Sunday, November 29, 2009

All-Time Twins Team: Shortstop

We're back at it! Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving holiday.

As we move across the diamond, we stop at the shortstop position and welcome to our lineup the smoothest-fielding player ever to man that position for the Twins in their 50 years, Greg Gagne.

Originally a fifth-round draft choice of the New York Yankees in 1979, Gagne was acquired by the Twins early in the 1982 season in a trade involving future teammate Roy Smalley. Gagne was dispatched to the minor leagues, and debuted in 1983. He was up for good in 1985 and was the team's regular shortstop the next season. By the time the Twins were winning World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, Gagne was entrenched in the middle of the Twins' infield.

Never much of a hitter (.249/.292/.385 for his Twins' career), Gagne's value came once he got on base and, most importantly, in the field. For his career, Gagne was a .972 fielder at shortstop (league average over that time was .970) and had one of the strongest arms in the American League. He was also one of the fastest Twins and was able to track down a lot of balls which would have scooted by other players. Although he never received any of the normal accolades for his fielding prowess (i.e. Gold Gloves, which were willed to Cal Ripken, Jr. in the 1980s), Gagne's value to the team was very clear. Aaron Gleeman's analysis of Gagne's career does a much better job of explaining his intrinsic value than I could ever hope.

Gagne's intangible value to the Twins in 1987 and 1991 certainly warrant a place on the diamond on the All-Time team.

Also considered: Zoilo Versailles; Roy Smalley; Cristian Guzman

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

All-Time Twins Team: Second Base

Moving to the center of the diamond, and second base on the All-Time Twins team is another no-brainer: Rodney Cline Carew.

Born in the Panama Canal Zone but reared in New York, Carew signed an amateur deal with the Twins in 1964 and spent just three minor league seasons proving to the Twins that he was quite a hitter (.302 career batting average in 945 games). Making the jump to the Majors from the Class A Carolina League in 1967, Carew stepped right in and certainly did not look out of place. Carew batted .292/.341/.409 with 22 doubles, 7 triples, 8 HR, and 51 RBI in route to an All-Star appearance and Rookie of the Year honors. It was his first of 18 consecutive All-Star Games, and he played in the "Midsummer Classic" all twelve years spent in a Twins' uniform.

After a bit of a slump in 1968, Carew rebounded with a tremendous 1969. Under an aggressive manager in Billy Martin, the Twins unleashed Carew and utilized his speed. Of his 19 stolen bases that season, Carew stole home a staggering seven times. At the plate, he won his first batting title and hit .332/.386/.467 for the season. 

As the decade turned to the 1970s, Rod Carew became the best hitter in baseball. He hit over .300 each year, won batting titles in six of the ten seasons (four straight from 1972 to 1975; consecutively in 1977 and 1978), and had a season for the ages in 1977.

Flirting with the .400 mark all season long, Carew hit .388/.449/.570 with 38 doubles, 16 triples, 14 HR, and 100 RBI. He scored 128 runs and had 239 hits. His batting average, on-base percentage, runs, hits, and triples each lead the AL, and he captured AL MVP honors. He followed-up his magical 1977 with a great 1978 (.333/.411/.441 and another batting title), but was traded after the season to the California Angels. He spent seven years in Anaheim, collecting his 3,000th hit against the Twins in 1985, before retiring after that season. His years as a productive hitter had passed, certainly as a corner infielder, as he was primarily a first baseman beginning in 1975.

The offensive accomplishments in Minnesota are many:
  • .334/.393/.448 batting line
  • Seven batting titles
  • 12 All-Star Game appearances
  • 1967 AL Rookie of the Year
  • 1977 AL MVP
  • Hall of Fame inductee as a Twin in 1991
Rod Carew was one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball history and deserves his place at second base on the All-Time Twins team.

Also considered: John Castino; Chuck Knoblauch

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

All-Time Twins Team: First Base

For the Twins All-Time Team, we select Kent Hrbek as our first baseman. This is the first of our controversial picks.

Hrbek was a "hometown boy done good" for the Twins over his career. Born and raised in the shadows of Met Stadium, Hrbek starred at Bloomington Kennedy High School before being drafted by the Twins in the 17th round of the 1978 Draft. After just three minor league seasons, advancing only as high as High Class-A ball, the Twins recalled Hrbek in late August of 1981, and he hit a home run in his first at-bat at Yankee Stadium to win a game for the Twins. It would be the only homer he would hit in 1981, but it gave Twins' fans a glimpse of what could be expected in 1982.

With the Twins moving indoors for the 1982 season, Hrbek was the star of a young squad which lost an MLB-worst 102 games, but featured many of the young players who would be cornerstones of the team's 1987 World Series title. Hrbek batted .301/.363/.485 in his rookie season and added 23 HR and 92 RBI. Not bad for a 22-year-old kid who never played AA or AAA ball. He finished second to Cal Ripken, Jr. in the AL Rookie of the Year race and made his lone All-Star appearance that season (more on that later).

Hrbek would go on to play all 14 of his Major League seasons with the Twins. He was remarkably consistent throughout, hitting at least 20 homers in 10 of those seasons in an era when 20 homers meant something. Injuries played a part in the relative shortness of his career, but he still went on to bat .282/.367/.481 in 7,137 plate appearances. He added 293 homers and 1,086 RBI for his career. Of course, he was at first base when the Twins won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, cementing his legacy as a Twin.

His defense was very much underrated. His career fielding percentage was .994, and the league average over that span was .992. Of course, this only measures chances and errors and does not measure range. Using more modern measures, Hrbek's defense was even more spectacular. His range factor over 9 defensive innings, measuring putouts and assists per game, was 9.73 for his career; the league average over his career span was 8.20. For a large man, he was very nimble and effective at first base.

Hrbek suffered throughout his career from a "what-if" complex. Critics noted that he didn't take good enough care of his body throughout his career. He played in a different era in which fitness programs were not as carefully monitored as the current era, so some of that criticism is muted. He also played the same position as Don Mattingly, who won all the Gold Gloves and made all the All-Star Games instead of Hrbek. To Hrbek's credit, he called the All-Star Game what it was - a joke, and cemented his sideline status. Of course, he said he wouldn't go, preferring three days off instead. Hrbek played the game with a youngster's enthusiasm and did not take the game, or himself, too seriously. He was a perfect leader of a frat-like clubhouse atmosphere in the 1980s on some good teams.

Justin Morneau will likely overtake this position soon, but Hrbek holds it for now.

Also considered: Justin Morneau

Monday, November 23, 2009

All-Time Twins Team: Catcher

2010 marks the 50th season for the Minnesota Twins. The team will commemorate the occasion in patch form on their jerseys, but the anniversary will likely be lost somewhat in the hoopla surrounding the team's first season at Target Field.

