Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Twins Looking to Match First-Half Success

The Minnesota Twins entered the season with low expectations, but will exit the All-Star break just a game and a half out of first place in the American League Central. With a legitimate shot at the post-season the Twins must be considered buyers as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches. As such, I've taken a look at some of the Twins best options to improve on offense and on the mound, both internally and externally...

OFFENSE

The Twins biggest need right now is someone who can provide legitimate power for a lineup that ranks at the bottom of the American League in total home runs. The team is near the top in most other offensive categories, but is in dire need of a home run hitter given the power outages of Justin Morneau, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer.

External Options

Adrian Beltre – 3B – Seattle Mariners

-The Mariners are looking to distance themselves from the Bill Bavasi Era and should be looking to restock their recently depleted farm system in any trade. The Twins could provide the Mariners need while bringing in a Gold Glove third baseman with the potential to hit 20-25 HRs and provide the right-handed power-bat the Twins expected Michael Cuddyer and/or Delmon Young to be between the left-handed duo of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The upside is that the Twins would control Beltre through 2009 at a reasonably $13.4 million which is roughly what Torii Hunter was making prior to his exodus.

Dallas McPherson – 3B/1B – Florida Marlins

-The Florida Marlins are in a playoff race of their own in the NL East and are currently looking for a veteran catcher to handle their staff and provide some offense now that Matt Treanor has hit the DL. As much as it would hurt to lose Mike Redmond, the potential return of McPherson—who is hitting .296/.403/.674 with 32 HRs and 71 RBI in 300 at-bats at AAA—would probably help the healing process.

Hank Blalock – 3B/1B – Texas Rangers

-Blalock has been injured for much of the previous two seasons, but—when healthy—he has shown glimpses of returning to the player he was from 2003 to 2005 when he made two All-Star teams and hit 86 home runs to go with 192 runs batted in. His lefty bat doesn’t fit the exact need the Twins’ current need, but if he is healthy down the stretch, his bat can help carry an offense.

Richie Sexson – 1B/DH – Free Agent

-Another product of the Bavasi Era who can be had for a prorated portion of the league minimum. In theory, Sexson will probably be gobbled up by the Mets, Yankees, Dodgers or Angels as soon as he clears waivers and won’t even be an issue for the Twins. However, Sexson amounts to the ultimate gamble. After-all it was just two years ago that he crushed 34 homers and 107 runs batted in. It is possible that a change of scenery could rejuvenate the beleaguered slugger. His career .261 average is right on par with Jason Kubel the left-handed portion of the Twins’ DH-platoon, but is roughly 50 points higher than Craig Monroe and his right-handed portion of the platoon. In fact, Sexson is hitting .344 against lefties this season…call me crazy but for a prorated portion of the league minimum that’s not a bad investment.

Barry Bonds – DH – Free Agent

-I know, I know…this is the part where the booing and hissing begins, but let’s be honest there isn’t a better hitter on the market. Bonds led all of baseball in OBP last season and jacked 28 homers in just 340 at-bats. He hits righties, he hits lefties, he just flat-out hits. Throw in the fact that he is willing to play for the league minimum and is focused on winning a championship and this seems like the move to make. Throw in the fact that he is only 65 hits away from 3,000 and there is the chance for him to make history in a Twins uniform while helping the team make and excel in the playoffs.

Internal Options

Michael Cuddyer

-If Cuddyer can get healthy and return to the lineup he could be a large catalyst for the Twins offense down the stretch. Cuddyer is a streaky player, offensively, but provides great defense in right field and is a leader in the clubhouse. A healthy return from Cuddy could propel the Twins offense and allow more options at DH and in the OF with Denard Span proving he belongs on the major league roster.

Delmon Young

-It’s not that Young isn’t producing; in fact, he’s had a fine first season in Minnesota thus far. What’s lacking, however, has been his power stroke. Young has legitimate 25-30 home run power and although he is still growing into that power should probably have more than three. Young is set to have a huge second-half and could provide the big bat the Twins are in need of without costing the Twins a thing.

PITCHING

The Twins aren’t generally one to dabble in the pitching market because of the team’s depth at the position. As such, the Twins are far more likely to make an internal move to bolster both the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Internal Options

Francisco Liriano

-“The Franchise” has been absolutely dominate as of late in Triple-A. Liriano is 7-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his last eight starts and has thrown 21.1 consecutive scoreless innings. Apparently he has returned to his old three-quarters arm angle and has regained his power and control. Needless to say, if the Twins can gain the Liriano of 2006 for the stretch run, the balance of power in the AL Central has shifted.

Bobby Korecky

-Korecky, a minor league veteran of seven years, could serve in a role that the Twins desperately need to fill, the role of eighth inning set-up man. Since Pat Neshek hit the DL, the Twins have struggled to find a dominant set-up man for Joe Nathan and Ron Gardenhire’s policy of using Nathan only in the ninth inning has cost the Twins a handful of games already. Since being promoted to Rochester last season, Korecky has tallied 47 saves, 114 K and 3.57 ERA.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

That's Why They Play the Games...

There’s an old adage in sports that championships are won on the field, not on paper and that’s why they play the games.

On paper the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians figured to battle one another all-season long for supremacy of the American League Central. The Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals were both expected to improve over dismal showings in 2007 and battle for the moniker of “third-best team in baseball’s best division.”

And then there was the Minnesota Twins, left for dead by most “experts” following a tumultuous off-season that began with the resignation of longtime General Manager Terry Ryan and saw the team lose the face of the franchise in Gold Glove centerfielder, Torii Hunter when he signed a big-money deal to take his highlight reel defense and streaky offense to Hollywood as the second marquee centerfielder acquired in two years by the Angels.

Reliable innings-eater Carlos Silva, channeling Steve Miller, decided to take the money and run when the Seattle Mariners came calling with an ill-conceived four-year, $48 million offer under the assumption that adding the sinkerballer would put the Ms over the top.

Then there was the Johan Santana debacle. Throughout the entire off-season everyone questioned whether the Twins would trade arguably the best pitcher in the game or try to sign him long-term. The answer was both. The Twins made numerous contract offers only to be rebuffed by Santana who was more than content to play out his final season with the Twins and test the waters of free agency.

In lieu of watching Santana walk away for nothing more than two compensatory draft picks, the Twins fielded offers from various suitors only to learn that no one wanted to pony up the price the Twins were asking. In the end Santana became the highest paid pitcher in baseball as a New York Met and the Twins gained a package of prospects that was largely panned by those same experts who predicted a last place finish for the Twins.

That was all before Opening Day. Since Opening Day, things haven’t worked out exactly how they were predicted on paper and that, my friends, is why they play the games.

As we enter the All-Star break, the Twins are nipping at the pale heels of the White Sox for the division lead. The “mighty” Indians have already packed it in by jettisoning team ace, CC Sabathia, to Milwaukee for a package of prospects and letting beleaguered sluggers Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner marinate on the DL instead of rushing back to the lost cause that is the Indians defense of the AL Central crown.

The Tigers who entered the season with what was deemed “the greatest offensive team of all-time” have largely underachieved and are hovering at .500 with just an outside chance of contending. The Royals, are—well—the Royals. They’ve got talent, but they’re underachieving and will have to fight and claw to stay out of the AL Central cellar for a fifth straight season.

There are still 67 games left to be played in this surprising 2008 season and sure the Twins could fall in the second half and both the Tigers and Indians could reverse their fortunes, but even if that is the case, the first 95 games of this magical season have shown us exactly why they play the games. Here’s to hoping the Twins can keep proving everyone wrong…on the field and, now, on paper (or at least pixels) too.