Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trades and Touchables


Looking at the winter, what trades should the Twins investigate in order to improve the team? I think there are four potential moves they could make if they can find the right player:

1) Third base. While many people seem to think this is a prime spot for an offensive improvement, an above average defender at third would be a big boost to the Twins defense. While both Buscher and Harris are defensive liabilities, their bats are acceptable in the 7th spot in the batting order which is where whoever plays third is likely to end up.

2) A veteran ace starter. The Twins rotation lacks an established ace that can provide leadership to the pitching staff. Its unlikely the Twins can get one at an acceptable price, but adding a pitcher at the top of the rotation would add the depth their starting pitching lacks. Especially if they are able to get one without giving up one of their young starters. That is unlikely. But the Twins ought to see what opportunities there are to add to the top of the rotation.

3) Shortstop. If they sign Nick Punto, that may be enough. But there are real doubts about Punto's ability to hold up for an entire year. And Punto's offense, while acceptable in a number 8 hitter, is not great. Can the Twins find someone a little more durable who can improve the offense without sacrificing defense? Again it is unlikely. But they ought to explore options here.

4) Bullpen help. The Twins actually have a lot of depth in their bullpen. The question is whether they have someone who can get them through the 8th inning to Nathan. Looking for options to strengthen the bullpen just makes sense given its difficulties last year. But everyone is looking for pitching and the Twins already have a lot of depth here. They are not going to be helped by adding guys for the end of the bench.

If you look at those four "needs", none of them are really critical with the exception of shortstop. If they don't sign Punto, Harris is not really an acceptable alternative. And Tolbert probably isn't an everyday shortstop either.


So what do the Twins have to trade? There is a long list of "untouchables" that various blogs have come up with. But lets start at the other end - who are the players the Twins have available to trade. Because you can't get something for nothing.

Starting with the minor leagues - I think basically everyone who spent most of their time in the minor leagues last year is trade-bait with the exception of Mijares. But none of that bait is likely to land a big fish. Humber, Mulvey, Duensing, Swarzak etc. There is a long list of pitchers the Twins can include in trades, but none of them are in the Garza category where other teams are going to be asking about them.

I think the starting staff is largely off-limits unless they are part of a trade that brings that staff ace in return. They just don't have a lot of pitchers who look like they are knocking on the door to get into the major leagues. And sticking Bonser back in the rotation in order to get a shortstop or third baseman seems to be a bad idea.

Nathan is probably off limits except as part of some mega-deal. I think they could trade anyone else in the bullpen in the right deal. Unless they come up with some additional bullpen help, I think Neshek is probably also off limits if he is considered healthy and untradable if he isn't. They also ought to be reluctant to give up Breslow, Mijares, Crain and Guerrier unless they get some other bullpen help. That leaves Bonser and Humber as guys who are available in trade. Their trade value isn't much different than the minor league pitching prospects.

Harris, Tolbert and Buscher are available in the infield, but they aren't likely to bring much in return. Morneau is untouchable and Cassilla all but untouchable. There really isn't much of value here to deal. Likewise, the catching staff is basically untradable.

The outfield is an interesting situation. As I pointed out in an earlier post what to do here is perplexing. They have five players (including Kubel) and four spots (including DH). Gomez and Young are potential future stars. They could be the heirs to Mauer and Morneau as core players that define the franchise. You don't give up those kinds of players for bullpen help. Span is the Twins leadoff hitter. Its difficult to see how the Twins improve by trading him unless they can get a leadoff hitter in return who can play shortstop or third base. Someone pointed out Kubel's numbers are very similar to Ortiz at the same age. Again, for the right player you could deal him. But you would want some long range value, not a fill-in for next year. That leaves Cuddyer. He wasn't really needed last year for the Twins to be competitive. Whether he would actually provide enough value to attract a shortstop, third baseman or staff ace in trade is doubtful. Trading him for bullpen help seems like a waste.

So there you have it. Four potential needs and almost nothing of real value to give up to fill them. With the exception of the outfield, the Twins just don't have players to trade without opening up another hole. The Twins are one of the youngest teams in baseball and their improvment is mostly going to have to come from those players maturing.

Twin Infield 2009

I think most people think that if the Twins are going to improve their offense and team defense it is going to have to be in the infield. Morneau is obviously set at first and Casilla gave every indication that he is going to be the second baseman and number two hitter. Some fans have suggested moving Casilla to shortstop, but it doesn't look like the Twins are interested in that idea.