Well, not here! In recognition of 50 years of great and not-so-great baseball in Minnesota, we'll go around the diamond over the next few weeks and select an all-time Minnesota Twins' team. We'll have one player at each position, select a four-man starting pitching rotation, select a closer, as well as a manager and a general manager. For selection to this team, an analysis of a player's tenure in Minnesota will be considered, which suggests why David Ortiz is not on this team. As always, your comments about my selections, errors, and omissions are appreciated.

We'll start today with probably the easiest selection on the diamond: Catcher.

The Minnesota Twins all-time team must include Joe Mauer as catcher. It seems strange to have a 26-year-old guy on any all-time team, but Mauer is the greatest catcher to ever play for the Twins after only six years in the majors.

Think of what has been accomplished in six seasons:
  • Three batting titles (2006, 2008, 2009)
  • Three All-Star Game selections (2006, 2008, 2009)
  • Three Silver Sluggers (2006, 2008, 2009)
  • Two gold glove awards (2008, 2009)
  • A likely MVP (updated:near-unanimous MVP selection; second catcher in 33 years) selection for his 2009 performance
  • Career .327/.408/.493 batting mark

It seems like Mauer has only scratched the surface for his career, and superlatives abound when describing his 2009 performance. Despite missing all of spring training and the entire first month of the season with an injury, Mauer hit a home run on his first swing of the season on May 1 and ended up hitting an amazing .414/.500/.838 for the month with 11 HR and 32 RBI in 28 games. After flirting with the .400 mark for the rest of the first half, Mauer ran away with the AL batting title and finished the season with an AL-leading .365/.444/.587 line. He added power to his game this season, shattering his previous career-high HR mark by hitting 28 (his career-high had been 13) and added 96 RBI. He is simply the best all-around offensive catcher in the Majors today and is probably the best pure hitter in baseball.

The 2009 season alone may be enough to catapult Mauer to all-time Twins' status, but his career hitting line of .327/.408/.493 over 2,994 plate appearances spanning six seasons cement his status. He has won two Gold Glove awards (which are not necessarily representative of a fielder's value, but are largely won on reputation), and has done a great job handling a young pitching staff over the past two seasons. He is a free agent after the 2010 season and much chatter dominates Twins Territory about signing him to an extension this winter to keep him away from the large market teams which are looking to upgrade their catching situations. Stay tuned!

The Fan Graphs site estimates that Mauer has been 282.5 runs above replacement-level for his career, which undoubtedly has won a lot of games for the Twins since 2004. Mauer's tenure with Minnesota has been accompanied by a period of success, with AL Central Division titles in 2004, 2006, and 2009, as well as a tie in 2008. Those banners likely do not fly over Twins Territory without Mauer behind the plate and in the line-up.

Also considered: Earl Battey; Brian Harper; A.J. Pierzynski

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Scouring the Free Agent Market for Starting Pitching

The Twins have holes in their starting rotation as they head into the off-season. In a previous entry, we looked at some potential trade targets for the Twins to explore in order to fill the gap behind holdovers Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn. Today, we'll look at some free agents the Twins should consider pursuing.

Carl Pavano: Acquired from Cleveland in early August, Pavano provided the Twins with some solid pitching down the stretch. He made 12 starts, posted a 5-4 record in 73.2 innings, and sported a 4.64 ERA during his time with the Twins. It was exactly the bounceback season Pavano needed after his disastrous tenure in New York where he collected nearly $40M and won a total of nine games. The 2009 version of Pavano could only find a one-year, incentives-laden deal with the Indians in the off-season and he responded well. His final record was 14-12 in 33 starts spanning 199.1 innings. His ERA was high (5.10), but it was essentially wrecked by some ugly starts in April and May, and his FIP of 4.00 displayed he pitched far better than his traditional measure demonstrated. It was against the American League Central Division where Pavano made his mark in 2009. He made 18 starts within the division and posted a 10-6 mark with a 4.34 ERA in 118.2 innings. The Twins probably acquired him both out of necessity to stabilize a teetering rotation and for his ability to defeat the Detroit Tigers (4-1 in six starts vs. Detroit in 2009). At 34 years of age on opening day next year, Pavano is worthy of an offer from the Twins. The problem is that he has Type B free agent status, meaning teams would not put next year's first round draft pick at risk by signing Pavano. In a thin class behind John Lackey, Pavano will likely have a lot of suitors lining up, and his performance in 2009 - including his fine performance against the Yankees in Game 4 of the ALDS - will help his market value. The Twins had an initial meeting with Pavano's agent at the GM Meetings last week in Chicago and all indications are that Pavano enjoyed his time here. He would be a solid option for 2010 and 2011, but the Twins would have to be very, very, cautious beyond that point.  

Rich Harden: After the Twins apparently put in a waiver claim against Harden before last year's September 1 trade deadline, the Cubs pulled him back and the two sides were not able to make a deal. Still, the claim demonstrates the Twins' interest in the electric, but oft-injured right-hander. Coming off a short, yet somewhat spectacular 2008 season in which he went 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA in 25 starts in Oakland and the Cubs, Harden was solid in 2009. In 26 starts, he posted a 9-9 mark with a 4.09 ERA in 141.0 innings. He spent a month of the season on the DL in May and June with a back injury and shut his season down 10 days early due to arm fatigue, but Harden is an intriguing free agent. His strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) mark of 10.91 is outstanding, although his walks per nine innings (BB/9) are high (4.28). He is 27 years of age and has shows flashes of brilliance in his career. However, he just has not been able to stay healthy. Harden has never reached 200 innings in his career and has not approached his career-high marks of starts (31) and innings (189.2) since his first full season in the Major Leagues - 2004. He made $7M last season and has Type B free agent status this winter. Despite his health concerns, some team will likely give him at least a three-year deal. Don't look for the Twins to be one of those teams, but Harden is definitely worth the risk for something along the line of two years, $15M.

Erik Bedard: After two disappointing seasons in the Pacific Northwest, Bedard opted for free agency after his injured-plagued 2009 season. Although the Mariners will have exclusive negotiating rights until November 20, there are a lock to not sign him to another deal. Acquired in a blockbuster deal which sent George Sherrill, Adam Jones, and others to Baltimore, Bedard was thought to be a missing piece on a team which was expected to compete for the AL West title in 2008. The result was a disaster for Seattle. The Mariners lost 100 games and fired their manager and GM, while Sherrill made the All-Star team and Jones blossomed in Baltimore. Bedard started 2008 well, but was limited to only 15 starts and 81.0 innings before being shut down for the season. In 2009, Bedard was again limited to only 15 starts and 83.0 innings. He posted a 5-3 mark with a 2.82 ERA last season before undergoing left shoulder surgery in early August. In fact, he had surgery on the same shoulder one year prior, and any player undergoing two shoulder operations in successive seasons has a deflated market value. When healthy, Bedard is a prominent lefty. His K/9 marks in his two years in Seattle were 9.76 and 8.90, while his BB/9 marks were 3.69 and 3.58. He demonstrated his power stuff before the shoulder inflammation ruined his season. However, the 11-7 record and 3.24 ERA will be over-shadowed by the fact he made just 30 starts and threw just 164.0 innings during his two seasons in Seattle. The Twins may take a flier that he recovers from this shoulder operation, due to his youth (31) and Type B status, but for nothing more than a one-year, incentives-laden deal.

