A little over a week ago, Ryan posed a question to all of us:
what would you do if you were GM? I’m indecisive, and way too nice of a person to be a GM, so it’s a good thing I can write about this from the comfort (?) of my office.
I don’t know where to go, so I’m just going to break it down position by position. And for whatever reason, I’m able to analyze pitchers the best, because there are more concrete stats (fielding stats are difficult, and for non-pitchers, defense is important to me).
We really need an upgrade here. Our starting catcher is Joe Mauer, and, as everyone knows, among catchers, his batting average and on-base-percentage was leading. But what really matters, above all else, is that he only hit nine home runs. Expensive singles hitter is all he is. Oh, sorry. I’m still making fun of the fan I overheard talking early in the 2008 season. With Redmond backing Mauer up, it would be hard to upgrade at this position.
The Twins really didn’t have a back-up first baseman. This really didn’t become an issue because Justin Morneau didn’t get hurt. He’s also early in his six-year contract, so there’s not much of a reason to get concerned about this position. His defense, from my view, never really seemed to get worse, but his hitting tapered off in September. I think it would behoove the Twins to make sure they have a quality back-up. Fortunately, Cuddyer should be healthy in 2009, and also under contract, so there is a viable option there. As there’s a back-up for Cuddyer in right field, this would not be an issue.
Gotta say, I’m happy with Alexi Casilla there. After his injury, he seemed a bit too anxious to be back, or possibly it was the wear of the long season. The kid is the fifth youngest on the 40-man roster, so age and maturity may help him concentrate more. I’m still in favor of trusting him for the year, as long as there is a quality utility player.
Nick Punto held that position this year, but most by default. These are the 2008 Twins shortstops, in order of games played: Punto, Brendan Harris (who also had the second-most starts at second base, and third-most at third base), Adam Everett, Matt Tolbert, and Alexi Casilla. As right now our only options are Punto and Tolbert, I would not mind if the Twins picked up/traded for a quality shortstop, defensively. Punto had a great 2008 (it’s true!), but his career stats should make anyone a little hesitant to right his name in ink for the season. That being said, if there’s no reasonable option, Punto could hold down the position, as they bring value defensively.
Like shortstop, if we find a reasonable option–in terms of cost, whether free agent or trade–I’d like that. However, I don’t see a Brian Buscher/Brendan Harris tandem at third the worst thing in the world. Neither are power-hitting third baseman, but meh. I’ve been a Twins fan for over 20 years. I’m not sure what the team would do with power. They’ve won a World Series with power (1987) and without (1991). Besides, Brendan Harris is the only player, other than Neshek, whom I have hope of seeing tall socks on a player. Call me shallow if you like, but these things do count! (A friend and I were once going to set up a fantasy team based entirely on guys who wore tall socks. But we didn’t.)
Here’s where it’s tricky. I have room for one utility infielder in my roster (if you consider the Harris/Buscher tandem at third as solid, and not Harris as a utility player). Cuddyer counts as an outfielder, but he could fill in at first, and Ron Gardenhire expressed a desire to see spend time practicing at first. If you consider Harris a utility player, between Tolbert, Punto, and Harris, one of ‘em won’t be on the roster. (If a third baseman is picked up, Buscher won’t make the team, either.) If a shortstop is picked up, I would like to see Punto and Harris as the utility players.
There’s Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel. Six outfielders is ridiculous, with a capital I, so we’ll list Kubel as the Designated Hitter. It still seems a bit much, but Cuddyer is under contract and a clubhouse leader (something that can’t be ignored), and Span proved his ability to hit, run, and play defensively, and Gomez and Young are the two youngest guys on the 40-man roster. (Although that will change in the off-season, I’m certain; there are guys who will be removed, and kids put on.) I’d like to see Span rotating through the outfield, giving the other guys days off (so Span would play often). I like Span’s defense; certainly better than Cuddyer in right, but I like Cuddyer’s arm in right field, and if he hits for power, that would be the moment that pushes him over the edge. The Twins need right-handed hitters. The outfield is over-crowded, so a trade there might not be the worst thing–unfortunately, the only one who’s not young is also mentioned as a clubhouse leader and role model for the very young clubhouse. This makes a trade much more difficult.
