OK, let’s make things better in 2009

Posted on October 7th, 2008 – 9:46 AM
By Howard

In a division that featured two dreadful underperformers (Cleveland/Detroit) and another that’s always threatening to get to a competitive level (Kansas City), the Twins simply can’t expect that a year of experience alone will put them among the favorites for the 2009 postseason.

Neither, as Detroit showed, will going on and bringing in a batch of new talent automatically makes things better.

What to do for next season?

Well, based on what I think they need and what I’m led to believe, the Opening Day 2009 Twins should have a new left side of the infield, a new outfielder, a right-handed bat and enhanced middle relief.

Let’s deal with the outfield first. If you had to rank us, I think the biggest fans of Delmon Young are: 1) Me. 2) The front office. 3) Gardy and his coaches. Because what I think doesn’t really matter, it’s going to be interesting to see if Gardy can convince Bill Smith to trade Delmon to meet another need, maybe at third base and/or the bullpen. My understanding is that the Twins were not enamored with Delmon’s approach to the game and it seemed like he slowed in other areas of the game at the same time that his offense picked up. (Did he look heavier to you too? Do you think it concerns the Twins that big, big brother Dmitri is listed at 300 pounds on the Washington Nationals’ web site? Do you think that his tendency to make ill-advised throws has something to do with it?)

In other words, I can understand if the Twins think they can get some value for a promising young outfielder (.290 career average in 2+ seasons and an above-average arm). Yes, it means acknowledging that the Garza/Bartlett trade was a failed move. But if Young can bring a need-filler, I can see them making the move. The fallout would be moving Denard Span from right field to left, which is a good idea in the Dome, and returning Michael Cuddyer to right with Jason Kubel as the fourth outfielder/DH.

Young is the most marketable of the players the Twins are willing to deal unless they’re willing to part with one of their young starting pitchers, which I doubt will happen (and I don’t think should happen).

The Punto thing. Strip away all the emotional attachments that some people have to Punto and he’s worth keeping around in the role he was envisioned for this season — a three-position infield reserve. And while Punto’s offensive numbers were about as high as they’ll ever be, he showed himself to be incredible inept at bringing runners home on a team where chances were abundant. He had 28 RBI in 338 at-bats. Here’s one way to look at it: Craig (.202) Monroe had 29 RBI during his half-season in Minnesota with fewer than half the number of ABs as Punto.

Here’s another: At the pace he set this season, Punto would have needed 1,558 at-bats to drive in the same number of runs as Justin Morneau (129). That he was the best available later-season option at shortstop should not color anybody into inflating his long-term value and place.

By the way, if Punto goes, I’d favor keeping Matt Tolbert around to fill that role. Please don’t bring me Juan Uribe, who has eight seasons in the majors and a career on-base percentage that looks a lot like a certain Twins center fielder.

So who plays shortstop? Orlando Cabrera of the White Sox seems to be the people’s choice. But he’s going to be 34 next season and will likely want a long-term deal. He didn’t get along with Ozzie Guillen but he was also been deemed expendable by the Red Sox and Angels, for whom he compiled good numbers. It does make you wonder about temperament, especially after the tantrums he threw when he called up to the press box to complain about error rulings and explained afterward: “If there was a major league player who tells me he’s not selfish, he’s lying. Everyone is selfish about numbers, because that’s the only thing people cannot lie about.” I’m kind of intrigued by Edgar Renteria, who had a subpar year with Detroit and should be available for a year or two at a more reasonable price.

(Cabrera update: This is from a weekend q-and-a column by the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan:

Dewey24: Looks like Orlando Cabrera is on the outs in Chicago. Should the Sox consider bringing him back here next year, even with Lowrie?

Bob Ryan: There’s a reason why he has bounced around that has nothing to do with what he does on the field, and we’ll leave it at that.)

Third base. Casey Blake is such a pro that I’d like to see the Twins make a run at him. I’m also in favor of pursuing the full range of options that could be available in trade — Adkins, Beltre, Mora, Kouzmanoff. The Twins set a pretty low baseline for defense at third base by being willing to platoon Buscher and Harris, so the argument of the suspect glove doesn’t really work. In fact, it makes the argument for trying Michael Cuddyer at third seem more reasonable, but I can’t see that happening – even though he’s now listed with the infielders on the Twins web site — unless the Twins can’t swing a deal of some sort. Joe Crede and his aching back is an interesting free-agent option, although I can understand if he’s artificial turf averse.

Set-up relief. Let’s be happy about getting Past Neshek back without getting carried away with our expectations. (See Crain, Jesse.)  Prepare to say goodbye to Dennya Reyes because someone will offer him good money and Matt Guerrier needs to be prepared to battle for a job. Right now, the only sure thing beyond Joe Nathan appears to be Jose Mijares, the young lefty. The order of everything else is up in the air. I’d love to see Crain show me something in his second year back from the elbow surgery and I like giving Boof a chance. But the Twins are going to have to sift through the swine to find the pearls. I don’t feel comfortable throwing out names because the numbers attached to them can be as deceptive as Reyes’, which masked his tendency to give up big hits in short stint.

But given their reputation for giving relievers work and the good reputation of pitching coach Rick Anderson, the Twins should be an attractive landing spot for guys like LaTroy Hawkins or Will Ohman or Luis Ayala, who are among the current batch of free agent relievers.

Last winter was dominated by the distraction of Santana and the front office’s need to nail down its in-house talent (Morneau/Cuddyer) for the years to come. This winter is a time to look outward and make the moves needed so the Twins can do what should be within reach — play October baseball in ’09 and beyond.

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