Jon Garland: After eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox and one with the Los Angeles Angels, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Garland as a free agent to a one-year, $7.75M deal (plus $10M option for 2010) last winter. He did not pitch that well for a terrible Arizona team and was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers late in the season. Predictably, he fared much better with a better team, posting a 3-2 mark in six starts in LA and notching a 2.72 ERA in 36.1 innings. Overall, he was 11-13 with a 4.01 ERA in 33 starts and 204.0 innings between Arizona and LA. The cash-strapped Dodgers declined his 2010 option, making Garland a free agent. Opinion is mixed on Garland at this stage in his career. This article from Fan Graphs' and USS Mariner's Dave Cameron suggests he's no more than a #5 starter. Excellent points are raised, but the fact remains that Garland is a durable innings-eater who has started at least 30 games eight seasons in a row and has gone over 200 innings five times. He may not win as many games as his stuff suggests, but he will pitch teams deep into games. With the Twins' bullpen expected to be solid again in 2010, a reliable innings-eater is a viable option. He may be expensive, given his youth (30) and Type B status, but he warrants at least a look.

Joel Pineiro: A ten-year MLB veteran at the tender age of 30, Pineiro enjoyed a bit of a renaissance year in St. Louis in 2009. After 25 largely lackluster starts with the Redbirds in 2008, Pineiro righted the ship in his second full National League season, making 32 starts, pitching 214.0 innings, posting a fine 15-12 record, and sporting a 3.49 ERA. His FIP mark of 3.27 was slightly better. It was a classic contract year season, and Pineiro pitched himself into a better market position. A guy who has made a career of pitching to contact suddenly became a pitcher who went from inducing less than 50% of balls in play being ground balls to a 60.5% ground ball percentage. As Fan Graphs' Dave Allen points out, this, along with his improved BB/9 ratio, was quite a shift. He made $7.5M last season and will be a Type B free agent this winter, and will generate a lot of interest. The downward spiral which signaled his end in Seattle, followed by a disastrous tenure in the Boston bullpen in 2007, has largely been erased by his somewhat steady performance in St. Louis. He'll likely generate a lot of interest given his age, but would likely benefit from Rick Anderson's tutelage, especially if he proves that his BB/9 ratio of 2009 was no fluke.

Jarrod Washburn: There was a lot of chatter last season about the Twins making a pitch for the veteran lefty Washburn, who was toiling in Seattle and finishing up a four-year, $37.5M contract. The conversations were not unexpected, given the Twins' starting rotation instability and the fact that Washburn is from Webster, WI. Instead, the Detroit Tigers swung a deal for Washburn and left the Twins hanging. The Twins addressed their rotation problem a week later by acquiring Pavano, but the thought was that the Tigers has scored a bit of a coup. However, things did not work out well for Washburn in Detroit. He made eight starts and pitched a total of 43.0 innings. His record was 1-3 with a scary 7.33 ERA. He ended up having a sore knee which shut his season down early and he was of no help to Detroit down the stretch. His time in Detroit ruined an otherwise fine season. At the time of the deal, Washburn was 8-6 with a 2.64 ERA through 20 starts spanning 133.0 innings. Overall, he ended up 9-9 with a 3.78 ERA in 28 starts. His FIP of 4.58 suggests he didn't pitch as well as his overall numbers suggest. Washburn is never going to be a 200-innings guy at this stage of his career (he's now 35), but he will start 25-30 games a year, barring injury. He's also represented by Scott Boras (as is former and maybe future Twin Joe Crede), but it's hard to see anyone really clamoring for his services at this point. The Twins may take a look at him for a one-year spin.

Jason Marquis: An interesting free agent case is Marquis. He's been a serviceable starter for the past six seasons, posting double-digit victories in each campaign. He's gone over 200 innings in three of those years. He won 15 games and posted a 4.04 ERA for a team which played half of its games at hitter-friendly Coors Field. Still, he has been erratic over his career. He is a total of only 9.6 wins over replacement since 2002, doesn't miss a lot of bats (a career 5.25 K/9 for his career), and was run out of town by the Cubs after two erratic seasons there after signing a three-year, $21M contract (another nice move, Cubs!) before landing in Colorado. Marquis' career FIP is a lackluster 4.82. He is rather young (31) and is a ground ball pitcher (55.6% last season with the Rockies), which would definitely be welcome on the Twins' staff. He also has Type B status, which would be attractive to the Twins. He would probably be a good fit for the #4 start, and would seem to be a younger version of Pavano. However, Marquis is a National League-type pitcher who would probably had adjustment problems to the new league. He is also one of the NL's best-hitting pitchers (.202 career average, although his offensive numbers have nose-dived over the past few seasons) who is a native of Staten Island, NY, and has hinted that the Mets would be a perfect fit for his services. If the Twins are to get into a bidding war with Omar Minaya over someone, let it be someone other than Jason Marquis.

Ben Sheets: Here's another interesting case. Sheets missed all of last season recovering from arm surgery and hasn't thrown a Major League pitch since late 2008. Before getting hurt, Sheets was enjoying one of his finest seasons, going 13-9 in 31 starts spanning 198.1 innings. His ERA of 3.09 was excellent, as was his FIP of 3.38. For his career, he has a FIP of 3.56, and has excellent K/9 (7.60) and BB/9 (1.97) ratios. The issue with Sheets has always been durability, and at age 31, questions about his long-term stamina are legitimate. His recovery from flexor tendon surgery in his right elbow is apparently going as scheduled and his agent believes Sheets will be ready for spring training 2010. There are no guarantees and it's unlikely the Twins would offer anything more than a one-year deal. Texas sniffed around his way last season and they are expected to do so again this winter. With the absence of free agent starting pitching talent outside of Lackey, Sheets is certain to get a deal from someone willing to take a flier.

Don't Even Get Excited: The Twins aren't going to be able to sign the high-priced guys like John Lackey, Cliff Lee (next year's prize free agent, given that Philadelphia picked up his 2010 option), so I didn't even include them in this analysis. Of course, there may be a few stretches already on this list, but these Type A pitchers are no-brainers - that the Twins will not pursue, that is.

Of this list, the following options seem to make the most sense:
  1. Pavano
  2. Garland
  3. Pineiro
  4. Sheets
  5. Marquis
We'll see what GM Billy Smith has up his sleeve.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

40-Man Roster Update; Great Billy Martin Article; Gardy Snubbed

With the MLB Rule 5 Draft approaching next month (it will take place on December 10 at the MLB's Winter Meetings in Indianapolis), it's time to take a quick look at the Minnesota Twins' current roster situation.

