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Baseball insiders call third base the hot corner because a good infielder has to be ready to handle anything from a screaming drive down the line to a worm burner between third and short. If you were to build the ideal third baseman, he would have cat-like reflexes, a rocket for an arm and the muscle to mash the ball out of the park at least 20 to 30 times a season.

But to the Minnesota Twins, third base is the hot corner because of all the controversy and problems they’ve had filling the position since free agent Corey Koskie left in 2004. The long list of occupants over the past four seasons have been anything but ideal.

There were disappointing retreads like Tony Battista and Rondell White. They tried ultimate utility man Nick Punto in a breakout year for him in 2006. Punto retreated to a sub-par year in ’07 and came back to relatively respectability in ’08, batting .284, while primarily playing at short. The unsatisfying third base solution in ’08 was to platoon newcomer Brian Buscher with newly-acquired Brendan Harris. Buscher batted .294 and hit four homers and 47 RBI in limited action, while Harris hit .265 with seven home runs and 49 RBI in the same capacity. Both can be a liability with their gloves.

The prospects of a trade or free agent to fill third base are disappearing as the year draws to a close. Citing very tight and expensive market conditions, Twins management has stated that the trading price for both Adrian Beltre and Garret Atkins was too high. The same high-priced scenario is developing for Houston free agent Ty Wigginton. And the prospects for a trade with Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy are murky at best. So no deal.

But is the answer for 2009 the same Buscher-Harris platoon as last year? What will improve?

In reality, the Twins have been power-depleted since the years when Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett played under the Teflon dome. Probably as much by necessity as by design, the Twins are one of the game’s foremost proponents of fundamentals first, station-to-station baseball. And this philosophy has borne fruit twice since 1987. However, both the ’87 and ’91 championship teams had a core of power hitters who could drive the ball and hit it out of the park on many occasions.

Today, the Twins have only one true power threat—Justin Morneau. And he needs protection in the batting order by having a legitimate power threat hitting fifth behind him. The oft-injured Michael Cuddyer doesn’t seem to be the answer here because he’s more effective in the outfield and inconsistent at the plate. The swishy-swinging Delmon Young has looked undisciplined and amateurish at bat, with lots of room for growth. Some local commentators have even speculated that the reason the Twins don’t want to make a long-term commitment to a big-ticket free agent is because minor league prospects Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes are just two years away. But neither has proven their ability at even the AAA level.

Is there a realistic reason to believe either Buscher or Harris will improve dramatically both at the plate and in the field? Perhaps, with a commitment to significant playing time, one or both will.

But right now, the Twins are close to being a playoff-caliber team. With the addition of a solid, right-handed set-up man and an additional run-producing hitter, they could go deep into the 2009 playoffs. They need some outside help to do it.

There are still a couple of options on the market that could work if Twins management makes a push to get a deal done. Ty Wigginton has not signed anywhere yet. J.J. Hardy might still be pried away from the Brewers for the right offer. The Twins should spend some money to selectively fill some critical needs. Then let’s see what happens.

To view a successful local example of what spending money to acquire a few selective free agents can do, the Twins should cast their gaze to the hometown Minnesota Vikings. Last spring the Vikings spent big money on free agents Bernard Berrian and Jared Allen, with both contributing mightily to what might be the football team’s first division championship since 2000.

The Twins could do the same.

Twins Blog Writer: Rick Jourdan
Look for Rick's column every Monday at


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