There are few ‘sure things’ in life. This also applies to baseball, and as we’ll see today, the Minnesota Twins prospective 2008 roster. The ‘sure things’ at this point are catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau, shortstop Jason Bartlett, left fielder Jason Kubel, and right fielder Michael Cuddyer.
As I see it, here’s how the Twins roster shapes up for 2008:
C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Open competition between Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, and possibly FA/Trade
SS: Jason Bartlett
LF: Jason Kubel
RF: Mike Cuddyer
DH: TBD, with potential of moving Kubel here if a better LF defensive option arrives.
C: Mike Redmond, Jose Morales, Chris Heintz*
IF: Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Matt Macri, Chris Basak
OF: Jason Tyner, Darnell McDonald*, Denard Span
Both IF/OF: Garrett Jones
Johan Santana-Matt Garza-Boof Bonser-Kevin Slowey-Scott Baker
Francisco Liriano- Nick Blackburn-Glen Perkins-Matt Guerrier
Dennys Reyes-Matt Guerrier-Glen Perkins-Jesse Crain-Pat Neshek-Juan Rincon-Joe Nathan
Boof Bonser-Carmen Cali-Ricky Barrett-Jose Mijares-Julio DePaula
* Denotes uncertainty on minor league free agent status
As you can see, some pitchers are options for both the rotation and the bullpen, such as Glen Perkins, Matt Guerrier, Boof Bonser, and perhaps Francisco Liriano as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery. Only one hitter, Garrett Jones, is really an option in both the OF and IF, and realistically I don’t like him as an option for either.
So where does that leave holes for this team? Primarily, the biggest holes are 3B-DH-CF, but we also can not ignore the possibility of adding a useful 2B, at least for next year if we decide Alexi Casilla needs a little more time at Rochester. So let’s take a little time to dissect each position and what we could do (who the options are), what we should do (the best option given all factors considered), and what we probably will do (a prediction of the final result).
3B- 3B has been a trouble spot for the Twins ever since Corey Koskie fled the country to play for his homestead Blue Jays. Mike Cuddyer played their briefly with mixed results, and the Twins have since gone with Nick Punto, with mixed but mostly negative results. So where should we look to find the next Twins 3B? Well, the free agent market at 3B isn’t very strong. Mike Lowell could be a good addition, but there’s prevalent wisdom that his career was resurrected by the Green Monster, and that he’d become a flyball machine elsewhere. Also, he’s been offered a relatively lucrative deal (rumored at 3/36) to stay in Boston. So, scratching off Lowell from our short list, what else do we find on the market for 3B via trades and free agency.
Miguel Cabrera (Marlins): Keep dreaming. Upcoming contract demands and the overall cost to acquire him don’t make him a good fit for the Twins. Buyer beware, he’s looked awfully puffy lately….
Scott Rolen (Cardinals): A brief rumor surfaced sometime last week suggesting the Twins had voiced interest in the 32 year old injury prone defensive wiz, but that was quickly squashed when the Minneapolis Star Tribune suggested that Minnesota GM Bill Smith and his colleagues never even inquired about Rolen. At 3 years and 11+ million per remaining on his contract, and coming off a .729 OPS (89 OPS+) season, no thanks!
Garrett Atkins (Rockies): Atkins name has been a real buzzword for Twins fans lately, with almost all message board trade scenarios leading to the starting 3B for the defending NL Champion Rockies. While solid offensively, Atkins is not what you would call stellar defensively (Fielding Bible lists him as the 2nd worst defensive 3B in the ML last year), and he’s not much of a hitter outside of the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Park (.936/.773 Home-Road OPS splits). He’s also rumored to be looking for an extension in the near future, perhaps as high as 5/75, so the Twins might be better off abstaining here. There’s also a chance the Rockies hold onto him and move super prospect Ian Stewart to 2B, especially if they’re unable to retain FA Kaz Matsui.
Other options include Rangers 3B Hank Blalock, Mets 3B David Wright (in a Santana trade of course), Blue Jays 3B Troy Glaus, White Sox 3B Joe Crede, Indians 3B Casey Blake, Devil Rays IF’s Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton, FA Corey Koskie, FA Morgan Ensberg, and FA Russell Branyan.