The current roster reads 40 names, although this is somewhat deceiving, as I will explain below. For now, here is how it sits:

Catchers (5): Drew Butera, Joe Mauer, Jose Morales, Wilson Ramos, Mike Redmond
Infielders (12): Orlando Cabrera, Alexi Casilla, Joe Crede, J.J. Hardy, Brendan Harris, Luke Hughes, Justin Morneau, Trevor Plouffe, Nick Punto, Deibinson Romero, Matt Tolbert, Steven Tolleson 
Outfielders (5): Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jason Pridie, Denard Span, Delmon Young
Pitchers (18): Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Boof Bonser, Jesse Crain, Brian Duensing, Matt Guerrier, Bobby Keppel, Francisco Liriano, Ron Mahay, Jeff Manship, Jose Mijares, Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek, Carl Pavano, Glen Perkins, Jon Rauch, Kevin Slowey, Anthony Swarzak

The five players' names highlighted in bold above represent the Twins' free agents. All five players have filed for free agency and will be removed from the roster unless the Twins try to sign them (unlikely for Cabrera; doubtful for Redmond; perhaps for Mahay and Crede; maybe for Pavano). So, the Twins will likely have five spots with which to play before the draft. 

The Twins lost two pitchers in roster maneuvering over the past few weeks. Righthander Armando Gabino was claimed by Baltimore when the Twins removed him from the 40-man roster and tried to send him through waivers. He was replaced on the roster by hard-throwing righty Juan Morillo (pictured right). Fans may remember his three outings with the Twins in which he pitched a total of two innings, allowed five runs on three hits and three walks. Still, he threw in the upper-90s and was young enough (26) for the Twins to take a chance on his development. Shortly after being placed on the 40-man roster, Morillo signed with a Japanese league team, for which the Twins will instead receive cash compensation, opening up a spot on the roster. 

So, in essence, the Twins have five roster spots with which to maneuver, corresponding to the number of internal free agents. There will likely be movement on and off the roster in the coming days and weeks among some of the players currently taking spots in favor of minor leaguers who either will get a solid look at making the roster this spring (Danny Valencia, for example) or others who need to be on the roster for fear of losing him to another organization for a nominal fee.

Seth Stohs has a fine article detailing who may be under consideration for the final roster spots. As Seth rightly points out, there are some players who do not need to be added to the 40-man roster or face the risk of being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft (Anthony Slama is one of them). Also, Seth notes that the Twins may choose to keep one or two spots open to give the organization flexibility to take a player or two from another team in the Rule 5 Draft. Keep in mind, a player selected must remain with the claiming team's Major League roster (and thus on the 40-man roster) all season long or he will return to his original team (if he clears waivers).

My guess is that the Twins will not sign all five internal major league free agents and keep one spot open for the Rule 5 Draft. We'll see how accurate that prediction is.

Billy Ball's Infancy: I received an e-mail from Chris Jaffe, who writes for the outstanding Hardball Times site, alerting me to an article he recently published on the site. Actually, the article was an excerpt of a book he wrote (scheduled for December release) called "Evaluating Baseball's Managers" and the subject of this excerpt was Billy Martin. Most fans remember Billy from his five stints as manager of the New York Yankees (would have likely been six if he had not died in 1989), but Martin actually began his managerial career with the Twins in 1969. That season was one of the most successful in franchise history (97-65 and won the first American League West Division title), and Billy employed an exciting brand of baseball.

The article is an outstanding analysis of Martin's managerial career and style and focuses on Martin's lone season in Minnesota. It was with the Twins that he developed his hard-charging baserunning and over-using pitchers style. Like the THT site in general, Jaffe's article is stat-heavy and analytical, but extremely readable. Do yourselves a favor and check out the article. Better yet, buy the book.

Gardy Snubbed: The American League Manager of the Year Award was given out today, and Los Angeles's Mike Scioscia won the award, capturing 15 of the 28 first place votes. Ron Gardenhire finished second with six first place votes, followed by New York's Joe Girardi, Seattle's Don Wakamatsu, Detroit's Jim Leyland, and Texas's Ron Washington. Scioscia did a fine job pulling the Angels together after the tragic death of pitcher Nick Adenhart in the season's opening week. However, the Angels won their division as expected and with a payroll of a paltry $114M. Gardy pulled the Twins up from nowhere and overtook Detroit in the season's final two weeks. Gardenhire gets (and deserves) his fair share of criticism here and in the local media, but has a good following nationally. However, the national media got this one wrong.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Love the New Threads!

The Twins unveiled their uniform set for 2010, which will feature a completely-redesigned road uniform, for the first season at Target Field.

The home uniform remains largely unchanged, although the font on the "Twins" logo, familiar since its introduction in 1987, has been updated slightly. This is not a surprise, given that the logo above the new Target Field scoreboard has shown this font since going into place last summer. For the inaugural game at Target Field and for Saturday home games, the Twins will wear throwback uniforms which are similar to those worn in the 1960s, featuring the scripted "Twins" mark on a pinstriped set. It's essentially the pinstriped version of the set worn at home on Saturday's last season to commemorate the final season of the Metrodome. Twins' outfielder Denard Span openly lobbied to make this set permanent and president Dave St. Peter hinted that may be the case by 2011.

The blue alternative jerseys and the (ugly) sleeveless alternative home jerseys remain unchanged.

The team will wear patches on their uniforms to commemorate the inaugural season of Target Field, as well as one honoring 50 years in Minnesota (more like 50 seasons; not 50 years, which is technically in 2011, but you get the point).

The Twins will also have a new team logo which has the "Twins" home uniform typeface surrounded by a circle with the words "Minnesota Twins Baseball Club." The "men shaking hands" logo will also be featured prominently.

The real story was the new road set which was a complete revamping of the one in use since 1987, but with a nod to the past. The script "Minnesota" is apparently similar to what Twins' players featured on warm-up jackets in the 1960s. The red color and blue drop shadow are featured on a plain gray uniform. That means, gone are the road pinstripes, and thank heavens! A red number with blue outline appears on the front left of the jersey (which could have been skipped altogether, but no big deal). On the backs, the names are in blue while the numbers are red with blue shadowing.

Also changed for 2010 are the caps. The Twins' "TC" logo will be used for both home (solid blue) and road (solid blue, but with red bills) games, although the "M" logo will be used on occasion. I'm fine with this, as long as the "M" hat, of which I am a fan, does not get retired altogether. Who knows for which "TC" stands?

If the Twins had simply kept the "Minnesota" word mark they had and ditched the pinstripes for the road set, that would have been fine. The Colorado Rockies are now the only team to feature pinstripes on the road, and they look like crap.

The final BP verdict: Sharp! Nicely done!

Here is the incomparable Uni Watch take.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Scanning the Trade Market for Starting Pitching

In previous entries, we have looked at how the Twins may address perceived holes at second base and third base through either the free agent or trade markets. Now, we continue to examine another area of concern for the Twins this off-season.

