Sunday, March 21, 2010

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins Agree on Massive Eight-Year Contract Extension

Minnesota Twins fans can now breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The biggest drama of the offseason—Joe Mauer’s contract status (or lack thereof)—has finally come to an end.

The Minnesota Twins have officially inked Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million deal that will keep the reigning American League Most Valuable Player in the Twin Cities through the 2018 season.

The deal reportedly includes a full no-trade clause and will pay the All-Star backstop $23 million per season from 2011-2018.

This is undoubtedly the largest contract in franchise history, but also one of the most important.

Mauer, 26, was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

In high school, he was a multi-sport star at Saint Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall. During his senior year Mauer became the first—and only—athlete to be selected as the USA Today High School Player of the Year in two sports (football and baseball).

Mauer’s multi-sport prowess led him to make an important decision in 2001 when he turned down a football scholarship to Florida State University to enter the Major League Baseball amateur draft.

The Twins selected the hometown boy with the first-overall pick in the 2001 draft and the club was widely-criticized for taking the “easy pick” over the supposedly more talented Mark Prior, who had pitched at the University of Southern California.

Less than a decade later, Prior is a footnote in baseball history and serves as one of the ultimate “what might have been” cases of the generation.

Mauer, on the other hand, has blossomed into one of baseball’s brightest stars. In the process, he has more than shown he was the right choice and not the easy choice in the 2001 draft.

The hefty payday comes as no surprise on the heels of Mauer’s MVP campaign in 2009 in which he set career-highs with 28 home runs, 96 RBI, 191 hits, and 307 total bases despite missing the entire month of April with a back injury.

He made an immediate impact upon returning to the lineup by crushing a home run in his very first at-bat and never looked back.

Additionally, he led the AL in the new age Triple Crown categories of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage by posting a very impressive .365/.444/.587 cumulative batting line.

After his extraordinary return to the lineup, Mauer played in 138 of the team's remaining 141 games.

Despite missing a month, and starting 28 games at designated hitter, Mauer managed to catch 939 innings, ranking fifth in the American League.

The MVP is just one of many awards that currently adorn Mauer’s mantle as he also won his third Silver Slugger, his third batting title, his second Gold Glove, and was voted the winner of the 2009 Players Choice Award for AL Outstanding Player, an award voted on by his peers.

Additionally, Mauer made his third All-Star team and lead the Minnesota Twins back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

The Twins were 11-11 while Mauer was out in April, but went 76-65 after he rejoined the club. In September, Mauer played a big role as the Twins overcome a seven-game deficit to win the AL Central.

His importance to the ballclub is undeniable, but it could be argued that it was even more important for the state of Minnesota that Mauer sign an extension rather than land in Boston or New York before Opening Day 2011.

There was speculation more than a month ago that a deal was imminent—if not completed—but that turned out to be false. Lingering negotiations led fans and media members to wonder if the deal had hit a snag or, perhaps, if Mauer had become trade bait.

Luckily, we now know those fears were unfounded. Although given the club’s history, one can’t fault anyone for being concerned.

The Twins have long-been a small-budget operation. In recent years many fan favorites such as Torii Hunter and Johan Santana exited via free agency or trade as a result of the team’s unwillingness to match the big money offers those players could garner on the open market.

This offseason, however, there were signs of change with the opening of Target Field and an anticipated increase in revenue the club has already increased payroll by roughly $30 million from Opening Day last season.

Signing Mauer to a deal of this magnitude shows that the Twins are not only committed to winning, but to pleasing the fans as well. Losing Mauer would have been devastating to the Twins fan-base and—subsequently—the franchise’s bottom line.

That situation has been avoided on what must be considered a major gamble for the organization.

Mauer is, after all, a catcher.

He plays the most demanding position in the game and has a track record of injuries to his knees and back. At 6’5” and 225 pounds, he is very large for the position and could conceivably have a limited shelf life behind the plate.

Additionally, the Twins are banking on last year’s sudden power surge becoming a trend rather than an aberration.

In the end, I think all parties involved come out okay in the deal.

