Surprise positional outlook: Third base
Today's position: Third base
During the 2010 season, third base was Michael Young's domain. It was his second full season at the position and he worked hard to get used to the corner spot while Elvis Andrus continued to shine at shortstop (Young's old position until he shifted to third to make room for Andrus before the 2009 season). The longest-tenured member on the Rangers' roster figured he'd be back at third base again in 2011.
What the move does is give the Rangers a Gold Glove third baseman, improving their overall defense. The signing allows them to move Young to a designated hitter and super-utility role. Young will learn to play some first base in spring training, but has already played second, shortstop and third for extended periods at the major league level. The plan is that he'll get the bulk of his at-bats as the designated hitter, but manager Ron Washington will make sure Young gets some games in the field because he wants to get the infielders some time off and let Young play the field too.
Beltre is one of the top AL third baseman defensively as shown by all of the key metrics, including WAR, plus/minus and defensive runs saved. We've discussed that before and you can get more information about that here.
The question will be if Beltre can keep his offensive numbers up. A lot has been made of Beltre's numbers during contract years, but I think that's unfair. He hit .321 with 28 homers and 102 RBIs last season, his best showing overall since 2004. If he can put up similar offensive numbers and continue his steady defense, he could be a huge boost to the club overall.
Don't forget that his overall game can impact the pitching staff, especially in the field. If this club is better overall defensively, that's worth a savings of some runs and gives the pitcher a chance to make some mistakes and still win games.
This isn't some kind of quick experiment at third, either. Beltre has a contract that is guaranteed for five years with a vesting option for a sixth year. The club has made a long-term commitment here. It should be interesting to see what Beltre does for the entire infield in the coming years.
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