Starting Pitching (Trade Targets)

The Twins broke camp last season with their starting rotation set, presumably for the future. Youngsters Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins were to hold down a rotation which was long on promise and short on age, with Baker being the oldest at the tender age of 27. Instead, things went haywire right away. Baker started the season on the DL and Liriano just couldn't get it going in 2009. Perkins had some miserable starts in May and infuriated the coaching staff by complaining of an injury AFTER getting pounded in his start (he did this twice in 2009). Slowey pitched very well before the All-Star break, but hurt his wrist in July and missed the rest of the season.

The Twins were forced to play patchwork with their starting rotation the rest of the way, and inexperienced starters like Brian Duensing, Armando Gabino, and Jeff Manship were forced to start meaningful games down the stretch. Duensing was a revelation for the Twins (nine starts, 5-1 record, 2.93 ERA in 52.2 innings) and deserves serious consideration for next season's rotation. Manship pitched his best game of the season in the opening game of the final series of the season with Kansas City and figures to be in the mix next spring. However, one move made seemingly out of desperation paid great dividends for the Twins in stabilizing the rotation down the stretch.

The Twins sent a PTBNL to the Cleveland Indians in early August for pitcher Carl Pavano. The oft-injured righty was solid for the Twins in his 12 starts, posting a 5-4 record with a 4.64 ERA in 73.2 innings and won some crucial games for the team, especially against divisional opponents.

With Baker, Blackburn, and Slowey locks to return to the rotation next season, the Twins have two spots open and a wealth of internal candidates (Duensing, Perkins, Liriano, Manship, Anthony Swarzak, etc.) to consider. However, there are several intriguing candidates from outside the organization should the Twins decide to go in that direction. The following players could be potential trade targets by the Twins. Again, I used the excellent TwinsCentric GM Handbook as a reference guide for these potentially-available starting pitchers.

Javier Vazquez: After three largely lackluster seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Vazquez was traded to the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2009 season and thoroughly enjoyed his return to the National League, where he had also made prior stops in Montreal and Arizona. The results were spectacular, as Vazquez posted a 15-10 mark in 32 start and fashioned a 2.87 ERA in 219.1 innings. He also struck out 238 hitters in that span. His 15 wins ranked fourth in the NL, and his 238 punchouts were second in the league. His 9.77 strikeouts per nine innings were a career high, as was his 0.82 homers allowed per nine innings. Most impressively, Vazquez sported a fielder-independent pitching (FIP) mark of 2.77 last season, which is also a career-best. At age 34, Vazquez is coming off a career year and his trade value will be extremely high this off-season. He is signed through the 2010 season for $11.5M and then will test the free agent market. The Twins could try to pry him away from Atlanta, but he will be expensive both in trade value and in a contract beyond next season. Also, his numbers in the American League (with the White Sox and New York Yankees) do not compare well with those posted in the National League, which may also scare the Twins away. He's a nice option if the Twins want a top-of-the-rotation hurler for 2010 but may end up being a one-year fix that costs a lot to obtain.

Jorge De La Rosa: The hard-throwing lefty had somewhat of a renaissance in the unlikeliest of places - Coors Field. De La Rosa washed-out in two seasons with Kansas City and has pitched well since moving on to Colorado. In 2009, he made 32 starts, won 16 games, pitched 185.0 innings, posted a 4.38 ERA, and struck out 193 hitters - all career bests. With the good, one also has to look at the not-so-good, and De La Rosa's struggles with control have posed issues. He walked 83 hitters in his 185 innings, an average of 4.36 per nine innings, and has consistently been in this territory throughout his career. However, he posted an excellent FIP mark of 3.91 and was 3.7 wins above replacement (WAR) in 2009. Also on the positive side, De La Rosa will be 29 on opening day and has one more year of arbitration left before he hits the free agent market. The Rockies missed him down the stretch last season as he missed some time with a groin injury, and he is the type of pitcher some teams will look toward because he is young, inexpensive, and has some control left before he hits free agency. However, his wild streak could prevent the Twins from taking a flier.

Bronson Arroyo: The veteran right-hander has quietly put together some fine seasons with some bad Cincinnati Reds teams. Arroyo has pitched at least 200 innings in each of his four seasons in the Queen City (plus one more in his final year in Boston) and has been effective. He dropped his ERA by nearly a run from 2008 to 2009 (from 4.77 in 200.0 innings to 3.84 in 220.1 innings) while winning 15 games in consecutive seasons. Arroyo posted a 15-13 mark in 33 starts in 2009 and struck out 127 batters against 65 walks. His FIP mark was higher than his actual ERA last season (4.78 vs. 3.84), but he was still 1.8 wins above replacement level in 2009. Arroyo is signed for $11M next season and has a club option for 2011 with a $2M buyout. The Reds are one of the "Rust Belt" teams who are losing money and getting hit hard by the economy, making it likely that they are looking to move high-priced players like Arroyo. On the flip side, the economic restraints make it far less likely that the Reds would eat part of the salary and/or buyout for Arroyo, making it less likely that the Twins would look to make a deal for the veteran. Still, he is a serviceable right-hander who has pitched well for a lousy club in a pitcher-unfriendly ballpark.

Aaron Harang: Another of the Reds' high-priced pitchers, Harang is scheduled to make $12.5M in 2010 and has a club option for $12.75M in 2011 ($13M if he pitches 210 innings in 2010), along with a $2M buyout. The Reds would love to deal Harang and his contract to another team, but it is a difficult prospect given his decline over the past two seasons. When Harang signed his contract before the 2007 season, he was one of the NL's brightest starting pitching stars, coming off a 16-11 season with a 3.76 ERA in 234.1 innings in 2006. He followed that up with 16 more wins in 2007 in 231.2 innings before bottoming-out in 2008. During the nightmare campaign, Harang went 6-17 with a 4.78 ERA in 184.1 innings. He continued the decline into 2009 in which he made 26 starts, pitched 162.1 innings, went 6-14, but still posted a respectable 4.21 ERA in the process. His FIP was nearly identical last season (4.14), and he still strikes out 7.87 batters per nine innings. His days as a workhorse have likely led to his decline over the past two seasons, and an hard-throwing innings-eater would normally be a desirable trade prospect. However, as is the case with Arroyo, his contract makes him hard to move (even if the Reds would likely agree to package either pitcher for a less-than-market return), especially with the Reds not being in a position to eat some of the salary.