The Twins have avoided any chance of a being run out of town by an angry, pitch-fork wielding mob of dejected Minnesotans and ensured themselves a pretty solid number three hitter for the better part of the next decade.

Mauer has long-term security and more money than Minnesota has lakes.

This would be a good time to make a comment about how Twins fans are the real winners in this deal, but let’s be honest, Joe Mauer just signed a deal for $184 million.

The fans come in second on this one, but I think we’re all a-okay with that.

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Joe Nathan Injury: Minnesota’s All-Star Closer Opts for Tommy John Surgery

It’s official, the Minnesota Twins will be without All-Star closer Joe Nathan for the 2010 campaign.

Nathan elected to undergo Tommy John ligament replacement surgery today after feeling continued pain and discomfort following a bullpen session with pitching coach Rick Anderson.

"Didn’t go like we hoped," Nathan said. "We knew it was a long shot, but what this did do is clear my head.”

Nathan was originally diagnosed with a “significant tear” of his ulnar collateral ligament two weeks ago after he abruptly left an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox after just 20 pitches.

At the time he decided to rest the injury and then test it one more time before deciding whether or not to undergo the procedure.

It is believed that Nathan will undergo the surgery as soon as possible in an attempt to rejoin the club by Opening Day next season.

"Any time you’re going to be out for the season—but especially the timing of this, with this ballclub, this new stadium, the excitement—it’s definitely tough," Nathan said. "But right now I’ve got to take care of myself and get myself ready for next year."

Nathan, 35, is coming off a year in which he set the franchise record for saves with 47 and posted a 2.10 ERA, a .932 WHIP and earned a trip to his fourth All-Star Game.

Needless to say, the club will have a hard time finding anyone to legitimately fill Nathan’s shoes.

The club has, however, been exploring potential replacement options for Nathan since the initial word broke two weeks ago.

In that time the Twins have been linked to the like of Heath Bell and Kerry Wood as potential trade candidates.

The more likely option, however, is that Nathan’s replacement will come from within the organization.

Right-handers Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier are largely believed to be the front-runners with lefty Jose Mijares a distant third.

Rauch has some experience—albeit limited—in the role from his time in Washington and figures to get the first crack at the job.

Mijares has long been touted as having “closer stuff” on the mound, but many—seemingly including manager Ron Gardenhire—question whether he has the mental makeup to handle the role.

Guerrier has good stuff and a cool head to pitch late in important, high-pressure situations. He is also, however, very valuable as a setup man and Gardenhire loves to use him in multiple-inning situations.

It’s entirely possible that Guerrier’s success in his current role will prevent him from taking over as the club’s closer.

A popular dark horse candidate is current Twins farmhand Anthony Slama.

Slama has looked good in Spring Training, posting eight strikeouts, one walk, one win and a 0.00 ERA in four innings pitched.

He has a proven track record a closer in the minor leagues and appears to have all the intangibles it takes to be a big league closer.

With Opening Day just two weeks away, the race for the closer role is now officially up for grabs and—for all intents and purposes—wide open.

If nothing else, today’s unfortunate news should make for a compelling final two weeks of Spring Training.
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Monday, March 15, 2010

Minnesota Twins: Six Things Fans Will Miss About the Metrodome

After 28 long seasons spent cooped up inside a big Teflon bubble the Minnesota Twins will be moving to an exquisite new ballpark for the 2010 season.

Target Field figures to provide the Twins with not only a much better playing environment, but also much larger revenue streams.

The club has already made the most of the revenue increase by bumping the payroll nearly $40 million over last year’s Opening Day payroll. The on-field results, however, are a wait in progress.

The move will obviously have a large impact on the ballclub, but also on the fans that have trekked to the Metrodome for the better part of three decades.

With that in mind, here are six things that fans won’t miss about the Metrodome.

Also available in slide-show format at

Minnesota Twins: Six Things Fans Won't Miss About the Metrodome

After 28 long seasons spent cooped up inside a big Teflon bubble the Minnesota Twins will be moving to an exquisite new ballpark for the 2010 season.

Target Field figures to provide the Twins with not only a much better playing environment, but also much larger revenue streams.

