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.


Josh's Thoughts said...

Your last paragraph sums up exactly why the Twins should not trade any of the outfielders. That is unless they get blown away with an offer, so in other words they shouldn't aggressively try to move any of them.

If all of the players have good years next year, they have at least one or two bargaining chips for the trade deadline where a team may be willing to overpay for an outfielder. But if one of them gets hurt, they have a very capable player to take over without having to panic. Same goes in case a player regresses.

Nick N. said...

His arm makes him a plus defender in right field.

No it doesn't. It makes him a plus thrower in right field. He is at best an average defender overall.

He [Young] has above average range...

Did we watch the same player this year? Young's range is terrible and he seems completely afraid of sacrificing his body. The Rays tried him center field, yes, but with laughable results, which is why the Twins never even considered it as an option despite being bereft of center fielders when they acquired him.

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