There has been speculation that this offseason will be a slightly quieter one for the Twins, and realistically, I suppose, it will be, compared to last year.Last winter there were the Torii Hunter and Johan Santana situations, the Delmon Young/Brendan Harris for Jason Bartlett/Matt Garza trade, the signings of Adam Everett, Craig Monroe, Livan Hernandez and Mike Lamb, and the contract extensions for Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, all of which were orchestrated by a brand new GM, Bill Smith.
For the most part, Smith struck out. The Santana haul was underwhelming. Monroe, Everett, Hernandez and Lamb were all, for the most part, failures, and the Tampa trade, after one year at least, looks lopsidedly bad.Of course, none of that prevented the Twins from finishing the regular season tied for first place.
So what’s in store for this off-season? A few things.
* An outfielder will be traded. As Carlos Gomez limped through a terrible rookie year, it looked likely that he’d begin 2009 in Triple-A, with Denard Span in center, Young in left, Cuddyer in right and Jason Kubel as the 4th OF/DH.
But Gomez finished the season strong, and got to more balls than any other CF in baseball. It now seems almost certain that he’ll be the Twins opening day CF next year. Perfectly fine.
But it means someone has to go. Ideally, that’d be Cuddyer. While Cuddyer is well-liked (understandable, he is one the nicest people in baseball), he is also a player whose skills are deteriorating, who’s coming off an injury-plagued season, and who’s overpaid.
For all those reasons, unfortunately, it’ll be hard to move him. Only a team like the Yankees or Dodgers would probably be willing to take on his salary, and even if those teams were looking for a right-handed corner outfielder, they’d probably come to the conclusion that they could do better than Cuddyer.
That leaves Young. Young is not a bad player, but it seems unlikely that he’ll ever become the Kirby Puckett-type player the Twins envisioned when they gave up their top pitching prospect to acquire him. Yes, Young has tremendous power. But he hits almost everything on the ground. You can have the most powerful swing in history, if 90% of the balls you put in play are groundballs, you won’t hit many home runs.
At this point, it’s hard not to think that Delmon is what he is: A .280-.300 hitter who will post an OBP around .310-.330 and a SLG between .390 and .450. He may top out at the high end of those figures (.300/.330/.450), and while that would be pretty good, it’s still no better than what Jacque Jones provided in his best years.
He’s also a poor outfielder with a seemingly boorish attitude.
I’m guessing those last two factors are the main reason the Twins have been leaking to the public that they’re shopping Young. Fine. He has more trade value than Cuddyer, simply because he’s cheaper and younger.
But the Twins should be prepared to find that potential suitors aren’t going to be as dumb as they were a year ago. In other words, don’t expect to fetch a top-of-the-rotation starter and a decent starting shortstop for him. I also suppose the Twins could look into moving Kubel, because they have a history of undervaluing players like him. Yes, he hit .272 with 20 homers, but he’s not terribly athletic and doesn’t bunt much, so I can see Ron Gardenhire urging Smith to trade him for a guy who “hustles” and “gets after it” and “makes things happen”.
I would argue that a .335 OBP and .471 SLG also help to make things happen, and that Kubel is a better fielder than Young, despite not being as fast. Young has a better arm, but that’s almost meaningless in LF.There’s not room for everybody. Someone’s gonna go. My money’s on Young, but I couldn’t begin to speculate what he’d bring in return.
* Despite the bullpen’s struggles, there won’t be any major additions to the relief corps.The Twins were supposedly interested in signing LaTroy Hawkins after they unwisely passed on him at the trade deadline, but he re-signed with Houston. Oakland’s Huston Street has been mentioned as a possible target, but he is rumored to be part of today’s deal for Matt Holiday.The fact is, the best way to build a bullpen these days is from within. As I’ve written nearly verbatim several times already this year, anyone the Twins sign via free-agency won’t likely be any better than Jesse Crain, but will cost at least $5 million a year.
The Twins will keep their fingers crossed that Pat Neshek is something close to his former self next year, that Crain and Matt Guerrier will bounce back next year with lesser roles, and that Jose Mijares can be as good as he was down the stretch. They’ll also give guys like Bobby Korecky, Phil Humber, Anthony Slama and Robert Delaney a chance to earn a spot. I’m actually fairly confident that Twins ‘pen will be solid next year, if not excellent.
* The Twins will look to upgrade at 3B and SS, but they may stand pat, and that wouldn’t be terrible.Nick Punto finished the season as the everyday SS after Adam Everett never got healthy enough to hold down the job, and Brendan Harris proved he lacked the range to do so.Punto responded with his most productive big league season, hitting .284/.344/.382. He wasn’t as dependable in the field at SS as he has been at 2B and 3B, but he was solid.