Twinsgeek posted an article entitled: “Q&A: A Veteran Starting Pitcher”. Someone asked if the Twins would sign on a veteran pitcher this off-season. It was pointed out that they’ve historically done this every year (prompting someone to ask, “The real question is, will the Rockies again pick up the failed vet after the Twins release him mid-season?” because they’ve picked up Ramon Ortiz and Livan Hernandez the past two years). Back in 2003 they picked up Kenny Rogers–no, not that one, this one–for a left-handed starter, despite the fact that they had a left-handed kid in the bullpen who started 14 games in 2002, with a 7-4 record, 3.13 ERA. Hindsight shows it was a good move to bring in a veteran, because the kid never really did much because in 2003: he only went 12-3 in 18 starts (45 total games) with 3.07 ERA. That started his all-too-brief Twins career that only consisted of two unanimous Cy Young awards and pitching Triple Crown in ‘06; the Twins traded him in January 2008.
2008’s pitching staff was quite young, but not overly so. The elder member of the five is Scott Baker, who turned 27 in September. But is he that young? Johan Santana was 27 the year he won his second Cy Young. Granted, he wasn’t the youngest member of the pitching rotation (Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse, and Mike Smith were older. Smith only pitched one game in August, so discount him if you like). Nick Blackburn is only five months younger than Baker. Francisco Liriano is a year younger Baker and Glen Perkins is only a year and a half younger than Baker. (Kevin Slowey is the baby, over two and a half years younger than Baker.) If these five start the season next year, the “baby” of the rotation would be just under 25, and the “old man” would be 27. That’s not veteran by any means, but the Twins wouldn’t be throwing toddlers on the mound. They’ve all been playing the game a long time.
Three of the members of the 2008 rotation (Baker, Liriano, and Slowey) turned in ERAs under 4.00–according to Yahoo Sports, the league average was 4.32. Blackburn’s 4.05 fits under the league average, and Perkins 4.41 is just over. This makes their total ERA 3.96 for 2008, in 753 innings (If your starting pitchers are all goi
ng six innings, that would be 972 innings; recall that Perkins and Liriano had 160 minor league innings last year, too). For young guys, who presumably will improve, this is a very encouraging sign.
If reasonable trades for third baseman or shortstops needed to include a quality pitcher, I’d be grudgingly willing to let go of either Perkins or Blackburn. Let me stress for the right deal. (Of the other three, only for an absolutely insane offer: the Mets offer us Jose Reyes and David Wright for Slowey, it would hurt, but I’d do it. Baker won’t be discussed, because he’s mine!) To fill in the extra role, I’d be okay with a decent (not suspect) veteran signing. Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, or Boof Bonser might be able to fill the role, but the thought makes me a tad bit queasy. I’d prefer them in the background in case (knock on wood) we need them to replace an injured starter.
Here’s where things get tricky. Joe Nathan is the closer. That’s done. Pat Neshek will be back–no, really, he will! (I hope.) Jesse Crain will be back, and his second year from surgery (and a contract year, if my math is right), he should be more of the solid pitcher we saw earlier in his career. Boof Bonser and Philip Humber (out of options) seem like reasonable choices for the bullpen–although, if either of them have good trade value, it should be done. For lefties, it’s time to say good-bye to Reyes, with a friendly hug for filling his position so well. For lefty relievers, Craig Breslow is intriguing. From watching him, he’s not that dominant, not that overpowering…but he was also someone who got the job done, and usually without huge panics. Add to that list Jose Mijares, who by all rights shouldn’t have been a September call-up. Last winter, he broke his shoulder in a car accident. Many of us felt that if he made it to his 2007 level–AA (he did play a few games at AAA, but not a significant number)–we would consider it an astounding success. Instead, he came back even better, flying through rookie league, high A, and settling in at AA for eleven games before his September call-up. I say, give the boy a shot as a second lefty. And finally, Matt Guerrier. I say keep him for another year. If Guerrier goes, and there’s not a decent reliever out there, that’s the place for Bobby Korecky, but that’s for sentimental reasons, but Julio DePaula is also an option.
Here is the conclusion of the whole matter: If a reasonable option (in price or trade value, defense, and offense) can be found at short and/or third, jump at the chance. The rotation is fine, although one piece could be traded for the right deal. A few members of the bullpen could be traded (specifically Humber and Bonser) for reasonable offers, and Breslow, for the right offer. If a trade can be worked in the outfield, it should be done, and another infielder should be added.