There have been a lot of changes in the Twins organization since last year. The most prominent is the departure of longtime GM Terry Ryan and the ascendency of Bill Smith to the throne. Smith appears as bland as his name and little is known about what kind of GM he’s going to turn out to be. Over the offseason we got our first peak but it wasn’t an entirely pleasant one.
Smith traded away the Twins best pitcher, Johan Santana, and in return he didn’t get the deal most Twins fans wanted. This is understandable as this was Smith’s first season of trying to make deals with other sharks in the GM circuit and eventually Smith will learn to swin a little better.
The other big trade from Smith was sending Matt Garza, Eduardo Morlan and Jason Bartlett to the Devil Rays for Jason Pridie, Delmon Young and Brendan Harris. Garza projects to be an eventual #1 starter while Bartlett was an average hitting and average fielding shortstop. Morlan is a relief pitcher with fairly good prospects. The Twins in return get a Young, who has All-Star potential, Pridie, a future 4th outfielder and Harris, an above average hitter and below average glove.
The trade is basically a wash but most analysts think the Twins got the better of the deal, if only slightly.
If anything else, when it came to the trades, Smith wasn’t incompetent. He got real value and provided the Twins with enough raw parts to put together a team while increasing the future value of his team.
His offseason signings also show a certain amount of unimaginative competence. Adam Everette was signed to take Bartlett’s spot at short. Everett is one the elite fielding shortstops in the majors but provides little offense. Mike Lamb was signed to play third base, filling a giant void left vacant by Terry Ryan. Lamb is 32 years old with a career .281/.339/.427 hitting line in 2421 career major league at bats.
Lamb had a great spring offensively but didn’t look impressive with the glove or the arm. But, after Nick Punto’s season last year (highlight: VORP approached -30 before the end of the season) Lamb will be a religious experience.
And yes, Nick Punto is still on the team getting paid a couple of a million dollars despite having one of the worst offensive seasons at third base in a generation. On fact, Ron Gardenhire considered Punto to be frontrunner for the 2nd base job during the offseason. Fortunately, Brendan Harris is going to start the year at second base after Nick Punto posted a .359 OPS this spring.
It’s too bad guys like Nick Punto keep their roster spots based soley on the amount of money they’re paid. Baseball should be a meritocracy and more deserving players like Brian Buscher and Randy Ruiz will miss out on The Show due to unwarranted loyalty of GMs to guys like Nick Punto.
On the bench Punto is joined by Matt Tolbert. Tolbert is a utility guy who had a good year at AAA last year and projects to be a replacement level player this year. Last year Tolbert probably should have made the club in a late September call-up but again, Nick Punto has some fans where it counts.
At first base the Twins have Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP. Unfortunately, Morneau is basically in the lowest quartile offensively among major league first basemen. He’s entering his expected peak years so there’s reason to be hopeful.
Morneau is important to the Twins run making machine, regardless of where he ranks among his peers. He will rank near the top in run production on this team as he did for the Twins last year.
At catcher Twins fans will once again see the best catching duo in baseball, Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond. Red is getting on in years but still is the best back up catcher in the league while Joe Mauer should be the All Star he always is when he’s healthy.
The Twins outfield became a bit of a mess during the offseason when longtime Twin Torii Hunter left in free agency to go to the Angels. Bill Smith failed to find a proper replacement for Hunter so this spring saw three players fight for the open center field spot.
Jason Pridie, Carlos Gomez and Denard Span were all in the running for the spot but Carlos Gomez captured the prize. Gomez was the centerpiece for the Santana trade but he appears completely unprepared to play at the major league level. The Mets rushed him through the minors making his track record more difficult to read. Pridie looked more mature in the field and he was my pick to make the team but Smith and Gardenhire saw things differently. Long time Twins “prospect” Denard Span spoke a big game and had the best spring between the three but his long term record in the minor leagues is unimpressive.
Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young will flank Gomez in the outfield. Cuddyer is a slightly below median offensive right fielder with the best arm at that position (which makes up for his poor range). Delmon Young’s performance will be of great interest to Twins fans. He swings big and strikes out a lot but he has plenty of time to grow as a player.
Jason Kubel will be the Twins likely DH and he should also see some time in the outfield. Everyone is waiting around for Kubel’s breakout season, he was a .320/.385/.499 hitter in the minors but has failed to come close to those numbers in 698 major league at bats. I think this will be his big year, but I said that last year too.
Finally, Craig Monroe will be the overpaid veteran pine rider. It’s possible Monroe will improve on his .219 batting average from last year but I have doubts. Veterans fall fast and hard and Monroe has been falling steadily since 2005. Overrated veterans absorb a lot of monetary resources and take spots from deserving younger players. Jon Knott would have been my choice for a bench outfielder spot but the Twins spent millions of dollars signing Monroe.
Money equal good I suppose.
That’s it for the position players, I’ll take a look at the Twins pitchers in Volume II
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