Just ten more rumor-mongering days until the trade deadline. If the Twins truly scribbled a right-handed third baseman at the top of Santa's list, it's nice to know he has some options beyond the overpriced Adrian Beltre. Let's see what we come up with and rank them in terms of likeliness. But first, the rules:
1. The player needs to be a third baseman.
2. The player needs to bat right-handed.
3. The player needs to be on a struggling team.
#4 Garret Atkins - Colorado Rockies
At first glance, he looks like the cream of the crop, and perhaps a better acquisition than Adrian Beltre. He's 28, he's hitting .305 with 14 home runs, and he won't be a free agent until after the new ballpark opens. But there are two issues.
First, it isn't clear the Rockies want to trade him. There were plenty of rumors about him being available (mostly to the Indians) early in the season. But that seems to have changed because he's having a great year and his supposed replacement, Ian Stewart, is only hitting .238 while the Rockies try him out at second base. (Oh, and forget about Stewart. He bats left-handed). Plus, the Rockies, despite being dismal, are only six games back in the even more dismal NL West.
And the second issue is that Atkins hasn't been the same player away from Coors (Is it still called that? I don't care. I'm going with it.) Field. Over the last three years he's posted a 948 OPS in Coors and a 792 OPS at other ballparks. This year those differences are even more pronounced. So to acquire Atkins, the Twins would need to dig deep, and there are enough doubts about him that I can't picture them doing that.
#3 Kevin Kouzmanoff - San Diego Padres
Kouzmanoff appears to be the kind of guy that is only rarely available. He's cheap (won't be eligible for arbitration until 2010), he can hit(.276 with 12 home runs), and most importantly for the Twins, he brings back the tradition of having a long name with a "z" on the lineup card every day. He's only available because the Padres have another young stud prospect third baseman named Chase Headley that Kouzmanoff is blocking.
Also, the teams match up fairly well. Just yesterday Ken Rosenthal reported that the Padres would conceivably trade him for a young outfielder. And if Cuddyer gets healthy you could argue that the Twins have one too many of those. You could also argue that the Padres could use some young pitching with both Greg Maddux and Randy Wolfe on the roster.
The concerns? Well, just what is Kevin Kouzmanoff? He's 26, so he's not young. He's brutalized left-handed pitchers so far, slugging over .500 for his career. But he hasn't hit or even got on-base enough versus right-handers (just a .309 career OBP), and he now has over 640 at-bats against them. That doesn't seem like a guy you turn over third base to full-time, let alone trade Carlos Gomez or Denard Span for. And if you're going to acquire a guy to platoon at third base with Buscher, why not go with the devil you know....
#2 Matt Macri - Rochester Red Wings
A funny thing happens when you pull up the stats of all MLB third basemen and sort in descending order by OPS. Matt Macri ends up 5th on that list. Macri fits our criteria and he's in the organization, and he's 26 years old, and he hit .409 with a 1000 OPS vs. left-handers over 22 at-bats during his June call-up.
Strangely, that dominance versus southpaws has been completely absent at Rochester this year. There, he's hitting just .219, and has a much better average against right-handed batters. Both numbers seem like anomolies, but I can't tell you what the actual figure is likely to be.
If a trade is not made, it will be interesting to see if Ron Gardenhire would rather have Lamb as a left-handed pinch-hitter or Macri as a right-handed platoon at third base. I suspect he would pick Macri, mostly because he hates benching a veteran like Lamb, and would just as soon release him. But I'm not sure that would be the right call.
#1 Casey Blake - Cleveland Indians
We always talk about how interdivisional trades are rare, but this might be the kind that could make sense. The Indians aren't going anywhere, and Blake will be a free agent at the end of the year. If anyone would balk at a trade, it would likely be the Twins, for fear that the player they lost to the Indians would come back to bite them several times every year. You know, kind of like Casey Blake has.
Of the players on this list, Blake is the most seamless fit. He doesn't need to be much more than a platoon player, so the Twins can continue to use Buscher. He also has some positional flexibility, even playing shortstop once this year. And he's socking lefties silly. He's hitting .323 against them this year, and slugging over .500, and while the batting average doesn't match his track record, the slugging does. Over the last three years he's slugged .509 versus left-handers in 411 at-bats.
Odds are, someone is going to end up with Blake on the trade deadline. Considering how good a fit he is, I'll be a little suprised if that team ends up not being the Twins.