Thursday, January 5, 2017

All-Time One-Year Wonder: Third Base

I'm going to do something a little different with the One-Year Wonder posts. I have decided to go position-by-position and see if I can determine who the best player at each position would be who only spent one year with the Red Sox. This requires a lot of time and research. I am not naming every single player who spent just one season with the Red Sox at each position, but just the better-known players. At the end of the post, I will pick the single best player for each position.
Okay, John Knight is not exactly a well-known player, but he was one of the best players on the Highlanders (now the Yankees) in the early 1910's.  He had a huge season in 1910 when he hit .312/.372/.413 and stole 23 bases as the team's shortstop.  Knight started his Major League career with the A's in 1905 and was notably traded to Boston for Jimmy Collins, who was on the downswing of his career, in June of 1907.  Knight played in 98 games for Boston, taking over at third for Collins.  He did not hit much, with a line of .217/.256/.275 with two home runs, eight doubles, three triples, and eight stolen bases.  He was a good defensive player though and led the league in assists, double plays, and putouts, but also in errors.  Knight was traded to a minor league team prior to the 1908 season for Fred Burchell and re-emerged with New York in 1909 where he became a much better hitter.

JOE DUGAN - 1922
A member of the Murderer's Row Yankees of 1927, "Jumping" Joe Dugan was a strong defensive third-baseman who could hit a little bit.  Dugan was another player that Boston traded to the Yankees in the early 1920's, completely dismantling the team and building a Yankees dynasty.  Dugan had just been acquired prior to the 1922 season.  The Philadelphia A's sent him to the Senators on January 10 and that same day he was sent to the Red Sox for Roger Peckinpaugh, who also had just been acquired by Boston.  Dugan hit .287/.308/.396 with three home runs and 38 RBIs for Boston in 84 games before being traded to the Yankees for a package of warm bodies, which included Lefty O'Doul, who was still several years away from becoming a great hitter.  Dugan spent most of the rest of his career with the Yankees, holding down the hot corner.    

It is very annoying that this is the only card from Doc Prothro's playing career.  119 of his 180 games were spent with the Red Sox.  Prothro is likely the most obscure player in this post, but he had a hell of a year with Boston in his only full season in the Majors.  He did go on to a lengthy managerial career in the minors and was the Phillies manager for three very bad seasons.  The Red Sox picked him up for Mike McNally in December of 1924 and he was the primary third-baseman for Boston, hitting .313/.390/.383.  He did not hit a home run in his entire Major League career, but he did hit 23 doubles with three triples and stole nine bases.  He was hard to strike out, only whiffing 21 times in 474 plate appearances.  Prothro spent a few more seasons in the minors after his one Red Sox season, only appearing in three games for the Reds in 1926.

Charlie Gelbert had been the starting shortstop for some very good St. Louis Cardinals teams.  He hit .304 for the 1930 Cardinals who lost the World Series to the A's and then .289 for the 1931 team that beat the A's in the World Series.  Gelbert looked to be a rising star, but then suffered a bad leg injury in a hunting accident that caused him to miss the 1933 and 1934 seasons.  He returned in 1935 but was never the same player again.  He managed to play in the Majors through the 1940 season but bounced from team to team.  He played for Boston for 30 games in the 1940 season and hit just .198/.263/.220, spending most of his time for the Red Sox at third base.  That was his last appearance in the Majors.

An All Star seven times with the Indians, Ken Keltner was nearing the end of the road by the time he played for the Red Sox.  Keltner had his best season in 1948, just two years before joining the Red Sox, when he hit .297/.395/.522 with 31 home runs and 119 RBIs.  Somehow he was just 14th in the MVP vote that year.  He did not do much in the World Series against the Braves that year though.  Unfortunately, he declined quite a bit the next season and was released by the Indians in April of 1950.  The Red Sox snatched him up that same day to serve as insurance at third for Johnny Pesky.  Keltner played in just 13 games with the Red Sox but hit well with a line of .321/.387/.393 in 32 plate appearances.  He was released in June when Billy Goodman needed a position since he was on his way to the batting title.  Keltner never appeared in the Majors again. 

Ed Sprague was one of my little brother's favorite players while with the Blue Jays.  He had a big season in 1996 when he hit .247/.325/.496 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs.  After eight years with Toronto he started bouncing from team to team.  He was an All Star in 1999 with the Pirates, though that was likely just to give Pittsburgh an All Star.  He hit .267/.352/.465 with 22 home runs and 81 RBIs.  Sprague started the 2000 season with the Padres but was traded to Boston when the Red Sox were desperate for third base help.  He played in 33 games with Boston but hit just .216/.293/.306 with two home runs before being released and finding his way back to San Diego.  He spent one more year in the Majors, with Seattle.

