The Third Base Carousel

From 1999 until 2004, the Royals had a stable situation at third base.  Joe Randa played in 875 games over that period, and the majority of his time was spent at the hot corner.  Then the gem of the Carlos Beltran trade arrived in Kansas City and Mark Teahen took over.  Unfortunately, other than a second half of 2006, Teahen never did much at third base, and the position has been a corner of doom since.

Teahen was never meant to stick at third base. Not with Alex Gordon coming up, and especially not after he’d won the Minor League Player of the Year Award in 2006 in Wichita. The Royals opted to skip Triple A entirely and moved Gordon to the big league club in 2007.

This moved Teahen off third base early and into the outfield. It’s agreed upon if the shift in positions stunted Teahen’s growth as a hitter or if he was just regressing to his talent level, but at the time, it looked like the change in fielding position had at least distracted him to the point that his slash numbers were pretty close to what they’d been in 2006, but his power had dipped from where it had been through the second half of 2006.

We know now that Teahen just doesn’t look like much more than a part-time regular at the corner positions, but at the time, it looked like the Royals had taken the best player from the Beltran trade and sabotaged his development.

Okay, okay. Deep breath. In. Out.

We still had Alex Gordon, though. Gordon, the next George Brett. Lifetime Royals fan. Even batted left and played third like Brett. As can’t-miss as you can get.

But if that was the script for Gordon, he’d forgotten his lines. Gordon struck out nearly once a game and hit .232/.321/.358/.679 in the first half of 2007 after a rotten April and May. Only a strong June made those first half numbers even near-average. His second half was better, but not great, as he hit .264/.305/.472/.777.

The key was that he’d made improvements as the season went on and both the Royals and their fans were encouraged. In 2008, Gordon improved his walkrate and finished with a 109 OPS+ and despite some injuries through the season, he looked like he was coming along (though slowly).

Unfortunately 2009 was all but lost for Gordon as he required hip surgery in April and didn’t return to the lineup until July, though he did show decent recovery and finished close to average again. Then in 2010, he was demoted to Omaha and turned into an outfielder. So the Royals third baseman of the next 20 years was no more, and Alberto Callaspo took over.

And he hit well enough to get traded in July.

There were a few reasons for the Callaspo move, looking back. As a poor defensive player and with spotty power, the Royals didn’t see Callaspo as an everyday long-term player. They also got a pretty decent return for him, bringing in a starter under team control for years and a left handed throwing prospect in Will Smith who’s pitched well for Double A Northwest Arkansas. But the Royals also had comfort in knowing that minor league free agent signing Wilson Betemit was hitting everything for extra bases in his limited at bats and felt he had earned a shot to play everyday.

Also there’s that Mike Moustakas kid, who at the time was destroying everything in sight in Double A and continued to wreak havoc on Triple A, too.

So for the last six years, the Royals have been chasing down third basemen, with Teahen the bridge to Gordon until that didn’t work out. Now one has to assume that the Royals will bring Betemit back for at least next season to act as the transitional figure until Moustakas makes it.

While I think Moustakas’s development in 2010 has been phenomenal, I’m cautioned by the lessons of the past. I think Moustakas will be a successful major league hitter.

But.

I don’t think it hurts for the Royals to maintain a safety net in case he develops slowly under the bright lights. I agree with Rany Jazayerli who said yesterday that even adjusted for a high batting average on balls in play, Betemit’s numbers look good enough to be an everyday third baseman.

I’m sure the Royals and Betemit can come to an agreement that lets him cash in on the excellent season he’s having that doesn’t look silly on paper. Three million a year for the next three years? Hell if we can pay Jason Kendall almost that much in 2010 to stink up the joint (and even more in 2011 to miss half the season), we can at least lock up a productive bat who can also serve as insurance in case of a Moustakas meltdown.

Hopefully, that will cure the Royals third base ills…now if we can just get to work at shortstop…

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Tags: AL Central Alberto Callaspo Alex Gordon Baseball Kansas City Royals KC Mark Teahen Mike Moustakas MLB Royals Wilson Betemit

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