Matt Cain: The young All-Star has "ace" stuff and makeup, and he would add a legitimate #1 starter to a staff which features a lot of #2s and 3s. The Giants are hitting-challenged and would likely look to move some of their surplus young pitching for immediate offensive help. Not to say that Cain is a "surplus-type" pitcher, though, because he is not. He is only 25 years-old, but he has four full big league seasons under his belt and has thrown at least 200 innings in three of those seasons. In 2009, he won a career-high 14 games, pitched a career-high 217.2 innings, and posted a career-best 2.89 ERA. He is a strikeout pitcher (7.52 per nine innings for his career) who walks a bit more than the Twins would like (3.60 per nine innings). Although his K/9 decreased somewhat from 2008 to 2009 (7.69 to 7.07), his walks per nine innings have decreased from 4.11 in 2006 to 3.02 last season. He posted a FIP of 3.89 last season and was 3.6 wins above replacement. With youth comes affordability, and Cain is signed for $4.25M in 2010 and has a club option for $6.25M (with some rather unique vesting criteria). The Twins have some young hitting prospects they could use to obtain Cain, but it would likely also need to include some MLB-type hitters currently in the mix. Still, he has "ace" written all over him and would be a perfect addition to an already strong top-three in the rotation.

Andy Sonnanstine: The Rays have a strong rotation and can afford to dangle Sonnanstine in order to obtain talent to fill other needs. The young righty seems to fit the Twins' profile perfectly. He is not over-powering but finds ways not to walk batters. His career BB/9 mark is 2.06, but he notched a high 3.07 BB/9 figure in a disappointing 2009 campaign. He posted a 6-9 record in 99.2 innings, and his ERA was sky-high at 6.77. He pitched poorly enough to warrant a demotion to AAA one year after starting a game in the World Series. His 2008 mark of 13-9 with a 4.38 ERA in 193.1 innings was impressive, but his disappointing 2009 campaign will seemingly hurt his trade value. Still, he's a Twins-type pitcher who is still young (27 on opening day next season), cheap ($430k salary last season and arbitration-eligible for 2010), and is under team control for three more seasons. His numbers tanked in 2009, but there is evidence he will rebound more toward his 2008 benchmarks next season. 

Roy Halladay: The biggest name out there is Toronto ace Roy Halladay. The 2009 trade deadline was dominated by rumors surrounding where he was potentially headed. A reported deal with the Phillies was nixed and Philadelphia ended up trading for Cliff Lee instead. Still, the big righty is in Toronto and facing free agency after the 2010 season. The Jays aren't going to be able to sign him long-term so they'll be faced with the option of trading him before the deadline or losing him to free agency and receiving draft picks as compensation. Of course, Halladay is a horse and a legitimate top-of-the-line pitcher. He has made at least 30 starts and thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last four seasons. In 2009, Halladay made 32 starts, posted a 17-10 record with an ERA of 2.79 in 239.0 innings. His strikeouts per nine innings were the highest in 2009 than they have been since 2001 (7.83), his FIP was an excellent 3.06, and he was 7.3 wins above replacement-level in 2009. All of these solid statistics were posted while rumors as to his destination were swirling. The Blue Jays elected to hold their ace this time, but don't expect a change in the asking price this season. If the Twins are to make a move, they would need to be prepared to give up a package of prospects which may include Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere, Wilson Ramos, Angel Morales, among others. The Twins may kick the tires, but don't hold your breath in anticipation of a move.

Chien-Ming Wang: Two seasons ago, Wang looked to be the Yankees' ace. He posted 19 wins in consecutive seasons (2006-2007) and was off to a fine 8-2 start in 2008. A foot injury suffered while running the bases ended his 2008 season early, and a shoulder injury caused him to miss most of 2009. What action he did see in 2009 certainly wasn't pretty. Wang started nine games (and made three relief appearances) and posted a 1-6 mark with a downright scary 9.64 ERA in 42.0 innings. In those 42 innings, Wang allowed a staggering 66 hits and seven homers, and was shelved for good after his July 4 appearance. The World Champs are set at the top of their rotation with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and are likely to bring Andy Pettitte back in the mix. Phil Hughes is likely to return to the rotation, which would put Wang in the mix for the back of the rotation. He will be in is in his third year or arbitration eligibility in 2010 and made $5M last season, meaning he is still affordable. However, the Twins could just play the odds that Wang will hit the free agent market after a non-tender rather than giving up a player (or players) in return. Wang's trade value is at an all-time low, so one wouldn't expect a great package going to the Bronx in return.

Of this group, Cain, Sonnanstine, and perhaps Wang seem to make the most sense in that they are controllable beyond next season, while the others will be able to test the free agent market and are less likely to stay with the Twins. Putting together a package for pitchers like Halladay, and to a lesser extent Arroyo, Vazquez, and Harang, will be expensive for a short-term fix, which has not been the Twins' style in the past. Nor should it be their style now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Filling the Gaps, Part Two

Previously, we looked at potential trade or free agent options the Twins could explore at second base. Today, we'll look at another spot on the diamond in desperate need of an upgrade.

Third Base

The Twins signed former Chicago White Sox mainstay Joe Crede to play third base every day in 2009. Hoping he recovered from back surgery the season before, the Twins offered a one-year, incentives-laden contract to Crede. When healthy, he played solid defense (12.5 UZR) and was productive despite a low batting averages. In 90 games, Crede hit .225/.289/.414 with 15 HR and 48 RBI. The problem is that he was limited to 90 games due to a variety of ailments. A second back surgery in September cost him the final month of the 2009 season and left the Twins with Matt Tolbert's putrid .232/.303/.308 hitting line at third base for the balance of the season.

Until top prospect Danny Valencia is ready for MLB action, the Twins are left with a question mark at third base going into the off-season. Taking a look at potential trade or free agency options:

Mark DeRosa: The versatile DeRosa started the season with Cleveland before a mid-season trade sent him back to the National League and St. Louis. With the Cardinals, he did not hit much (.228/.291/.405) but added 10 homers to the Cardinals' powerful lineup. Overall in 2009, DeRosa hit .250/.319/.433 with 23 doubles, 23 HR, and 78 RBI in 139 games. His defense was not good (UZR of -5.6), and he is on average -6.5 runs above replacement-level at third base. He will be 35 at the start of spring training and has Type-B free agent status, meaning the Twins' first round draft pick is not at risk should they sign him. He is an offense-first option for the Twins at third base with a lower level of defensive capabilities.

Mike Lowell: The Boston Red Sox third baseman is under contract for 2010 at $12M, but could be available via trade as the Sox are looking at other options in their lineup and Lowell could be expendable. No longer the player he once was, Lowell still hit .290/.337/.474 last season in 119 games with 29 doubles, 17 HR, and 77 RBI. His UZR mark at third base was a career-worst 10.4 runs below replacement level, signaling a downward trend. Lowell is expensive, but he would be a serviceable one-year veteran option if the Twins lean toward grooming the position for Valencia in 2011. Given his age and injury history, the price for acquiring Lowell would likely not be very high, with the Red Sox likely forced to eat some of his $12M salary for next season.

Joe Crede: The Twins would know what they're getting with Crede in 2010 in terms of production. When healthy, he is productive at the plate, adding a power element not seen since Corey Koskie's departure after the 2004 season. In the field, he plays slick defense. Of course, the question is how he will recover from a second back surgery in as many seasons? General consensus was that the surgery went well, and at least he won't have to suffer through half the season on artificial surface next season as his back strengthens. He was a well-liked presence in the clubhouse last season that did good things when healthy and will certainly be cheap in this winter. As is the case with Lowell, the Twins may consider calling if they're looking for a one-season fix.