Best Case Scenario: The Twins manage to swing a deal for uber-prospect Evan Longoria. Longoria has some real big time pop, hitting 44 minor league home runs and slugging a solid .546 in 733 career minor league at bats. His most recent stop at Durham resulted in a .269/.398/.490 line, suggesting he’s not too far from making a serious impact at this level. Another awesome idea would be to acquire B.J. Upton, but it’s really hard to say if he’d be available at all (same goes for Longoria, really) or if he could handle 3B. (Likelihood of this scenario: Probably about 5%)
Reasonable Scenario: Twins sign 3B Casey Blake or Corey Koskie. Blake has been solid if unspectacular for the Indians, with OPS digits ranging typically in the high .700s to low-mid .800s. If we could pull him in on a 2 or 3 year deal averaging 6 million dollars a year, I’d be 100 percent down for it. That’s really hard to say, given the market this year. As for Koskie, I’d love nothing more than to see him get a shot in spring training to show he’s healthy, and return to the club as full-time 3B. He’s usually good for an .800 OPS and very, very good defense. Even if he’s lost a bit, and drops to .750 for his OPS, he still provides a HUGE upgrade. I imagine we can snag him on a 2-4 million dollar non-guaranteed contract with an invite to ST.
Prediction: Twins sign Corey Koskie to 1 year, 3 million dollar non-guaranteed contract. This is a very good deal for us, especially if he proves healthy. Teams like the Twins need to find guys to succeed on below market value contracts, and he seems to be a good bet. Koskie then posts .250/.340/.440 season, and is well worth 3 million dollars.
DH/LF: The DH spot was real sore for the Twins last year, seeing names like Jason Tyner, Mike Redmond, Jeff Cirillo, and such pass through it on a regular basis. This is another spot where just a simple decent upgrade will make a huge difference. The reason I have DH/LF here is that if we acquire a solid LF type player defensively, I have no qualms about moving Kubel to DH. I’d rather see Kubel play LF everyday, but as long as he gets his AB, I’m happy. Personally, I’d LOVE to see Barry Bonds brought in to the Twin Cities. As a DH, he could play almost every day. If he comes close to replicating his 170 OPS+ last year, he might post the best season for a Twins hitter EVER. That said, there seems to be some prevalent detraction to the deal by most Twins fans, suggesting he’s not a “Twins type of player.” Who knew that the Twins weren’t about winning? Not me. In addition to Bonds, here are some other intriguing LF/DH options:
Luis Gonzalez (FA): Since Joe Torre signed on as the new skipper at Chavez Ravine, Gonzalez has changed his tone and is interested in another go round in LA. However, it’s unknown if the interest is mutual. Gonzalez is aging like a fine wine; he still managed a solid .278/.359/.433 (101 OPS+) last season. That would be perfect in the Twins DH slot, but his left handedness might not be as great. He’s not likely to command a huge deal, nor a multi-year deal, which is why I feel he’s a good fit.
Mike Piazza (FA): Piazza slipped into slight mediocrity last year, compiling 309 AB of .275/.313/.414 (96 OPS+) baseball. He didn’t catch a single inning last year, and can no longer be viably relied on to even be a backup, and maybe not even an emergency option. There is a chance that he could rebound a bit if given enough playing time, as he rebounded in 2006 from a couple below par seasons in 2005 and 2004, but it’s relatively unlikely. He’s near his end.
Sammy Sosa (FA): While many people point to his 92 RBI to talk of a great rebound season for Slammin’ Sammy, his .252/.311/.468 (102 OPS+) line as a whole is not so impressive, especially considering he’s asking for 7 million dollars to play next year. This is not a good move for the Twins, and it’s not a good move for anyone. Even if he withdraws that demand, he’s still not a good option for the Twins, unless it’s on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Very, very unlikely scenario there.
Cliff Floyd (FA): The Cubs declined their 7.5 million dollar option on Floyd, making him a free agent after he posted a .284/.373/.422 line in 282 at bats on the North Side this year. Floyd was sort of a man without a spot last year, considering the Cubs had Matt Murton, Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Felix Pie, and Angel Pagan to find playing time for as well as Floyd. Cliff appears to be a good bet to go to the AL and prolong his career as a DH, but it’s uncertain if that’s what he’s most interested in doing. He’d be a good fit for the Twins at DH, but like Gonzalez, he also is a left handed hitter and the Twins are very, very left handed. I personally like Floyd better than Gonzalez due to age, and slightly better OBP, but I think they’re both good options.
Other options include Cubs OF Jacque Jones, Phillies OF Pat Burrell, FA OF Shannon Stewart, FA OF Kenny Lofton, FA OF Jose Guillen, and FA OF Milton Bradley.