The club has already made the most of the revenue increase by bumping the payroll nearly $40 million over last year’s Opening Day payroll. The on-field results, however, are a wait in progress.

The move will obviously have a large impact on the ballclub, but also on the fans that have trekked to the Metrodome for the better part of three decades.

With that in mind, here are six things that fans won’t miss about the Metrodome.

Also available in slide-show format at

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Denard Span, Minnesota Twins Agree to Five-Year, $16.5 Million Deal

 The Minnesota Twins locked up a talented 26-year-old today, but not the one that fans have been expecting.

While the club still hasn’t finalized a deal with Joe Mauer, they have ensured consistency in the outfield for the foreseeable future.

Joe Christensen of The Star Tribune tweeted today that the Twins and center fielder Denard Span have agreed to a five-year, $16.5 million contract.

The contract buys out the rest of Span’s team controlled seasons, but no free agent years. There is, however, a $9 million club option for a sixth year.

According to Kelsie Smith of The Pioneer Press, Span will earn $750,000 in 2010, $1 million in 2011, $3 million in 2012, $4.75 million in 2013, and $6.5 million in 2014. The club can also reportedly buy out Span’s $9 million option for 2015 for $500,000.

Span has been a revelation in the Minnesota lineup since joining the club as a replacement for an injured Michael Cuddyer in 2008.

In 2009, Span hit .311/.392/.415 with eight home runs, ten triples, 68 RBI, and 23 stolen bases as Minnesota’s primary leadoff hitter.

When he was selected in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft it was obvious the club envisioned him as the eventually successor to Torii Hunter in center field.

Unfortunately, Span’s success in the minor leagues wasn’t immediate. He posted solid—but not spectacular—numbers for five years between rookie ball and Triple A.

In fact, from 2003 to 2007, Span had posted a batting line of .281/.352/.341 while totally just seven home runs and never stealing more than 25 bases in a single season.

After the 2007 season, however, Span underwent LASIK eye surgery and immediately noticed a difference. Most notably that he felt he was able to tell which pitches not to chase.

In addition to increased vision heading into the 2008 campaign, Span also had increased motivation.

Torii Hunter, the man he’d be drafted to replace, had departed via free agency and the job—in theory—should have been Span's lose.

The front office, however, felt otherwise.

The dynamic—if not erratic—Carlos Gomez had been acquired as the key component of the Johan Santana trade with the New York Mets. Gomez was a superior defender to Span and much faster.

He did, however, have one small weakness; a complete and utter inability to get on-base.

His ability to reach base notwithstanding, the Twins—who otherwise had nothing at the big league level to show for the Santana trade—tossed Gomez into the mix for the starting center field job, despite his obvious need for more time in the minors.

Span showed up to Spring Training claiming he was ready to “battle” and had no intentions of being a forgotten outfielder. He lived up to his hype that spring and completely outplayed Gomez.

That fact made it all that much harder on Span when the club chose Gomez to be the club’s starting center fielder and sent Span back to Triple A.

Span responded by tearing the cover off the ball in Triple A. He posted an eye-popping .340/.434/.481 batting line with fifteen stolen bases in just 40 games.

Denard Span was proving the Twins had made the wrong choice.

When Cuddyer went down with an injury and Span was called up he continued doing his best to prove the doubters wrong.

He went on to hit .294/.387/.432 with six home runs, seven triples, 47 RBI, and eighteen stolen bases in 93 games whilst playing all over the outfield.

Span finished sixth in the rookie of the year voting and by season’s end had established himself as a cornerstone of the Twins outfield and one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in the big leagues.

The five-year pact proves that the club is now well-aware of what they have in Denard Span. The offseason trade of Gomez didn’t hurt matters either.

Span’s defensive range and arm may not matchup to Gomez’s and, in all actuality, may be better suited for left field than center fielder, but he figures to hold down the position for the foreseeable future.

In all likelihood, Span will be a left fielder by the end of the deal with Aaron Hicks or Ben Revere taking his role in center field, but for the time being the job is all his.

Just the way it was meant to be.
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eddie Guardado Released by Washington. Is a Minnesota Homecoming Next?