Another player brought to Boston for third base help in 2000, Sean Berry played in all of one game with the Red Sox.  Berry began his career with the Kansas City Royals in the early 1990's, then got his first real success with the Montreal Expos in 1993.  He was a solid player for several years with the Expos and Houston Astros.  He was a steady defensive player who hit over .300 twice and typically homered around 15 times a season.  The Brewers signed him as a free agent after the 1998 season but he was a disappointment and was released in 2000.  Boston picked him up and he played in just one game, striking out twice in four plate appearances.  That was the end of his Major League career.  Interestingly, Berry was drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 1984 draft, but did not sign.

Another third-baseman who rose to prominence with the Expos in the 1990's, Shane Andrews had some big-time power.  He hit 25 home runs for Montreal in 1998, but struck out 137 times and hit just .238/.314/.455.  He hit 86 home runs in his career, 67 with the Expos and 19 with the Cubs.  After a rough 2000, Andrews spent the 2001 season with Memphis in the Cardinals organization.  Boston signed him in 2002, but he spent most of the season with Pawtucket, and hit 22 home runs.  He was called up to Boston for seven games but hit .077 in 15 plate appearances and never made the Majors again.

After his career had seemingly stalled while with the Mariners, Adrian Beltre signed a one-year make-good contract with the Red Sox in 2010 and definitely succeeded.  Beltre had some impressive seasons early in his career followed by a superstar 2004 season with the Dodgers when he led the National League with 48 home runs and hit .334/.388/.629.  He finished second in the league in the MVP vote.  He then signed a huge free agent contract with the Mariners and played well, but nowhere near as well as had been expected.  He did win a couple of Gold Gloves.  Beltre resurrected his career in Boston by hitting .321/.365/.553 with 28 home runs and 102 RBIs and led the league in doubles with 49.  He was an All Star and won the Silver Slugger.  Unfortunately Boston did not make much effort to re-sign him, particularly after acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and he joined the Rangers on a free agent contract where he has been putting together Hall of Fame type numbers.  Beltre is still active and there is a chance he could return to Boston, but it is not likely.

There has never been any question about Danny Valencia's power.  He hit 15 home runs in his first full season with the Twins and has hit double digits in home runs in each of the last two seasons.  But Valencia has been a pretty bad defensive third-baseman and has spent a lot of time at designated hitter.  Valencia burst onto the scene in 2010 and finished third in the Rookie of the Year vote, despite playing just 85 games.  The Red Sox picked him up in a trade in 2012 to add a little power.  He played in just ten games with Boston, but did hit a home run.  After the season, the Orioles took a flyer and he has bounced around ever since, most recently hitting 17 home runs with Oakland in 2016.  Valencia is still active.

Ryan Roberts had a few decent seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks mostly as a utility player.  Roberts had his best season in 2011 as the starting third-baseman when he hit .249/.341/.427 with 19 home runs and 65 RBIs.  He also stole 18 bases.  Roberts started the next season with Arizona but was traded to Tampa Bay close to the trading deadline.  He started the 2014 season with the Red Sox after signing as a free agent just prior to the start of the season.  He only played eight games with the Red Sox, all at third before being released.  He hit just .105/.227/.105 with just two hits.  He has not been in the Majors since and retired after the 2015 season.

This is really just a prediction as Hill finished the 2016 season with the Red Sox, but he was granted free agency and did not really produce much, so I do not expect him to be back in 2017.  Hill had some big power as a second-baseman with the Blue Jays early in his career.  In 2009 he hit .286/.330/.499 with 36 home runs and 108 RBIs.  He has won two Silver Slugger Awards in his career.  He declined a little but came back with the Diamondbacks to hit 26 home runs in 2012.  He became primarily a third-baseman in 2016 with the Brewers and was traded to the Red Sox before the trading deadline.  In 47 games with the Red Sox, Hill hit .218/.287/.290 with two home runs and nine RBIs.  He has yet to sign a contract with any team for the 2017 season so there is a small chance he could be back in Boston, but I doubt it.

It is not even close.  Beltre is not just the best third base one-year wonder, he is one of my favorite one-year wonders of all time.  A number of formerly good players played third base for just one season for the Red Sox, but very few of them were really any good for any reasonable amount of time.  Beltre's only halfway reasonable competition was Doc Prothro who hit for a high average, but not much else.  And Beltre's average was higher.  I was very disappointed when Boston did not re-sign Beltre after his terrific 2010 season and even moreso after Adrian Gonzalez did not really pan out as expected.  Beltre was incredible in 2010, winning the Silver Slugger and being named an All Star.  He was a great defensive player as well and was just a lot of fun to watch.  Boston really should have kept him.  Beltre will be in the Hall of Fame some day.

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