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News » Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris are the answers, for now, for Twins at third base

Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris are the answers, for now, for Twins at third base

Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris are the answers, for now, for Twins at third base
It's not easy to read about how much your team would like to replace you, and it's not fun to hear rumors about who might be hired to take away your job.

Brian Buscher, however, has an answer for the slice of Minnesota's population that's angry or disappointed that Adrian Beltre, Garrett Atkins and Casey Blake remain employed elsewhere. "They signed a guy for third base last year, too," Buscher said, a reference to Mike Lamb's failed four months with the Twins. "It doesn't bother me. I'll just keeping fighting for my job."

He's already succeeded in fighting off those prospective interlopers, whether he knows it or not. General manager Bill Smith won't discuss his attempts to acquire another starting third baseman -- whoever takes the field on Opening Night will be the fifth consecutive different player to hold the position -- but he makes it clear that if any such transactions fell through, the Twins' comfort level with their incumbents made it easy to be conservative.

Buscher and Brendan Harris will battle for the position this spring (and Matt Tolbert could get a look, too), and the Twins' hunch is that they could settle into the platoon setup -- Harris facing left-handers, Buscher batting against right-handers -- that they used last September.

Which is, Smith and manager Ron Gardenhire insist, perfectly fine with them.

"We're confident that those two guys provide everything we need at the position, and also offer good, solid depth," Smith said. "People forget, we got 91 RBIs out of third base last season. That's what we're after, scoring runs. We always try to get better, that's at every position. But I have no hesitation about going into the season with those guys. We've never said we were unhappy with them."

No, but reports from around the country confirmed that the Twins looked into other options. They offered Blake a two-year contract but were outbid by the Dodgers. They asked about trades involving Atkins and Beltre but found the asking price too high.

The Twins' motives were clear: Minnesota third basemen ranked 11th in the American League in on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) and 13th in home runs. But Smith points out that those numbers include Lamb's two-month struggles; the Twins received better production in the season's second half.

Still, Harris and Buscher read the stories, knew the Twins were mulling their options. "I heard all that, but I didn't worry about it," Harris said, echoing Buscher. "I'm more concerned about having a good year."

The one Harris had in his first season in Minnesota was OK -- a .265 average, perhaps commendable given that he opened the season at second base, shifted to shortstop after two months and played the final six weeks as a part-time third baseman -- but Harris and the Twins expect more.

"He has some surprising power. He hit 12 home runs in Tampa Bay," a total that declined to seven last season, Smith pointed out. "Once we got him on the left side of the infield, he played much better. Now it's his second season here, and I believe any player who's traded, (his) second year is a huge plus because his comfort level changes. He knows his teammates, his coaches, the routines."

Strangely, Harris last season was better against right-handers, against whom he hit six of his seven homers and reached base more frequently. But his career numbers say his batting average, slugging average and on-base percentage all rise by roughly 50 points against left-handers.

Buscher's platoon advantage is even more pronounced; he hit .316 against right-handers last year and just .205 against lefties. Like Harris, however, his OPS numbers are .800 with the platoon advantage -- a little higher than what the Twins could expect from Blake or Atkins.

"If it turns into a platoon situation, so be it. A lot of teams use platoons, and they work out real well," Smith said. "If one guy steps up and takes the position full time, we feel pretty good about that, too."

Buscher understands that he doesn't fit the prototype of his position, because he never has been a power hitter; he has only six home runs in 300 career at-bats, four last season.

"If I had 10 more homers (a year), maybe things would be different," Buscher said. "I just don't think it would be so smart to change my swing in order to hit more."

Besides, the Twins have never emphasized home runs. "Our goal is to score 800 runs, but we don't care how we score them," Smith said.

So Harris and Buscher, trying hard not to feel like fallback positions, prepare for spring training and a new battle for their old job. "I'll probably have to fight for a job my whole career," Buscher said. "But I can definitely see this working out well for the team."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: January 26, 2009

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