Eddie Guardado, known largely for piling up strikeouts, was given his walking papers today.

The Washington Nationals released the veteran Southpaw after two less-than-stellar exhibition performances. Guardado posted an ERA of 18.00 in just two innings of work this spring.

Guardado, 39, is best-known for his tenure as closer for the Minnesota Twins.

He was christened “Everyday Eddie” by Twins fans and sportswriters for his willingness to take the ball whenever he was asked.

Guardado began his career as an unsuccessful starter way back in 1993 and was eventually transitioned to a full-time relief role after stints as an equally-unsuccessful spot starter.

He was a serviceable middle reliever for most of the ‘90s, but “Everyday Eddie” really hit his stride in the 2000s.

Guardado lopped nearly a full point off of his ERA and became an effective late-inning weapon.

During the 2001 season, Guardado seized the closer role from the struggling LaTroy Hawkins and never looked back.

From 2001 to 2003, “Everyday Eddie” notched 98 saves with a 3.11 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, an 11-9 record, and 197 strikeouts in 199.2 innings pitched.

Guardado left the Twins after the 2003 season to sign a big money contract with the Seattle Mariners.

In Guardado’s absence the Twins decided let a no-name middle-reliever they’d acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the infamous AJ Pierzynski trade have a run at the closer’s role.

That no-name middle-reliever was Joe Nathan, undoubtedly the greatest closer in club history.

Nathan, however, may be finished for the year—and perhaps his career—after the announcement that he has a torn ligament in his arm that may require Tommy John surgery.

As such, one has to wonder whether or not the front office will look to “Everyday Eddie” as a potential solution to the projected vacancy at the backend of the club’s bullpen.

There is certainly an emotional attachment to Guardado among Twins fans and players. After all, he ranks third on the club’s all-time saves list with 116 and is remembered as a big part of the club’s renaissance early in the early 2000s.

The front office is known for making decisions based on emotion rather than practicality (see: Jones, Jacque and LeCroy, Matt) and it isn’t entirely out of the question to worry it could happen again with Guardado.

The big difference here is that Guardado would—in theory—be expected to fill a major role. Jones and LeCroy were both brought back on minor league deals intended to give both a chance to jump-start their fledgling careers.

Guardado’s days as an effective late-inning weapon are clearly behind him.

He hasn’t posted an ERA under 4.15 or served as a full-time closer since 2006 with Seattle. That same season he lost the closer’s role to J.J. Putz and was jettisoned to Cincinnati in a mid-season trade.

He showed signs of returning to form in early 2008 with Texas when we went 3-3 with a 3.65 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, and 23 holds. All the while Guardado held opponents to a stingy .220 batting average.

So impressive were those numbers that the Twins brought the lefty back to Minnesota prior to the August 31st trade deadline to bolster the bullpen down the stretch.

Guardado responded by going 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA, and a 2.00 WHIP over seven innings. The only ones basking in Guardado’s homecoming were opposing hitters who raked to the tune of a .387 batting average off of the lefty.

In a season that required the Twins and Chicago White Sox to play a 163rd game to determine the division winner, one has to think that had Guardado stayed in Texas, the Twins would be bringing an extra pennant to Target Field this season.

Long story short, Guardado is toast.

He posted an abysmal 4.46 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and a .267 BAA last season after returning to Texas. At season’s end, the Rangers—who had obviously been looking to catch lightning in a bottle for a second-time—wisely parted ways with Guardado.

Despite his history with the Twins, the club would be wise to follow the Ranger’s example and let “Everyday Eddie” ply his trade elsewhere.

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Nomar Hangs Up His Overly Adjusted Batting Gloves…As a Member of the Red Sox

Hey y'all, today is a special treat. This entry comes from my good friend and new contributor over at the official, DGobs.

This morning, Nomar Garciaparra signed a one-day minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox so that his dream of retiring in a Sox uniform could be realized. After GM Theo Epstein unveiled the signing at a press conference, Nomar took the mic and announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.

It's the end of an era.

