With Adrian Beltre’s contract set to expire at the end of the 2009 season, the Mariners will need to address their soon-to-be-vacant hot corner by committing to a third baseman for next year and beyond. Who can we expect to man the position in the near future? We’ve compiled a list of names of possible options, organized by each player’s current affiliation with the team.
Russell Branyan. Currently the M’s starting first baseman, Branyan originally began his career as a third baseman with Cleveland, and has played the position off and on for the past ten years.
Though he has showcased remarkable offensive numbers at first base, the organization has a number of first base prospects in the minor leagues, some of whom (Mike Carp, Bryan LaHair) are ready for the big leagues right now.
Branyan’s contract expires at the end of the ’09 season, however, and he would have to commit to a position change before he would be likely to ink any deal.
Jose Lopez. The M’s second baseman has struggled defensively for the past couple seasons, facilitating a part-time gig at first base since 2008. Though first base may not be in Lopez’s full-time plans, third base very well could be.
A change of positional scenery to the less-demanding third base might allow Lopez to focus more on his bat and less on his glove. The switch could pay big dividends, assuming the M’s could fill the hole created by the shift at second.
Adrian Beltre. Hey, why not? There’s no dismissing Beltre until he joins another team, and that hasn’t happened just yet. After his slow start to the season, the incumbent three bagger is probably in line for a pay decrease from the contract the M’s gave him in 2005. Meaning the 30-year-old could possibly fit into the team’s 2010 plans from both a positional and financial standpoint.
Matt Tuiasosopo. The M’s third-round pick in the 2004 draft, Tui has been nursing an injury of late while at Triple-A Tacoma. He has yet to make his return from surgery to remove bone spurs from his throwing elbow, but upon obtaining a clean bill of health, speculation that he could take over the third base job at any moment should become rampant once again.
Though he has been rumored to be the M’s third baseman of the future since the moment he was drafted, Tui has, at times, failed to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him by the organization.
Nevertheless, he has continued to show improvement with each passing season. In 2008, the Woodinville product had arguably his best minor league season thus far, batting .281/13/73, with a .817 OPS in 111 games with the Rainiers. That production continued into this season, when he batted .424/2/10 in Spring Training. He still needs to show he can hit consistently at the big league level, but Tui has little left to prove in the minors.
Chris Shelton. Shelton has fallen on hard times since he kicked off the 2006 season by blasting nine home runs in the first 13 games for the Detroit Tigers. But that hasn’t stopped him from performing in the minor leagues.
Now at Triple-A Tacoma, Shelton has made the transition across the diamond from first base to third base. The versatile corner infielder can also play catcher (his original position), and is worthy of another shot at big league glory.
Currently, Shelton is batting .313/7/47 for the Rainiers, with a .869 OPS.
Mike Morse. Morse probably isn’t a starter in the big leagues, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t find himself in the role at some point. The shortstop-turned-outfielder-turned-third baseman is on the verge of being typecast into the dreaded “Quad A” role: an above-average player at Triple-A who performs at a below-average level in the majors.
Interestingly enough, Morse has nearly identical numbers to that of Shelton. His line reads .317/7/45, with a .849 OPS.
In addition to Beltre, the rest of the ’10 free agent class at third base is a mix of big names with question marks and stopgap veterans: Chipper Jones, Joe Crede, Hank Blalock, Chone Figgins, Joe Crede, Troy Glaus, Geoff Blum, and Mike Lamb. None of these options would likely be looked at as long-term solutions, but they could bridge the gap between the current M’s and the team of the future.