The Twins would love to have Punto back, and he would love to be back. But Punto wants to be back as the starting SS, and he wants to be paid like it. The Twins, understandably and correctly, are hesitant to make that commitment. Punto’s an excellent utility guy, but Matt Tolbert and Matt Macri could fill the backup infield spots cheaply and effectively, so there’s just no reason to give Punto very much money. He may test the market, and if he does, he could still come back to the Twins if he doesn’t get any great offers - a distinct possibility.
A couple names have been thrown around as targets for the Twins, none more attractive than Brewers SS JJ Hardy.Last year, at age 25, Hardy hit .283/.343/.478 with 24 homers, and the year before that hit .277/.323/.463 with 26 homers. In the field, he posted an .826 RZR - not great, but not terrible, either. Punto’s was .860.The Twins would have to include at least one of their pitching prospects and something more, I would think, to land Hardy.
Now is the time to sell high on Nick Blackburn, who simply doesn’t miss enough bats to be a consistent sub-4.00 pitcher in the big leagues.
If the Brewers were willing to offer Hardy for Blackburn and Glen Perkins, it’d be tempting. Likely the Twins would try to make a deal involving only one of those two, and try to sweeten it with someone like Kevin Mulvey or Phil Humber.
Delmon Young wouldn’t make a lot of sense here, because the Brewers have outfielders.
Another good option being mentioned is Atlanta’s 25-year-old Yunel Escobar, who hit .288/.366/.401 last year, and .326/.385/.451 in 94 games as a rookie the previous year. He had an .843 RZR last year.The Braves are trying to land Padres ace Jake Peavy right now, so the Twins would probably have to wait for that to get sorted out before being ale to make a move for Escobar.
It would be nice to have either of those guys, but it would also be risky to giveup one of the young starters. If the Twins pull the trigger on a deal that lands them a good, young shortstop, that’s a good thing. But if they decide to stick with Punto, and keep the pitchers in the process, that’s not terrible, either.As for 3B, the Twins have a solid option on the roster right now.
A platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris is likely to perform at a .275/.330/.400 level next year, and that’s being conservative. If they’re platooned correctly, they could far exceed those numbers. Buscher, the lefty, hit .316/.362/.437 against RHP last year, and while the right-handed Harris’s production against LHP (.265/.323/.391) was almost identical to his performance against RHP, for his career he’s a .295/.360/.440 hitter against southpaws.
Going with those two at the hot corner would be cheap and quietly productive, much like the Mike Pagliarulo/Scott Leius 3B platoon of 1991.
Having said that, it would seem that the Twins are making 3B a priority this offseason.
Casey Blake, Adrian Beltre, Garrett Atkins and Kevin Kouzmanoff are the names most frequently mentioned.
Beltre’s the best of the bunch, but since Scott Boras is his agent, it’s hard to believe he could be a long-term option for the Twins, and it wouldn’t make sense to give up Blackburn or Perkins for a one-year rental.Atkins has put up impressive numbers (3 straight years of at least 21 homers and 99 RBI), but that should be taken with a very large grain of salt, as he’s been playing in Colorado, which is still the most hitter-friendly ballpark in America. He’d be far more expensive than Buscher/Harris, and potentially no more productive.
Kouzmanoff, conversely, has been playing in pitcher-friendly Petco Park in San Diego, which makes his 23 homers last year more impressive. But his .299 OBP, 139 strikeouts and questionable defense would probably get me to take a pss.
Blake might be a good fit - he’s a former Twin, well known by the players and coaching staff, and he’s been pretty productive over the years. He’s 36, and apparently wants a 3-year deal, but if the dollars aren’t outrageous, I wouldn’t have a big problem with him being brought aboard, particularly because it wouldn’t be by trade.
Chicago’s Joe Crede will be a free-agent, and probably could be had for cheap, as he’s been hurt a lot in recent years. He hit 17 homers in 94 games this year and is considered a good glove.
I know it’s not what the fans want to hear, but I think I’d stand pat at 3B. I just don’t think there’d be enough gain in acquiring any of those guys to give up a good, young starting pitcher, or to offer Blake a 3-year deal. If I had to pick someone I think I’d pick Crede, because he involves the least risk. Also, he is my buddy Ryan Kessinger’s favorite player (or at least he was at one time).
* (Fingers crossed) They won’t add a washed up starter to give their rotation a “veteran presence”.I actually have no confidence that this will be the case, but I’m adding it here for good karma, if nothing else.Livan Hernandez actually gave the Twins some quality starts/innings last year before getting released, and he qualifies as the best of their recent scrap-heap pitching veterans. The Twins would’ve been better off each of the last few years just going with the kids. Hopefully they won’t make that mistake this year. But if Blackburn or Perkins (or both) are traded, don’t be surprised if it happens. Part of the reason Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey were as effective as they were this year was their maturity and poise on the mound. I don’t care if they’re 17, they have enough veteran presence on their own. They don’t need to go sign Jose Lima.