Maybe not for your average baseball fan, but it is for the citizens of Red Sox Nation, and it certainly is for me.
You see, Nomar and I go way back. In fact, it's for this very reason that Jeremiah decided to pass the proverbial pen to me today, and why a random contributor is gracing the front pages of CSC. (Hi!) JG knew that Nomar's retirement would mean something to me, and figured I'd have a few things to say about it. And I do. Please bear with me as I get all misty-eyed and rambly.

Growing up, my favorite player on the Red Sox was John Valentin, mostly because he played shortstop like I did. When I heard that he was being shifted to 3rd to make room for this hotshot new guy with a weird name, I have to admit I was a little miffed. Who did this "Nomar" character think he was?!

As the years went by and my waning interest in baseball began to un-wane, I realized that Nomar was - for lack of a better term - freakin' awesome. He had this electric quality that was hard to describe... just the way he launched curving ropes up the middle, or leapt like a gazelle to throw to first after making what was inevitably an amazing snag at short... he was just really fun to watch. I was jealous of his skill with the glove, in awe of the bombs he could hit for such a skinny guy, amused by his OCD glove-pulling and toe-tapping routine at the plate, and, yes, a victim of a massive crush on him. To a 15-year-old girl obsessed with baseball, he was way beyond dreamy. I had a poster of him in my room that declared him "The Blessing" and "The Anti-Curse" (heh...), and for a few-week stretch during junior year of high school, I would start my day by stroking Poster Nomar's nose five times. (I'm weird. I'm okay with that.)

Nomar's prime was cut short when the Sports Illustrated Jinx struck, and after his wrist injury and ensuing rehab... well, he just wasn't the same. He couldn't hit the ball with the same laser intensity, he couldn't come through in the clutch like he used to, he became injury-plagued. And the predatory Boston media started creeping in. People started saying we should trade him. Amidst the encroaching dark clouds, I kindled my flame of hope and love (how's that for imagery?), declaring to any naysayer I came across that I would gladly whup some GM ass if anyone laid a finger on my Nomar. I naively thought he was untouchable. I mean, at the time, he and Pedro Martinez were the Boston Red Sox. They were fan favorites. They couldn't possibly be traded... right?!

The day I found out Theo traded him to the Cubs... well, I'll let a vintage blog post speak for me on that one.

Basically, I was gutted. A shortstop-sized hole was left in my heart... and funnily enough, the same hole was left in the Red Sox. As Jeremiah wrote so eloquently a few months back, the team hasn't had a reliable starting shortstop since The Dreaded Trade. It's been a veritable revolving door out there at short since August 2004, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't shake my head, tut, and say, "told ya so" every time New Shortstop X doesn't pan out.

It's funny how being so enamored with a player can make you blind to the fact that your team might not be better off with him. Sure, the Sox have been weak in that position since Nomar left. But could Nomar himself have made things better? He really never was the same after getting plonked on the wrist by Al Effing Reyes, and it seemed like almost every other month I was hearing reports that he was injured again, on the DL again. He drifted from Chicago to Los Angeles, and then again to Oakland, and it was getting to the point where it seemed like teams were reluctant to give him - and his age, and his numerous injuries - a chance.

And while he may have faded a bit from some memories, I was still kindling that flame. I'm a proud owner of a Nomar Cubs shirt and a Nomar Dodgers shirt, and I even finagled some crappy tickets to a Sox-A's game last season in hopes that I'd get to see him play again. (He sat out the game I attended... figures.)

And you know, only now am I realizing what that little flame of hope was even for. I wanted to see Nomar back in a Sox jersey again, and I wanted to see him finish his career in Boston. If the Hall of Fame comes a-courtin', I want him to be wearing a blue cap with a red B. And I want to see a 5 hanging up among the other retired numbers over right field at Fenway someday.

Those last two may or may not happen, but at least I can gently snuff out my candle with a smile, knowing that Nomar ended his baseball career at home, with the Red Sox.

And I still think he's freakin' awesome.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Joe Nathan Injury: Minnesota Closer Tears Elbow Ligament, Twins Look to Plan B

Joe Nathan reportedly has a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

At best, it’s partially torn and he’ll be able to avoid surgery and pitch through the pain this season, albeit with a seriously diminished skill-set due to the injury.