So the left side of the infield is really where improvement can be expected. Punto is a free agent, but the Twins are expected to try to resign him. Buscher and Harris were the other two infielders who played most of the year. You can add Tolbert to that mix.

The minor leagues do not have a lot of players who appear ready. Trevor Plouffe is a shortstop and was a first round pick in the draft. But he is young and appears at least a year away. The Twins also have re-signed Alexander Machado, a guy they took in the Rule 5 draft a couple years ago who has been injured the last couple years. He hit well at AAA last year, but he has only played second base since his arm injury. If Punto isn't re-signed, Machado may get a shot at the utility player role, but he is more likely AAA roster filler along with Matt Macri.

There are two different needs here. Punto, if re-signed, is a good defensive shortstop and he had enough bat this last year to hold down the position. Compared to Punto, Harris is bit of a defensive liability at shortstop. He can play the position, but you probably don't want him out there every day. He will need to hit better to hold down a spot anywhere. Buscher's problem is also his glove. If he played gold glove defense, his bat would be enough. But he does not come close. Tolbert is probably not an everyday shortstop and is most likely a utility player. They aren't likely to bring Everett back again, but if they can't sign Punto that may be a possibility.

The opportunities for improvement here are more offense from both shortstop and third base and better defense from third base. I think it is important to remember that whoever plays these two positions they are likely to be the 7th and 8th batters in the lineup. The Twins have Kubel, Young and Cuddyer who can bat in the 5th and 6th spots. Its hard to imagine them picking up a third baseman who is going to be an improvement, much less a shortstop.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Twins Outfield 2009

The Twins outfield situation is one of the most puzzling they have faced in a long time. They have five players who should be regulars in the outfield and they all bring a slightly different set of offensive and defensive skills to the table.

Jason Kubel is the least skilled of all the outfielders, which is why he is the Twins main DH. He isn't a bad outfielder, you could put him at one of the corners without any real concern. But the other outfielders all have above average defensive skills. His presence takes away the option of keeping the other four outfielders in the lineup by rotating them through the DH spot.

Offensively, Carlos Gomez brings the least immediate return of all the oufielders. His offensive potential, however, is almost unlimited. And he has a chance to take Tori Hunter's place as the franchise's best defensive center fielder ever. He isn't there yet, but the tools are. And it is that defense, combined with his offensive potential that keeps Gomez in the lineup.

The other candidate for center field, Denard Span, only gives up a little on defense to Gomez. Offensively he is a lot more polished. Most importantly, he has given the Twins a legitimate leadoff hitter for the first time in a long time. He can get on base and he can run. He even has gap power. Despite outstanding defensive skills, it is Span's offensive role that makes him indispensable.

Which brings us to Michael Cuddyer. It was Cuddyer's injury that gave Span a chance. The question is what to do with him if he is healthy next year. His arm makes him a plus defender in right field. But his range is nowhere near Span's and his return to that spot would mean a real downgrade on defense. He was signed after last season to provide some right-handed power in the middle of the lineup. And the Twins still need him in that role, but where does he play?

Delmon Young established himself as the Twins left fielder this year. And, with Cuddyer out, he gave the Twins a right handed bat in the middle of the order. He didn't hit for the power that people had expected, but that will likely come as he matures. He has above average range, he even played center field in Tampa, and his arm rivals Cuddyer's. His routes to balls still need some work but there appeared to be improvement there even as last year progressed. Like Gomez, Young's potential is almost unlimited.

So there are the choices the Twins are faced with. Do you sit a young player with unlimited potential, like Gomez or Young? Do you weaken your lineup by sitting Span, the only leadoff hitter on the team? Can you afford to lose Cuddyer's bat from the middle of the order? What about Kubel's?

Some people have suggested rotating these players, but that really doesn't solve the problem. It just means they are making the same tradeoffs only on different days. Is there a reason Span is critical to the lineup one day and not the next? I think the answer is no.

The other option is to platoon Cuddyer and Kubel at DH with an occasional rest day for the others depending on the opposing pitching, minor injuries etc. But you are paying Cuddyer an awful lot of money for a limited role against left-handed batters.

As of now, the Twins outfield looks awful deep. A few years ago, people said the same thing when the outfield included Hunter, Jones, Kielty, Ford and Mohr. But, with the exception of Hunter and maybe Jones, none of those players were comparable to the current five guys that are going to be fighting for playing time next year. Of course last year this problem took care of itself. And injuries, or regressions by one of the young players, may do the same thing next season. Too much depth is not the worst problem to have.

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