Chone Figgins: The LA Angels' leadoff man is one of the prize free agents in this year's class, and indications are that the big boys are all going to line up to sign him. He's worth the hype because he's durable (158 games played last season), productive (.298/.395/.393 with 30 doubles and 7 triples out of the leadoff spot for LA last season), speedy (42 stolen bases in 59 attempts last season), and plays solid defense (UZR of 16.7 runs above replacement in 2009 and a career 8.0 runs above replacement level per 150 defensive games at third base). He seems to fit the Twins' mold of a player, but he will undoubtedly be expensive and the Twins will have to bid against some deep-pocketed teams.

Adrian Beltre: The Seattle Mariners signed Beltre to one of the worst contracts in history five seasons ago when they inked him to a five-year, $65M contract coming off a career year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004. Beltre's time in Seattle was productive (.266/.317/.442, 172 doubles, 103 HR, 396 RBI in 715 games), but the contract was an albatross for an organization looking to move on. Furthermore, he struggled with injuries in 2009 and hit .265/.304/.379 in 111 games with just 8 HR and 44 RBI. At age 30, he may be starting a decline, but I doubt it. His defense continues to be solid (UZR marks of positive 14.3 last season and 13.9 per 150 defensive games for his career) and he will be only 31 next spring. Most importantly for the Twins, Beltre has Type-B free agent status this season thanks to his down campaign last season. He will command nowhere near what he did five seasons ago, but Beltre is a good fit for the Twins at third base and would be a productive and somewhat-affordable option for the next three seasons.

Pedro Feliz: The Philadelphia Phillies elected to move on after two seasons of Feliz at third base. The former SF Giant mainstay had two decent seasons in Philly, but his numbers slumped in 2009. He hit .266/.308/.386 in 158 games last season with 12 HR and 82 RBI. Although the RBI total was his highest in four seasons, his HR total was his lowest since 2002, when he appeared in just 67 games. His defense did not suffer, however, as Feliz posted a UZR mark of 5.3 runs above replacement level. Feliz will be 35 on opening day next season and his production numbers appear to be sliding downward.

Troy Glaus: 2009 was a complete disaster for Glaus. He was limited to just 14 games and 29 at bats last season due to back and shoulder injuries. His previous four seasons were largely injury-free before last year and he hit at least 20 homers in each of the four seasons. He is a Type-B free agent this winter. Still, Glaus has been plagued by injuries for his entire career and it is unlikely the Twins would take a chance on him coming back from injuries rather than someone they already know (like Crede).

Robb Quinlan: A native of St. Paul and the University of Minnesota, Quinlan has served in a platoon role with the Los Angeles Angels for seven seasons and it is hard to believe he will be 33 years old next season. He has never been a regular player throughout his career, but has shown a tendency to hit at the Major League level. He is a career .281/.326/.408 hitter in part-time duty and can fill in at a number of defensive positions. However, he is, at best, a short-term fix at third base that would be a question mark in that he has never played regularly.

Melvin Mora: It seems like Mora played in Baltimore forever, but it was only 10 seasons. He was a solid contributor for some bad Baltimore teams and is a career .278/.352/.436 hitter. He was pushed into a part-time role in the second half of last season, and his 8 HR and 48 RBI were his lowest figures since 2001. However, Mora had hit at least 15 HR each season since 2002 prior to last season. He will be 38 next season and his days as a big-league regular are numbered. Still, he likely has one productive season left and would warrant consideration as a one-season Type-B free agent signing.

Danny Valencia: Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is in love with Nick Punto and seems hell-bent on playing him somewhere every day. If the Twins sign a third baseman for next season, it is likely Punto will play second base, and vice versa. Punto is decent in the field but simply cannot hit - at all. He needed a solid month of September to raise his hitting line to .228/.337/.284 in 2009. For his career, he is a .248/.322/.324 hitter in nine seasons. Valencia is a top prospect at third base. Since being drafted and signed by the Twins in 2006 out of the University of Miami, Valencia has played in five minor league levels and has posted career hitting marks of .299/.354/.480 with 111 doubles, 54 HR, and 241 RBI in 432 games. He is 25 years-old and has yet to receive even a sniff at the Major League level. In fact, he wasn't even on the 40-man roster last season, which is likely why the Twins elected to scrape by with the putrid hitting of Punto and Tolbert at third base in Crede's absence last season. Right now, Valencia is the long-term prospect at third base, barring a signing, and it would be nice to see how he can handle big league pitching.

So, to rank the options:
  1. Beltre - Offensively and defensively, the best fit; may be too expensive; Type-B status helps
  2. DeRosa - Good hit, but give up some in the field; will be more affordable than Beltre; Type-B status is a plus
  3. Valencia - Tremendous offensive numbers in the minors; worth a look in the Majors thsis season
  4. Lowell - Veteran leader would fit in well in this clubhouse; shouldn't commmand too much in return; expensive in 2010
  5. Crede - When healthy, plays good defense and provides solid production; health concerns are major
  6. Figgins - Will be too expensive, but a good catalyst at the top of the order; Twins already have a leadoff hitter in Denard Span, so they'll take a pass
  7. Mora - His decline deserves scrutiny, but is a professional player who would fit in well
  8. Quinlan - Local ties make him an option; never been a regular at the MLB level
  9. Feliz - His power numbers are slipping
  10. Glaus - Health concerns too great for consideration 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Else is Needed? - Part One

The Minnesota Twins have had a busy week as they begin to formulate their roster for the 2010 season. Carlos Gomez was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for J.J. Hardy, the team stated it would not pursue Orlando Cabrera to be their shortstop next season but will tender Delmon Young a contract, Brian Buscher was optioned off the roster, the team picked up the 2011 option on Michael Cuddyer, and Carl Pavano filed for free agency.

There are still moves to be made as the Twins at least will set up their 40-man roster in the near future. With the General Managers' meetings set for this week in Chicago, now is a good time to determine what, if anything, the Twins still need to address holes in their lineup.

First off, do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. Our favorite Twins' think tank of Bonnes, Hageman, Nelson, and Stohs has outdone itself with almost 140 pages of thoughtful and informative analysis. For less than $10 (PDF version; the hard copy will set you back $21.95), Twins' fans from the most serious to the novice will benefit from this overview of the organization and potential acquisition targets. I used it as a reference book for this post and will continue to do so this off-season.

Second Base:

The Twins had a major hole in the middle of the diamond last season. After some wrangling with super agent Scott Boras, the Twins made an economical move to sign Joe Crede to a one-year, incentives-laden contract and signed Nick Punto to a two-year, $8.5M contract to play shortstop every day. Alexi Casilla was penciled-in as the regular second baseman, so the infield was set. Of course, everything did not pan out. Crede was good when healthy, but his season ended early due to back surgery. Punto and Casilla did not hit, and Casilla spent considerable time in AAA to straighten himself out before ending the season on the bench. Punto ended the season with a little bit of an offensive flurry, but that while playing every day at second base.