At worst, it’s a complete tear and Nathan will have to decide whether or not to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Nathan, 35, is coming off a year in which he set the franchise-record for saves with 47 and posted a 2.10 ERA, a .932 WHIP, and earned a trip to his fourth All-Star Game.

He is also, however, coming off a year that ended with the site of Nathan imploding against the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.

That implosion had fans and sportswriters alike calling for his head and demanding that the best closer in franchise history be jettisoned out of town.

This was a notion I completely disagreed with, especially when we later learned that Nathan had bone chips in his throwing elbow. He underwent a procedure last fall to remove the chips and was on track to be ready for Spring Training.

All seemed well through the winter as Nathan was throwing free and easy and reportedly felt great on the hill.

After his first performance this spring—a performance that lasted just two batters and roughly twenty pitches—Nathan felt pain in his surgically-repaired elbow and was pulled from the game for precautionary reasons.

It was initially believed to be some scar tissue that had broken loose. Nathan flew back to Minneapolis to have an MRI done. The results, however, were far more dire than Nathan or the Twins’ staff had anticipated.

The club has decided to give Nathan’s arm two to three weeks to allow the swelling and pain to die down before figuring out how to proceed.

In this morning’s clubhouse mini-press conference, manager Ron Gardenhire said that the final say regarding surgery would be totally Nathan’s decision.

As is often the case, the club will operate under the guise that Nathan is lost for the season and potentially longer. It is a serious blow to a club that has made such big strides this offseason to improve and build for a potential championship push.

Nathan is slated to make $11.25 million in each of the next two seasons and the club holds a $12.5 million option for the 2012 campaign.

The current list of in-house candidates for the closers role is headed big right-hander Jon Rauch who has some experience in the role from his time in Washington.

Following Rauch on the list are set-up men Pat Neshek and southpaw Jose Mijares.

Neshek is probably a long shot as he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery himself and figures to be eased back into late-inning situations.

Mijares reportedly showed up to camp in good shape this year and has made strides as a member of the club’s late-inning attack in recent years.

The Twins other late-inning specialists include Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, neither of whom figures to legitimately play into the battle for closing duties.

A final dark horse option is Francisco Liriano.

Liriano is coming off a great stint in the Dominican Winter League and currently seems poised to win the fifth starter’s job out of Spring Training.

He does, however, have a number of incentives worked into his contract regarding work done in the bullpen. After last season’s collapse the club envisioned Liriano as a weapon out of the ‘pen and it’s entirely possible that the club could use him as a makeshift closer.

It’s a long shot, but there’s still a shot.

For now the club will monitor the health of Nathan and hope that things progress well in the coming weeks.

All the while, expect an intense battle to heat up for the seemingly-vacant closer role.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Is Mike Lowell an Option for the Minnesota Twins?

The Minnesota Twins had a great offseason.

Mike Lowell did not.

The Minnesota Twins revamped a previously punchless middle infield, added a big bat to an otherwise lackluster bench, retained an innings-eater for the rotation, and brought in a solid groundball specialist for the bullpen.

Mike Lowell watched the Red Sox sign another third baseman, was reportedly traded to the Texas Rangers (with Boston paying the bulk of his salary), was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his thumb, saw the proposed trade called off, and underwent thumb surgery.

It was clearly a tale of two very different winters for the Twins and Lowell, but the two sides could ultimately have a lot in common by the end of Spring Training.

The current favorite to win the third base job in Minnesota is defensive stalwart Nick Punto.

Although Punto is the real deal with the leather, he doesn’t bring much at the plate and would be best-served in a super utility role.

Right behind Punto on the depth chart is Brendan Harris who—despite signing a two-year, $3.2 million extension—offers no real upside on defense or with this bat.

The club has high hopes for prospect Danny Valencia to serve as the eventual successor at the hot corner, but few expect the 25-year-old to win the job out of Spring Training.

Enter Mike Lowell.

Lowell has no place in the Red Sox future plans.

He is currently being touted by the club as a potential backup at both corner infield positions and as a right-handed compliment to David Ortiz at designated hitter.

