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 

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