Sometime three or four years ago, it seems like a lot of baseball fans had the same realization at the same time: “Wow, Adrian Beltre’s really good—even Hall of Fame-worthy. But nobody realizes this, so he’s going to miss the Hall of Fame when he comes up and we’re all going to riot.”
Fortunately—perhaps—for Beltre, public opinion corrected itself. Fortunately for us, Beltre’s tacked on a few more years of star-quality production for us to watch. When the Texas Rangers signed Beltre to a six-year, $96 million contract after an insane one-year stint in Boston in 2010, it looked like one of those veteran free agent deals where the team pays in extra years as well as in extra dollars. But entering the last year of that contract, his age-37 season, Beltre’s been superb—worth every dollar of that $96 million, and more.
Now, Rangers GM Jon Daniels faces a decision: How to fill the void at third base next year.
Certainly, he could sign Beltre to another contract, but only Daniels knows how much money he’s willing to offer, and only Beltre knows how much he’d accept, so let’s look at other internal options—none of whom, oddly enough, are strictly speaking third basemen: Ian Desmond, Joey Gallo, Jurickson Profar and Hanser Alberto.
Let’s take them one by one. Desmond, like Beltre, is only signed through this year, but he’s also seven years younger than Beltre, which makes him a candidate for a contract extension. The rub, of course, is that Desmond’s never played a major-league game at third base in his life. But conversion to third base is pretty much standard for aging, power-hitting shortstops with good throwing arms—Desmond’s a perfect candidate for a move to third, and if he’d been signed by a team that didn’t already have a backlog on the infield, it’s probably even money he’d be playing there instead of left field right now. Remember, for all the offensive dropoff and throwing yips, he was still a two-win player last year.
But he’s still older and more expensive than the other alternatives, and if that .254 TAv is the new normal and not an aberration … yeah, moving on.
Joey Gallo has played third base, but he’s also the size of an offshore oil rig. He’s so big I’d honestly always just assumed that he’d grown up in Texas. That comes with big power—read: World Class power. The kind of power that makes you want to learn the word for “power” in German so it sounds sufficiently impressive—and a big throwing arm, but also mobility issues. Can he tote that 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame around third base for very long? Kris Bryant still can. Miguel Sano less so, but since Gallo’s bat plays big anywhere, it’d play huge at a position that isn’t first base, DH or an outfield corner.
But even though he played 36 games with the Rangers last year, Gallo can still use a little more seasoning against advanced pitching in the upper minors before throwing him to the wolves. At 22, Gallo’s still got time to develop, and with the Rangers’ big-league depth, Daniels can afford to wait until he’s absolutely ready.
That brings up Hanser Alberto, who deputized at third base for Beltre during last year’s playoffs when Beltre was injured. Alberto is probably the best defender of the four players mentioned here, and carries the least uncertainty. The issue is that Alberto’s fate is certain because he’s the only internal option who’s never shown any particular inclination to hit. Batting .222/.238/.263 in 104 plate appearances as a 22-year-old rookie is what it is, but he also hit .281/.312/.380 across parts of six minor-league seasons, which is less than inspiring.
Then there’s Jurickson Profar. The enigma. Both elusive and alluring—like the Northwest Passage—we yearn to reach out and touch him, as Tantalus reached for the lowest branch of the fruit tree during his torment in Tartarus. After missing two years—or as close to two years as to render quibbling over minutiae a waste of time—with shoulder injuries, Profar is healthy, finally, and because he achieved so much so young, he was able to play parts of two seasons in the big leagues, struggle a little, miss two seasons, then come back at age 23. The question with Profar is less whether the talent’s still in there, but how much it hurt him developmentally to go two years (and two critical years) without facing live pitching. We just don’t know yet. Profar’s skill set probably suits the middle infield best, but the Rangers are pretty well set there, and if Profar’s arm and bat return to something resembling their full potential, he’d profile just fine at third. But like Gallo, Profar’s still young enough, with enough outstanding questions about his skill set, that there’s no harm in playing it slow. So Profar also starts the year in the minors.
Of course, these long-term third base options require short-term homes, which Daniels has found for them: Left field for Desmond, Triple-A for Profar and Gallo and for Alberto a utility infielder’s role, where the glove can be used to maximum effect while not exposing the public to his bat any more than necessary.
I imagine that Daniels is a good man-manager, and as any executive worth his salt would, he likely sat down his subordinates and explained what they’d be doing for the foreseeable future, and what their expectations were. The conversation, between Daniels, Profar, Gallo, Desmond and Alberto, probably went a little like this:
Desmond—who’d only just signed as a free agent a couple months ago—stared blankly back at Daniels.
“Your glove,” Daniels said, indicating that Desmond should run out to left field. “By the Outfield.”
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