Best Case Scenario: Twins sign Barry Bonds to a 1 year deal, somewhere in the 12-15 million dollar range if needed, less if possible. Bonds still has some left in the tank, and coming to the AL would allow him to DH and probably get 500 AB rather than the 300 or so he was getting in the NL. He would add instant legitimacy to the Twins 2008 playoff run, and despite the fact that he’s a left handed hitter, he’s still murdered lefties in his career at a .984 OPS clip. He would look VERY nice in between Mauer and Morneau in the cleanup spot.
Reasonable Scenario: Twins sign Milton Bradley to 2 year, 18-20 million dollar deal. Bradley will need some time to recover from his torn ACL, but he may be able to return more quickly to the DH role while easing him back to health, and then perhaps once healthy he could take over full time in CF. He’s got a career OPS of .797, and Torii Hunter’s career mark is .793. Certainly it makes more sense to pay Milton 9 or 10 per year than it does to pay Torii 18 million per year, does it not? We could/should probably add Jacque Jones to play CF in the meantime in this scenario.
Prediction: Twins choose between Luis Gonzalez and Cliff Floyd, signing one of them to a 1 year, 5 million dollar deal. This turns out to be a good flyer, as I can see either player going .270/.340/.440 and stabilizing a very, very unstable DH spot for the Twins.
CF: Let’s face it, Torii Hunter is gone. That’s not going to hurt very much if the Twins can simply fill their other holes (and CF too) with simply useful (.750-.800 OPS types) players. See, when you have absolute black holes in some spots (it’s never good to have a .562 OPS at any place), it can really overshadow having solid players at C, 1B, SS, LF, and RF. So, while everyone is crying over the loss of Torii Hunter, GM Bill Smith and his comrades have the task of filling the CF hole with something productive. I think we can all agree that Denard Span and Jason Tyner are NOT that option. Both of them profile as 4th outfielders who catch the ball, run well, and in Tyner’s case, make good contact. You can count the Twins out on the Kosuke Fukodome sweepstakes, and the Aaron Rowand race as well. So, who can we expect to roam CF for us as the Dome next year?
Jacque Jones (Cubs): Jones is due 5 million dollars in 2008. This is a total bargain when you consider that Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones are more or less clones. The two players may have a 9 million dollar difference in what they get paid next year (or more), but I don’t believe that you should paid 1 million dollars per OPS point. Translated: Torii Hunter’s career OPS is .793, Jacque’s career OPS is .784. They both catch the ball, and Torii has a markedly better arm. I think this is a good potential move for the Twins, allowing the club to see if anyone in the farm system emerges as an option, or buying another year to see what’s on the free agent market next year.
Milton Bradley (FA): See above.
B.J. Upton (Rays): B.J. had a fantastic season last year, posting a .300/.386/.508 (136 OPS+) line while spending time at both 2B and CF. He appears to be a better option in CF, and it looks like that’s where he fits long term on the Rays. Now, if we come calling with Matt Garza, I think they’ll listen. They have Baldelli, Dukes, Young, Gomes, and Crawford in their OF stable as is, so I think we could manage to get one of them.
Rocco Baldelli (Rays): Baldelli hasn’t played a full season since 2004, but at age 26 he’s still a good gamble for the Twins, especially if he doesn’t cost Anthony Swarzak, Matt Garza, or Kevin Slowey. While Baldelli’s career mark of .282/.332/.443 (102 OPS+) probably sells his talent level short, it’s really tough to know what type of player is beneath all that undoubted rust. I still feel it’s a good gamble, though.
Other options include Astros OF Luke Scott, FA OF Kenny Lofton, FA CF Mike Cameron, Red Sox CF Coco Crisp, and Yankees CF Melky Cabrera (likely in a Santana trade).
Best Case Scenario: Twins bring in an OF from Tampa Bay, namely B.J. Upton. Upton is an offensive stud whose rights are controlled for the next 4-5 seasons, and would provide a great right-handed middle of the order bat for this club for years to come. He’s also got good speed, so he should be sufficient to roam the Dome in CF.
Reasonable Scenario: I would say the two most reasonable scenarios are the Milton Bradley scenario posed in the DH slot, or adding Rocco Baldelli into the mix by dealing Brian Duensing or Nick Blackburn, or perhaps both.
Prediction: Twins trade for Coco Crisp. Twins wind up dealing minor league pitching, and Crisp comes in and hits either leadoff or second with Bartlett filling the other spot. Crisp hits .280/.350/.425 and stabilizes the top of the order, making this a good move for the Twins.
To sum everything up, I feel the Twins will continue to talk a big game, but probably will wind up making some moderately conservative moves. This would be fine with me, as long as we have no black holes on the club.
Next time: Trading Johan Santana and the 2B spot.