Defensive shift: Three MVPs will play new positions in ’14

Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer and Ryan Braun will be switching positions for the 2014 season.

Ezra Shaw/Brace Hemmelgarn/Minne

Make that three MVPs who will play different positions next year.

In conjunction with Milwaukee trading right fielder Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals for relief pitcher Will Smith, it was also announced that the disgraced Ryan Braun would move from left field to right for the Brewers.

He joins Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer as the third former MVP who will be fielding a different position in 2014. A bit odd, considering that winning baseball’s most coveted individual award would likely solidify a place in the field rather than lead to a positional shakeup.

So why is this happening?

The short answer is “I have no earthly idea.”

But the longer and better one is that “it depends on the situation.”

One common thread throughout all three is that the switch creates room for an up-and-coming prospect.

In Braun’s case, that youngster is Khris Davis.

After Braun was suspended in late July for his involvement with PEDs, Davis filled in admirably and showed tremendous potential in the second half of the season. The 25-year-old outfielder played in 41 games after Brauns’ suspension — 30 of which were starts — and batted .294 with 11 homers and 27 RBI on 35 hits.

It was an encouraging and much-needed sign for Brewers fans as they searched for a silver lining and a reason to forget that their franchise player had just been banned for the rest of the season. And considering Braun only had hit nine homers on the year at that point (over 61 games), Davis’ power numbers, including eight homers in one four-week span, was all the more attractive.

Though, Braun’s move to right field next season won’t be his first position change.

He entered the league in 2007 as a third baseman and made all of his 112 starts that year at the hot corner for Milwaukee. Braun won Rookie of the Year that season, but he found himself playing left field in ’08. It took him only four years after the position switch to win the MVP in 2011 as a left fielder.

But, Braun’s recent announcement came on the heels of news that another MVP would be defending a different part of the diamond in 2014.

There’s a chance some of you have heard of him.

Miguel Cabrera, who just won the last two AL MVP awards while playing third base, will be back at first next year. And while there was no suspension, the reasoning behind the move is similar to that of Braun.

AROUND THE HORN

Top prospect Nick Castellanos is a natural third baseman and the Tigers organization even tried him in the outfield searching for a way to get him into the lineup. But now that Prince Fielder is out of the picture – traded to Texas – Cabrera can slide over and Castellanos gets the hot corner.

Like Braun, Cabrera debuted in the majors at a different position than he currently plays.

In 2003, as a 20 year old, Cabrera played left field for the Marlins. Towards the end of the season he slid in to play third base, but come his sophomore season he was splitting time between right and left field. It was only when he came to Detroit in 2008 that he played first base. But when the Tigers brought Fielder aboard, Miggy moved back to third and won back-to-back AL MVPs. …

Only to now be moved, once again, back to first base.

Joining Cabrera in the move to first base will be 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer of Minnesota. The motive behind Mauer’s defensive shift is more so based on long-term health concerns and the Twins protecting their investment than anything else.

Mauer suffered a concussion after taking a foul tip to the mask on Aug. 19 which led to his absence over the final 39 games of the regular season — and that’s on top of the regular wear and tear that catchers endure from spending hours on end in a crouched position. It was only a matter of time before the Twins moved him to a new position.

Though, he’s no stranger to first base with 54 career starts including a season high 30 starts at the position in 2012. He made eight starts there this year before his season-ending concussion.

In addition to the health concerns, there is a prospect waiting in the wings.

Josmil Pinto, who turns 25 in March, should emerge as Mauer’s replacement behind the plate in 2014. While he will need to work on his overall defense to pass as an everyday catcher in the bigs, the Twins have been trying to get his bat into their lineup for a while now and this is the perfect opportunity.

In 21 games after a September call-up, Pinto hit .342 with four homers and 12 RBI. And though the sample size is small, Pinto caught 45 percent of attempted base-stealers (5 of 11) — a percentage that would best the AL’s top catcher in the category, which coincidentally is Mauer at 42.5 percent.

So maybe, Pinto is not that defensively challenged after all.

All in all, each move makes sense for each club, but it is interesting to think that three MVP winners of the last five years will be playing a different position than they did when they won their awards.

Throughout history it actually isn’t that abnormal.

For instance, we all remember when Alex Rodriguez won his first MVP for the Texas Rangers playing shortstop only to get traded to the Yankees and have to move to third base the very next year. He quickly won two more MVPs at third in ’05 and ’07, so it’s not to say it stops players from performing as well as they had in the past.

Playing shortstop, Baltimore’s Cal Ripken took home his second MVP in ’91, eight years before switching to third base in ’97.

And who can forget (I did) Robin Yount, who won in ’82 as a shortstop and then switched to the outfield, playing left and center, in ’85. Of course, he added another MVP as a center fielder in ’89.

Which leads me to believe that one of these three — Cabrera, Braun or Mauer — is due for another MVP trophy at their new position.

With all the question marks around Braun, I highly doubt it will be him. I could see Mauer doing it, but for me all odds are on Miggy to capture his third consecutive trophy in ’14.

Call me crazy, but I think it’s a lock.

It pays to be flexible, both physically and in your given profession. These three players (maybe not Braun so much) are proof that sometimes it’s smart to do what’s best for your team (definitely not Braun) and give the young kid a shot, even when you’re at the peak of your career.

I have no doubt that it will pay dividends to the Twins, Tigers and Brewers in 2014.