In reality, the Red Sox are likely doing their best to appear as though they aren’t desperate to trade the 2007 World Series Most Valuable Player.

Lowell will make $12 million this season and has a no-trade clause.

As such, we won’t be easy to trade and the Sox certainly don’t want to pay him $12 million to ride the pine all season.

The Sox were reportedly willing to pay $9 million of Lowell’s salary in the aborted trade with Texas. Obviously the club will have to eat a big portion of Lowell’s salary in any trade, but first things first, Lowell needs to prove he’s healthy.

Lowell took batting practice Monday for the first time since undergoing the aforementioned thumb surgery and reportedly felt great afterward.

His hitting, however, isn’t what has kept teams from beating down the door to acquire the 36-year-old. In fact, Lowell proved last season that he can still be a major offensive contributor.

Lowell posted a solid .290/.337/.474 line with 17 home runs and 73 RBI in 419 at-bats last season, despite lingering pain in his hip from surgery the previous offseason.

If inserted into a lineup that can get runners on in front of him consistently, Lowell could still be a big-time run producer.

He did much of his damage in 2009 with runners in scoring position, posting an outstanding .313/.359/.516 line with seven home runs and 57 RBI coming in those situations.

His offense figures to play well anywhere, but would prove especially valuable if inserted into a Twins lineup that figures to be very lefty-heavy in the power department.

Michael Cuddyer is the only right-handed hitter on the team who showed significant power last season by hitting 32 home runs. Cuddyer, however, is anything but a sure thing in the power department as his previous career highs were 24 in 2006 and 16 in 2007.

Delmon Young and J.J. Hardy both have significant power potential, but both have obstacles that could keep them from producing at the level at which they are capable.

Hardy is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 and figures to be more focused on getting on base rather than swinging for the fences.

Young is simply hoping to hit well enough to stave off the all-too-popular plan of moving designated hitter Jason Kubel to left field and giving Jim Thome the everyday job at DH.

Lowell would provide another reliable right-handed bat with some serious punch and a penchant for getting on base at a good clip.

Mike Lowell can still hit, period.

As I said, hitting isn’t what has kept teams from kicking the tires on the third-sacker.

The real questions surround his defense, or more accurately, his range. Lowell’s glove is still as slick as ever, but he struggled last season ranging after balls hit in the hole and up the line.

As a result, he posted the worst UZR/150 of his career, largely as a result of the aforementioned lingering effects of hip surgery.

Lowell is now more than a full year removed from that surgery and—barring an unforeseen injury—figures to leave Spring Training healthier than he has been in two seasons.

The Twins will see a lot of the Red Sox and, more specifically, Lowell in Florida this spring as both clubs make Fort Myers their home for Spring Training.

The two clubs square off seven times in March, giving Minnesota a front-row seat to see if Lowell has what it takes to play third base on an everyday basis in 2010.

If Lowell is healthy and has regained some of his range, he’d be a huge addition for Minnesota.

For the deal to work the Twins would need to be open to taking on more salary, something that wouldn’t initially seem likely.

The Twins' projected Opening Day payroll has already reached an all-time high of $96 million, an increase from $65 million a year ago.

That figure includes just base salaries for the projected 25-man roster and does not account for any incentives or bonuses.

The Twins probably don’t want to push that figure any higher, but—to add an impact bat like Lowell—it could be worth the investment; especially if that additional investment is largely subsidized by Boston.

Minnesota is currently favored by many to win the American League Central and is considered by many experts to be a dark horse candidate to win the World Series.

Adding a player of Lowell’s caliber could be what it takes to put the Twins over the top.

Lowell has plenty of postseason experience (and success) and is well-renowned as a positive presence in the clubhouse.

Ideally, Lowell would spend most of his time at third base, allowing Punto to shift to the aforementioned super utility role.

Additionally, he could get some starts at DH against tough lefties as he’s a career .288/.355/.494 hitter against southpaws, drastically better than both Thome and Kubel.

With the Twins expected to field arguably the best roster in decades, it only makes sense to go all-in and add what figures to be the missing component for a legitimate World Series run.

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