2010 marked the pulling of the parachute on Alex Gordon as a third baseman. The guy many saw as a franchise cornerstone at the hot corner when drafted in 2005 was relegated to the outfield in AAA Omaha after only nine starts at third.
This opened up a merry-go-round at third, which seven different players saw during the season.
Here’s a quick look at home the Royals’ third basemen production stacked up against the rest of the AL.
Alberto Callaspo saw the majority of the time at third. Callaspo moved across the infield from second as Mike Aviles became a steady performer at second base. Before being dealt to Anaheim, the switch hitting Venezuelan played as expected. He hit .275/.308/.410, 19 2B, 8 HR, and 43 RBI in 88 games with Kansas City. Callaspo was a solid and consistent stick for the Royals. He also committed 6 errors, fielding only .968 while in Kansas City.
Callaspo’s production was a microcosm of what happened at third all season. The Royals supplied many options with competent hitting abilities and suspect defense.
Overall Royals third basemen landed smack in the middle of both the AL (7th) and MLB (15th) in WAR, at 2.6. They posted nice offensive numbers, .286/.339/ .457, 24 HR, 92 RBI, and created aroubt 15 runs more than the league average. There offensive production was good enough make up for the supreme lack of leather. Only four other clubs were worse defensively at third in 2010, White Sox, Rockies, Astros, and Marlins.
The Royals third sackers were so defensively inept; they gave up 45 more runs than league average performers would according to UZR.
One of the biggest contributors to both the resurgence on the offensive side and poor defensive play was Wilson Betemit. The Royals signed Betemit under the radar almost a year ago to date, November 13, 2009. After Callaspo was dealt, Betemit saw most of the time at third and was a pleasant surprise. Betemit started 51 games at third, and hit .297/.378/.511, 20 2B, 13 HR, 43 RBI, good enough for a 2.7 WAR. Considering the Royals signed him to a minor league contract and didn’t call him up until halfway through the season, they got a steal. It is hard to ignore the fact he played abysmal defense, he committed eight errors on 113 chances, a .929 fielding clip.
Considering his BABIP was nearly 100 points higher (.410) than his career average (.333), it would be a shock to see similar numbers to the ones he put up in 2010.
Betemit is arbitration eligible for 2011. His highest salary to date was $1.3 million, with arbitration the Royals can expect to pay him $2-2.5 million. This makes him affordable for a switch hitter who saw time at third base, second base, first base, and designated hitter last season.
Third base is most likely waiting for a guy who has never worn a Kansas City jersey, Mike Moustakas. The Royals will probably start him out in the minors and bring him up after the first month to gain an extra year of team control before he becomes arbitration eligible. The Pirates (Pedro Alvarez), Giants (Buster Posey), Nationals (Stephen Strasburg), Rangers (Justin Smoak), and many others treated their high profile prospects similarly in 2010.
Considering Betemit’s 2010 performance he will most likely get the nod at third for Opening Day. When Moustakas does hit the scene, Betemit will be a valuable commodity because of his ability to play multiple positions. It is also a benefit the switch hitter plays better against lefties (.312/.398/.532 vs. LHP, .291/.370/.503 vs. RHP), since Ned Yost will most likely give Moustakas days off against southpaws.
Look for Josh Fields to compete for a roster spot as well during the 2011 Spring Training. Fields was part of the Mark Teahen deal, along with Chris Getz. Arthroscopic surgery on a torn labrum in his hip, the same surgery Gordon had the previous season, cost Fields’ most of 2010.
He only got 49 minor league at-bats during his rehab stint and 49 at-bats during September with Kansas City. He hit .306, 3 HR, 6 RBI in limited action. In his only extended time on the big league level in 2007, Fields his .244/.308/.480, 17 2B, 23 HR, 67 RBI with Chicago. Fields is another guy who is a below average fielder, but rakes against lefties.