself on the edge of a high, steep cliff. He quickly climbs down a couple feet on a vine, peering down at certain death both above and below, because he notices two new hungry tigers pacing at the bottom of the cliff.

And then the vine starts to slowly pull out of the cliff.

While frantically pondering his dilemna, he notices a small strawberry plant growing out of the cliff. It has one nearly perfect strawberry. And so, seconds before the vine gives way completely, he plucks it and pops it in his mouth and thinks "That is the most delicious strawberry I have ever tasted."

The lesson is, of course, unknowable, because otherwise they would just tell you the damn lesson instead of torturing both you and our little protagonist with this story. But it has something to do with getting what you can out of a hopeless situation, which brings us to third base and the Minnesota Twins.

The trade deadline passed without making any moves to upgrade that position, but the worse news is that there doesn't seem to be much hope in the offseason either. Here's a pretty good list of what you can expect to be available as far as third basemen go:

Yikes. If you don't get scared by that "AB" column, you should. There are a total of two regular third baseman on that list, but we might as well run through them all, starting at the bottom:

Abraham O Nunez is a 31-year-old utility player who fell into the job in Philly when David Bell left. He "broke through" back in 2005 when his OPS exceeded 700 (704 - but that exceeds 700) for the first time while replacing Scott Rolen in Cincinatti. The sad part is he might not even be available, as the Phillies do have an option on his contract.

Morgan Ensberg is also 31, and had great seasons in 2004 and 2005, positioning himself as a solid player for several years. (You shoulda signed that guaranteed long-term contract, Morgan). Last year, however, he hit .235 and this year he's just as bad, especially because he's also lost all plate discipline and power. Everything about his stats suggest he's done, and being designated for assignment by the lowly Astros would seem to verify it.

Since these guys are listed by OPS, 31-year-old Russel Branyan looks like a reasonable option. He's not. He's been on three teams this year, and he's hitting .197

Mike Lowell, on the other hand, is definitely going to be an option for someone. He's bounced back nicely from that slump two years ago that made eveyone wonder exactly what he had been putting in his body. He's 33 years old, and has hit for both average and power for the last two years. He'll also likely demand a four-year contract in excess of $12 million per year.

Mike Lamb has had a decent year, and a decent career so far as a platooning first baseman and third baseman. I suspect his at-bats have been limited because he struggles mightily against left-handed pitching. He's been hanging around in Houston for the last few years, and he missed being a free agent by just twelve days this year. He's positioned to either be the bargain of the offseason, or the guy that gets a contract much larger than anyone anticipates.

Alex Rodriguez deserves his own entry, and will likely get it this offseason. I think we can safely assume that his upcoming $25-30 million contract won't be with the Twins.

So there you have it. The two lions below are going to be getting money the Twins likely can't match. The four lions above don't have any full-time experience, and with the possible exception of Lamb, don't look like they're much of an improvement on Nick Punto or Brian Buscher.

And so we may need to forgive the Twins if this offseason doesn't produce the result we've all been looking for, and the Twins are force to stay with their in-house options. Instead we might want to prepare ourselves for the quick, forgetable solution, even if it isn't made to order.


Anonymous said...

If everybody was happy with LNP last year (.725 OPS if I remember correctly), what would it hurt to give Morgan Ensberg (.720 OPS this year, much better in the recent past) a chance, given the options?

John said...

I don't think it would hurt. I just don't think it would help much. That's the point I'm trying to make - that barring a trade, the Twins aren't likely to upgrade at that position next year, even if they do change the name of the player that is starting there.

Nick N. said...

I don't think the Twins need an impact player at third base, but even mediocrity would be a major upgrade at this point. I can't imagine that would be all that difficult to make that kind of upgrade. Plenty of teams have mediocre backups at third whom they'd likely be willing to part with in exchange for one of the Twins' second-tier pitching prospects. Ryan needs to get a little creative this offseason, and I don't mean Tony Batista creative.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your analysis; we're not going to solve this problem by signing a free agent.

Which means we look to free agency for help at DH & CF (even if the CF answer is resigning Hunter) and look to trade pitching to upgrade @ 3B.

Anonymous said...

um...John...I think you got the strawberry story from King of the Hill.

John said...


No, it wasn't from King of the Hill. It's a good show, but I never watch it. Maybe we just share the same inspirational base.

Anonymous said...

Okay lets look at a key fact here. The 1991 World Series team proved you can have a pair of decent hitting third baseman comebined hitting 8th (that's where Pags and Scott usually hit unless Harper was given a day off).

That lineup consisted of two table setters and five rbi type hitters which none of hit 30 homers. We apparently have two table setters (Casiela and Bartlet) a shot at the five (Mauer, Justin, Cuddyer, Hunter if resigned or a free agent that fills in most of Hunter's money and Kuebel). Given that the third baseman only has to hit 8th. If we spend big on the third baseman than we dmote one of the positions (left or center probably) to the eigth spot.

Can we do a one year fix for our bat problems? Think about this Barry Bonds is thinking of getting to the American Leauge next year to get 3000 hits. We can offer him clean up on a team that has a shot of being a world Series winner with him and great protection behind him (justin M)

assuming the stadium opens in 2010 we have to survive 2008 and 2009. Barry Bonds gets us a shot to win in 2008.

And lets look at this every single move Terry Ryan made this year failed and we still have a winning record as of right and still might catch Cleveland. If Terry does something right for a change or maybe if the Polands let him spend more money that move can be made.

What do you think?