Alex Rodriguez has found his way back to the Yankees. Mike Lowell has re-signed with the Red Sox. The remaining free agent third basemen will be sucked up at a premium by needy teams. The packages required to acquire a guy like Miguel Cabrera or Garrett Atkins via trade may be too steep for the Twins to handle. Whatever is Bill Smith to do about that nasty little situation at the hot corner?
Perhaps this isn't the correct year to push for a permanent answer at third base. Maybe the Twins would be well-served to wait another year, see how internal prospects like Danny Valencia progress, see how the third base market shapes up following the 2008 season.
That course of action might make sense, but some type of stopgap will be necessary. Nick Punto is not an option at third base, and while guys like Brian Buscher and Matt Macri have the potential to perform at a league-average level, it would be foolhardy for a team as desperately in need of offensive improvement as the Twins to enter a season relying entirely on unproven commodities.
So here's a name that hasn't been tossed around much with regards to the third base situation: Mark Loretta. He is more well-known as a second baseman, but Loretta has logged quite a few innings at third over the course of his career. His age (36) and lack of power (12 total home runs over the past three seasons) make him less than desirable, but he's a solid defender and he continues to post solid batting averages and on-base percentages late in his career. Last season with the Astros, Loretta batted .287/.352/.372 in 133 games, striking out only 41 times in 460 at-bats.
If the Twins do believe in Buscher (as I do), Loretta looks like an excellent platoon partner. Last year he hit .317/.395/.423 against lefties, and over the course of his career he is a .305/.391/.409 hitter versus southpaws.
Naturally, Loretta would not be a long-term option, but he wouldn't be likely to cost much more than $2-3 million, and at his age could not command more than a two-year deal, maximum. If Smith wishes to address third base in another manner but feels that Alexi Casilla could use another year to develop, Loretta could be a candidate to keep second base warm as well.
Definitely a guy worth keeping an eye on.