Moving forward with Johan in the fold

Posted on December 7th, 2007 – 1:36 PM
By Joe Christensen

Judging from your comments and e-mails, I think Twins GM Bill Smith’s approval rating remains high after the winter meetings. Most seem happy he didn’t bend and take an unsatisfactory package for Johan Santana.

I know there was plenty of dialogue, and some reports have indicated the Red Sox and perhaps even the Mets are optimistic they could strike a deal with just a few tweaks to their offers.

Obviously, a Santana trade could happen at any time. But let’s say it doesn’t. Let’s say the Twins decide to go for it with Santana and Joe Nathan, at least until the trade deadline.

I hadn’t scratched out potential lineups since the Delmon Young trade, but here’s a best-case scenario going forward, in my humble opinion:

Starting rotation
1. Johan Santana — Embraces one last chance to carry this underdog team.
2. Francisco Liriano — Starts at Rochester, regains his stride by late May.
3. Scott Baker — Becomes a steady and reliable innings eater.
4. Boof Bonser — After trimming weight, he regains his late 2006 form.
5. Kevin Slowey — Continues the growing process with regular starts.

Bullpen
Closer: Joe Nathan — His presence at the back end is huge.
Setup: Pat Neshek — Returns strong after tiring late in 2007.
Setup: Matt Guerrier — Remains a reliable compliment to Neshek.
LH: Dennys Reyes — Regains old form, allowing Glen Perkins to move into a valuable starter/reliever swing role.
Middle: Juan Rincon — Unless he’s traded to provide help elsewhere.
Middle: Jesse Crain — Might need a few months to regain his velocity.
Depth: There’s plenty with Nick Blackburn, Julio DePaula and rising prospects Jose Mijares and LHP Brian Duensing coming in the next wave.

Lineup (Just spit-balling here)

1. Coco Crisp, CF
After all this talk with Boston, the Twins should at least be able to swing a reasonable deal for Coco.

2. Brendan Harris, SS
What he lacks in the field, he’ll make up for with his bat. He had a .777 OPS last season, compared to .700 for Jason Bartlett.

3. Joe Mauer, C
Imagine what a difference a healthy Mauer could make.

4. Michael Cuddyer, 3B
The field staff is dead-set against moving Cuddyer back to 3B, and Cuddyer might be even harder to convince, but barring another 3B acquisition, this might give the team the best chance, moving forward.

Note: I can tell this is a hot-button topic in the comments section. Just a reminder that the Angels and Dodgers are among the teams trying to find a third baseman, with everyone agreeing they are almost impossible to find.

5. Justin Morneau, 1B
His OPS in 2007 was .835, compared to .934 in MVP season of 2006.

6. Delmon Young, RF
If he blossoms as many project, he moves right between Mauer and Morneau.

7. Jason Kubel, LF
He batted .303 with an .890 OPS over the season’s second half.

8. Craig Monroe, DH
The Cuddyer move allows Monroe to become an everyday factor and while he’s a strikeout machine, he’s always a home run threat.

9. Nick Punto, 2B
Alexi Casilla won’t be handed anything, but if he gains some polish, this job could be his. Harris, Punto and Casilla can split up the two middle-infield spots in any number of ways.

Again, those are just some quick ideas. There are other best-case scenarios, of course. Maybe Denard Span is the surprise of spring training and assumes the CF job. Maybe Brian Buscher shows significant improvement on defense and proves the skeptics wrong about his ability to handle third base.

Obviously, the entire equation changes with a Santana trade. Stay tuned.

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