Indians GM Chris Antonetti told Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that finding a third baseman will be one of his main jobs this winter. Here’s a look at needs, options and possible solutions for the Tribe:
It would make sense to sign someone who can play third for a year while Jared Goedert and Lonnie Chisenhall develop into major league regulars. Goedert, 25, batted .283/.358/.532 with 27 homers in the upper minors this year. Chisenhall, who turned 22 this week, had a strong season at Double-A, but likely needs seasoning.
Antonetti told Hoynes that he’d like to see improved infield defense next year, so free agents who can hold their own at the hot corner will appeal to Cleveland's front office.
Jayson Nix, Cord Phelps, Luis Valbuena and Andy Marte are internal options for the Indians, but none of the four have guarantees and it seems more likely that the Indians will add someone from outside the organization.
Adrian Beltre is a fantastic defender, but he has set himself up for a long-term deal and the Indians are probably not looking to make a long-term commitment to a third baseman given their minor league depth at the position.
Lots of other third basemen hit free agency this winter; the Indians could approach Jorge Cantu, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada, Brandon Inge or Juan Uribe about a deal. All of those players should draw interest from multiple teams - Inge has discussed a deal with the Tigers - but there should be plenty of alternatives.
Joe Crede has a reputation as a good defender and could look to return next year after sitting out the 2010 season. Felipe Lopez and Pedro Feliz could also be considerations for the Tribe, but, like Crede, both come with question marks.
A Possible Solution
The Indians have lots of choice, but here’s one solution I’d like to see: longtime Indian Omar Vizquel paired with Edwin Encarnacion (if he’s non-tendered). Vizquel, a switch-hitter who handles right-handers better than left-handers, could face tough righties and be a late-game defensive replacement at third and short. Encarnacion, who mashes lefties, could start against all southpaws and lots of right-handers.
The Indians may not have the chance to sign either player and even if they’re both available, there are surer ways for Antonetti to improve his infield defense than combining a 44-year-old with someone who has played below average defense in every season of his career (Encarnacion’s career UZR/150 is -11.7).
But Vizquel can still get on base (.341 OBP in 2010) and play all around the infield and Encarnacion definitely has power. It’s one fun option to think about, even if the Jays decide Encarnacion is worth $5-6MM in arbitration and Vizquel re-signs with the White Sox.