The Twins waited until the non-waiver trade deadline to address the gaping hole in the middle of their infield. At the deadline, the team sent a minor leaguer to Oakland for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Although his offensive production was sparse until the season's final ten days and his defense was suspect. Cabrera solidified the middle of the diamond for the final two months.

Of course, Cabrera will not be back in 2010 in the wake of the trade for Hardy, but the Twins still have a hole at second base. There are some options for the Twins to pursue at second base this off-season:

Orlando Hudson - The soon-to-be 32-year-old "O-Dawg" signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers last season after the free agent market for him dried-up. Still, Hudson provided LA with some solid production, hitting .283/.357/.417 with 35 doubles, 6 triples, 9 HR, and 62 RBI in 149 games. His Ultimate Zone Range (UZR) was 3.3 runs below replacement last season, but he is, on average, a positive 2.6 runs above replacement per 150 defensive games for his career. He was affordable at $3.38M last season, but will likely garner a bit more interest in the market this winter and will almost certainly get a multi-year deal from someone, especially with Freddy Sanchez off the market and Akinori Iwamura traded to Pittsburgh. Hudson was, and is now, a great fit for the Twins. However, he is a Type-A free agent, and would cost the Twins their 2010 first round draft pick should they sign Hudson.

Rickie Weeks - Would the Twins be willing to deal for Weeks and re-unite him with Hardy in the middle of the Twins' infield? Weeks has a ton of potential (#2 overall draft pick in the 2003 MLB Draft - behind Delmon Young) but has been ravaged by injuries and inconsistency in his young career. Still, he is just 25 and may need a change of scenery to revive his career. He is coming off a wrist injury which limited him to just 37 games in 2009, and he is a career .247/.351/.417 hitter who has played some questionable defense at second base. Despite the potential, the Twins should take a pass and let someone else try to harness the talent. 

Dan Uggla - The Marlins stole Uggla from the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization before the 2006 season, and Uggla has been productive in his four-year career, batting .257/.344/.482 with 121 HR in 617 career games. His defense is not as good - 10.1 runs below replacement level last season and -2.9 on average per 150 games for his career. He is not a free agent and is under control through 2011. However, he won in arbitration before last season and was awarded $5.35M, and is arbitration-eligible this season. This is why he would be available from the Marlins. Florida's Larry Beinfest is one of the shrewdest GMs in the game and he'll ask for a front-line prospect for Uggla - the TwinsCentric guys project the Marlins would ask for a deal headlined by one of the top prospects in the organization such as Aaron Hicks or Ben Revere - so the Twins will have to be creative. Despite the price, Uggla would provide production at second base and in the middle of the order (he could hit third, moving Mauer to second) and give the Twins a power dimension not seen at that position for a long time.

Felipe Lopez - The Brew Crew spun a deal to acquire the oft-traveled Lopez last season, and he provided Milwaukee with some solid production. He hit .320/.407/.448 in 66 games for the Brewers, and between Arizona and Milwaukee in 2009, Lopez batted .310/.383/.427 with 38 doubles, 9 HR, and 57 RBI. He played exclusively at second base for both Arizona and Milwaukee last season and posted a UZR mark of 7.8. For his career, per 150 defensive games, Lopez is on average 2.6 runs above replacement-level. Lopez's salary in 2009 was $3.5M, but he will presumably be a sought-after target this winter. The Twins should consider him strongly to shore up second base and bat in the #2 position.  He's a Type-B free agent, meaning the Twins would not have to risk losing their 2010 first round pick if they sign Lopez.
Placido Polanco - The veteran Polanco would seemingly fit the Twins' mold perfectly. He is a well-liked presence in the clubhouse that plays solid defense and gets big hits (many of them at the Twins' expense over the years). Still, Polanco is 34 and would seem to be on the decline. He hit .285/.331/.396 with 31 doubles, 10 HR and 72 RBI while hitting second for Detroit last season and is a career .303/.348/.414 hitter. The age factor did not affect his defense if you believe in UZR, as Polanco was 11.4 runs above replacement level and is, on average, 10.0 above replacement for his career. However, the fact remains that Polanco is 34 and his numbers can be expected to decline. The Twins should pursue free agents like Hudson and Lopez first, and turn to Polanco with a one or two-year offer if those other two become too expensive or sign elsewhere. However, he has Type-A free agent status, which the Twins must consider carefully.

Bobby Crosby - This one is a bit of a reach. After winning AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2004, Crosby's career has been beset by injuries, appearing in 100 games only once since his rookie season. He was limited to 97 games and 238 at bats, and he hit .223/.295/.357. He saw action at all four infield positions last year as well as one game in right field, but his days as a productive shortstop are over. He would be a candidate for a one-year deal, most likely in a utility role, and may be worth the risk given that he's young (29) and inexpensive. However, if the Twins (or any team for that matter) consider offering him anything more than one year, they should have their heads examined.

Jamey Carroll - The veteran played well for the Cleveland Indians the past two seasons, and is a career .273/.351/.350 hitter. He is, on average, 8.3 runs above replacement level for his career at second base and would seemingly be an inexpensive option to play second base. However, he will be 36 before the start of next season and one can assume his numbers are on the decline. Seemingly, the Twins have a number of younger and less-expensive options in-house (Matt Tolbert, Casilla) who can play solid second base but provide absolutely no offensive production.

Ronnie Belliard - The veteran second baseman was sent from the Washington Nationals to the Los Angeles Dodgers and hit like a man possessed in LA, batting .351/.398/.636 with 7 doubles, 5 HR, and 17 RBI in just 24 games. Overall in 2009, Belliard hit .277/.325/.451 with 10 HR and 39 RBI in 110 games. He played 2.0 runs above replacement level at second base last season between his two teams. However, Belliard saw action at first, second, and third last season and is likely best-suited as a utility player at age 35. The Twins would be wise to take a pass.

So, to sum up, if I had to rank the eight options listed above along with the status quo (i.e. having Casilla play second and Punto play third), including cost of acquisition and intangibles, they would rank:
  1. Lopez - Along with Hudson, probably the best fit; younger than Hudson, and Type-B status a plus
  2. Hudson - Good fit; Type-A is an obstacle
  3. Polanco - Best one-year option; goodwill toward Mauer extension; Type-A status; offer two years, max
  4. Uggla - Most production value, but the cost of acquisition is too high, and he'll be expensive
  5. Weeks - Tons of talent, and cost would be affordable, but the risk is high
  6. Carroll - Stop-gap option to warm the position for another player in 2011; can he play regularly at his age?
  7. Belliard - See Carroll above
  8. Crosby - If all avenues are exhausted, he'd be a better defensive utility option than they have
  9. Status Quo - The Twins absolutely cannot afford another year of having both Punto and Casilla in the lineup