Decisions, Decisions (Hitters)

In returning from my long hiatus from posting, I’d like to assess the situation that General Manager Bill Smith will find himself in once the season ends in about six weeks.

As I’ve noted on Twitter, among other places, there’s virtually no easy decision for Smith in regards to any player on his current roster, including both the 25- and 40-man varieties. Let’s have a look at the situation.

Catchers- Joe Mauer and Drew Butera (also: Rene Rivera)

While the club finally came around to the notion of playing Mauer at first base, it’s still obvious the brass feels his short-term future is as a full-time catcher (since today full-time really only means ~75% regardless of the situation). Regardless, Smith needs to proceed with the offseason with an eye to the backup situation, because it’s clear Butera, and to a lesser extent Rivera, simply are not major league caliber options to back up a catcher who will need his fair share of breaks until he invariably moves off the catcher’s spot. For a long-term option in-house, I thought Chris Herrmann showed some potential, but everyone I’ve talked to (including Seth Stohs) seems to think he’ll be an outfielder going forward. I can’t help but wonder if the club will go after a guy like Ramon Hernandez, whom I’ve bandied about since before the trade deadline as a guy the Twins should try to acquire. Nonetheless, the onus of an adequate backup for Mauer falls on the Twins’ brass for a second straight offseason. Whether Smith and co. do the right thing certainly feels like less than a certainty.

Suggestion: Upgrade to a more well-rounded backup catcher.

Middle Infield- (Alexi Casilla/Tsuyhoshi Nishioka/Matt Tolbert/Trevor Plouffe)

The middle infield is a complete mess for the club. I’ve beaten enough dead horses to provide Elmer’s Glue with a yearly supply, but it can’t be stressed enough how bad of a deal the Twins got for J.J. Hardy. Checking it at .264/.308/.508, Hardy has provided the O’s with plenty of punch (23 home runs and 42 XBH overall), and only cost the club a pair of fungible relievers in Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. As if Hardy’s success wasn’t enough, his successor Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been among the worst players in all of baseball this season, with a .221 wOBA and -1.3 WAR in only 206 plate appearances.

Nevertheless, it’s clear the Twins need to address this spot in the offseason.  A combination of Plouffe/Casilla/Nishioka could probably be workable if the club was stout everywhere else; unfortunately, that isn’t the case and isn’t likely to be in 2012, either. From within, an option that’s becoming increasingly intriguing is Brian Dozier, who has an OPS of 833 since joining the Rock Cats in Double-A, and may be able to play short in a pinch, too. If he can make the next step sometime in 2012, that could certainly go a long way towards helping the club figure out what’s inexplicably become a very weak spot on a team with the payroll to smooth out issues like this.

Suggestion: Bring in a veteran to compete. Not a Juan Castro-type, but one a bit more offensive-minded.

Corner Infield- (Justin Morneau/Danny Valencia/Luke Hughes)

The corner infield is only slightly less messy for the Twins heading into the offseason. With Morneau’s health in question, it’s hard to know for sure if he’ll ever return to form, or even within shouting distance of it. If he can not, some sort of Joe Mauer/Michael Cuddyer timeshare can work if the club addresses the backup catcher position adeptly. If Morneau can return to form, then finally the club will have some depth for the first time in what feels like….ever. Nonetheless, with Delmon Young out of the picture, the logjam at OF-DH should open up to allow Morneau to DH more frequently with Jason Kubel and Ben Revere alternating in LF (provided Kubel re-signs). As for Valencia, there probably isn’t any need to assess replacing him since third base is a completely barren position across both leagues, but it would be nice if the club could use Hughes or Plouffe to light a fire under him. One thing remains for sure: Valencia is immensely talented. Anyone who’s watched him in BP has seen that his power rivals just about anyone. Now, he’s got to prove he can make the adjustments to stick at this level.

Suggestion: This one is a bit more difficult. The best bet is to re-sign Cuddyer as Morneau insurance, and hope that Valencia can rebound at least halfway back to his 2010 marks. If the Twins did want to go outside the organization, and it would depend on if he could hack playing first base once a week or so, Jason Giambi could fill Jim Thome’s role on the club (and then some) if Big Jim isn’t re-signed.

Outfield/DH- (Denard Span/Jason Kubel/Michael Cuddyer/Ben Revere/Jason Repko/Rene Tosoni/Jim Thome)

The lone player on the offensive side that I thought posed an easy decision for the club was Span. With a team-friendly deal, a healthy track record, and a return to his pre-2010 form, it seemed like Span was destined to done Twinstripes for many years to come. Then, the concussion bug returned from its dormancy, and the club inexplicably started shopping him for a young, cheap, and elite late-inning reliever in Drew Storen. Just as the deal was falling apart, I was coming to peace with the idea of landing Storen, Bernadina, and perhaps young Mr. Lombardozzi for Span. If the Twins were truly worried about Span’s future with his concussions (especially after the Morneau situation), maybe that wasn’t such a bad return. Also, Lombardozzi looks like he could bloom into an adequate second baseman at the major league level (#Bert), which is also invaluable for a team that’s had exactly two of those in the last 20 years (no offense to Orlando Hudson).

Nonetheless, the deal fell through and Span’s concussion issues persist. While that situation is a bit more muddled, the situation with Young was cleared up when he was dealt to the Tigers for a pair of farmhand fireballers. More on them another time. The clarity of the situation should allow the club to re-sign Kubel and Cuddyer if it so desires, but also allows the club to explore alternatives if guys like Tosoni or Joe Benson impress in spring training, as well. It would be nice for the club to get its hands on a more adept defender out there, but with Revere cycling in on a regular basis, the range of the unit improves dramatically.

For some odd reason, the club felt the need to DL Jason Repko rather than DFA him. I think that just re-affirms that the club is so afraid of making the wrong move that they’d rather work the system for a fungible talent than risk a waiver claim occurring. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand that.

Suggestion: Probably stand pat with Kubel-Span-Cuddyer, with Revere cycling in and out at all three spots. Revere should in NO CIRCUMSTANCE play RF, however. If Thome wants to re-sign cheaply, go for it. He’s still shown enough in 2011 that he deserves to be brought back. If he flounders, he can be let go easily enough.

Next up on the docket will be the pitchers edition of “Decisions, Decisions.”

About Brandon Warne

Sportswriter trying to make it.
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