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Rays Free Agent Target: Trevor Plouffe

The longtime Twins infielder is on the market after he was outrighted Friday.

Minnesota Twins v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Minnesota Twins outrighted infielder Trevor Plouffe on Friday and he’s expected to clear waivers and hit free agency, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

Plouffe, 30, was projected to make $8.2 million in his final stint through arbitration but the Twins, confident in Miguel Sano at third base and stacked with first basemen and designated hitter style players on the roster, decided Plouffe was not worth the investment.

The West Hills, California, native spent the first seven years of his career in the Twin Cities, accumulating a .247/.348/.420 slash line with 96 home runs and 357 runs batted in (98 wRC+).

From 2012-16, Plouffe averaged 13 HRs and 64 RBIs, which included a breakout 2014 campaign in which he slashed .258/.328/.423 with 14 homers and a career-high 80 RBIs. Drafted as a shortstop, most of Plouffe’s damage has come from the hot corner, where he has played 545 of his 689 games in the field.

A Ray of Interest

Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported last week that the Tampa Bay Rays may be open to trading third baseman and face of the franchise Evan Longoria. If that were to happen, Plouffe would be an adequate replacement at the position but until that happens, the hot corner is off limits.

But after yesterday’s trade, in which the Rays sent Richie Shaffer and Taylor Motter to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for three prospects, Tampa Bay can use some infield depth. Shaffer, who saw a lot of time at first base, thins out the Rays’ already anemic front line at first base, which is now solely manned by Opening Day short stop Brad Miller.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Down the stretch, Brad Miller, saw 39 games of action at first base in 2016 after the acquisition of SS Matt Duffy. On the Rays’ depth the chart, the only other player listed for first base is infielder Nick Franklin, who has made just 19 appearances at the position.

While the team has reportedly made an offer to catcher Jason Castro, the Rays are notorious for their lack of spending and may elect to plug the position with a revolving, affordable door.

Plouffe has played 36 games at first base, 30 of which have come in the last two seasons. In limited time at the position, FanGraphs likes Plouffe’s defense as evidenced by his defensive runs saved (+4) and Ultimate Zone Rating/150 (+5). It could be noted that his glovework at third base has recently slipped, as his DRS (-4) and UZR/150 (-17.1) in 2016 were both career worsts, but first base is generally considered an easier position.

Plouffe has not played a position other than first or third base since 2012 when he saw time in the corner outfield spots and second base.

There’s one recent example the Rays can learn from, and that’s their former catcher John Jaso, who the Rays declined to try at first base after concussion issues precluded him from continuing to catch, and therefore turned away his interest in re-signing with the club.

The longtime backstop spent four seasons (2008, 2010-11, 2015) with the Rays. But after leaving in free agency after the 2015 campaign, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a first baseman, a position he only played twice up to that point.

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Minnesota Twins Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Jaso posted solid numbers at the plate (.268/.353/.413, eight HRs, 42 RBIs) and graded out slightly below average at first base. Better yet, the Pirates committed just two years, $8 million dollars for Jaso — a figure that’s manageable even for a Rays team that started 2016 with the third-lowest payroll ($73,649,584) in MLB.

Instead the Rays turned to career 1B Logan Morrison in a move that overall failed to produce in the field in 2016.

With the Rays in need of first base help, Edwin Encarnacion, Mike Napoli and Mark Trumbo fall out of the Rays’ price range. However, a one-year, incentive-laden deal for Plouffe, who once mashed 24 HRs in 119 games for the Twins, is a strong option for Tampa Bay.