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Rejiggering the 2014 Twins: the Lineup

Posted by PSzalapski , 03 September 2013 · 468 views

In my last "Rejiggering" post, the Twins' starting rotation got an overhaul by adding a borderline ace and a mid-rotation reliever. This is the minimum the Twins must do to have even a shot at being competitive in 2014. If they don't improve their pitching, nothing else matters. Since that post, the Twins' pitching has gotten worse--Kyle Gibson has been sent down, and Scott Diamond and Vance Worley remain with him in AAA. This underscores the futility of regarding the current staff as viable in the major leagues. Sam Deduno has kept his ERA, walks, and home runs low, thus earning a spot in the rotation for next year in my book. I'd swap him out with Gibson, who has been atrocious since being promoted; he'll have to re-earn a chance in the majors.

I'll turn to the hitters next, as it was the lineup that prompted me to fear next year and seek to do something about it. Here's the status quo ante hotstove:

2014 Minnesota Twins - Apathy edition
Pos Player    Salary  Service/Contract
=== ========= ======  =======
  C Mauer     $23.0M   2018
 1B Colabello    .5M   Rookie     
 2B Dozier       .5M   1 yr
 SS Florimon     .5M   1 yr
 3B Plouffe     1.5M   3 yr
 LF Willingham  7.0M   2014
 CF Presley      .5M   1 yr
 RF Arcia        .5M   1 yr
 DH Doumit      3.5M   2014

If this is how the Twins open 2014, I will have to buy some cheap Target Field tickets from StubHub, because they will have buried their chances of generating any excitement.

First of all, the obvious: Joe Mauer stays, as he has earned his $23M contract by being one of the most valuable players in Baseball. I just hope his concussion is "no big deal", which is probably never true for brain impact injuries. Still, players come back from concussions more often than not.

Oswaldo Arcia
has been a bright spot, achieving much in his rookie season. He needs to be a big part of the Twins' future. I've heard Aaron Gleeman talk about him as having All-Star upside, so the Twins should nurture his success and commit to him for years to come. He might even be a good target for a discounted long-term contract--Terry Ryan, look into it!

Also, Brian Dozier has become a bona fide good player, posting a .500 slugging percentage since June 1. He still doesn't walk much, but he doesn't strike out too much either, so Twins fans should be thrilled with his progress and glad that one fewer hole will be present in the Twins' infield--at least tentatively.

Josh Willingham is signed and not very tradeable, given his performance, age, contract, and injuries this year. The good news is that he is the same person as Josh Willingham from 2012, and he could very well have a big comeback year. The Twins should get ready with his replacement, but a winning Twins team in 2012 will need to include productivity out of left field--and they are unlikely to find a better resource to provide it than Willingham.

Ryan Doumit has had a disappointing 2013, but he is signed and is versatile enough as our backup catcher. The Twins' 2014 manager, whoever it might be, should be apt to sub in various players at DH liberally, but I'd expect Doumit to get most of the starts there still next year. Here's hoping his bat returns to career-average levels at age 33. The Twins might consider trading him if a good offer comes along, as other teams might overlook one down year and be willing to get a good-hitting catcher for $3.3M on a one-year commitment. The Twins shouldn't be eager to ditch him.

I would keep Chris Colabello on the team and give him a chance to prove himself for several months. His minor league track record (AAA MVP this year) has earned him that right. If you believe at all in player projections, hitters usually pan out even after a rocky start. Giving up on him now would be a mistake. The downside is he plays the second-least valuable position in the lineup. If the Twins can find a solid-hitting free agent first baseman for a reasonable price (Justin Morneau, say, or even someone better) they should sign such a player and let Colabello play as much as possible as a fill-in. Otherwise, just give Colabello the job.

The rest of the 2013 Twins should not be regarded as preferable options. (I hope you read that last sentence as a huge understatement.)

Aaron Hicks is in the same boat as Gibson, in my book--he'll have to play at AAA to earn his way back on the team. His unacceptable 2013 performance pushes back his development for sure. Alex Presley can be valuable--but off the bench, please.

A few bloggers have tried to make a case for Pedro Florimon, citing his defense. Sorry guys, but he's definitely a player to replace if possible. That .600 OPS can't be wrong. He isn't drawing walks, isn't hitting, and isn't Ozzie Smith in the field. (By the way, Ozzie hit better, too.)

Finally, Trevor Plouffe has caused us pain and heartache enough. I don't think we can expect much more out of Plouffe than we got this year. His OPS is under .700 for the year, under .600 for the last few months, and his fielding at third base is still questionable.

That leaves us with center field, shortstop, and third base to fill--unfortunately, the three hardest positions to fill in baseball. Good hitters at those positions are at a premium. Luckily, the Twins have a lot of money to spend, so I'm going to try to spend it!

The obvious first option for third base is Miguel Sano. A month ago, I was ready to give him the job starting March 1, but now I think they need to hold off. He still strikes out a ton and is a poor fielder. They need to play him in Rochester and make him prove that he is ready to draw walks in the American League like he's done in the Eastern League, and then I'll be satisfied--but that's only if the Twins' scouts can deem his fielding good enough for the majors. Call him up as soon as he is confident in AAA, but not before.

(By the way, I just watched Pelotero, the documentary about Sano when he was 16. His nickname was Bocatón--"Big Mouth" in Spanish. Twins fans should immediately start calling him Bocatón in honor of the best hope of the franchise.)

Likewise, the obvious wannabe option for center field is Byron Buxton. If it would be unwise to call up Sano for opening day, it would be utterly foolish to do so for Buxton, who has yet to play above single A. I don't see Buxton on the Twins until mid-2015.

The Twins should start their big-time free agent spending on Curtis Granderson. Hoping he'd welcome a return to the AL Central, Granderson could probably be had for less than his $15 Million 2013 salary on a multi-year deal. The Twins could sign him for what they were paying Morneau--say three years, $39 Million. A reasonably big commitment could give them a productive player in a challenging position at a somewhat affordable rate. Then, in 2015 when Buxton is ready, the 33-year-old Granderson could shift to left to replace Willingham. A very nice fit. Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury are also out there, but likely too expensive to be worth it.

Next they should scoop up Jhonny Peralta, hopefully for the "bargain-basement price" of around $10 million for two years. His offense, while not spectacular, would be a huge upgrade over Florimon. The Twins shouldn't be afraid of a multi-year contract at shortstop, as they have no prospects at that position on tap. If you must balk at signing known PED users, Stephen Drew is also on the market.

They should also look for a stopgap at third base. Here's the chance for one of Terry Ryan's 1990s-era old guy signings. Eric Chávez will be 36, and I'd play him in a platoon with Plouffe at third base until Sano is ready. He can probably be had for one year at $4 million.

2014 Minnesota Twins lineup - ambitious thinking edition
Pos Player       Salary  Service/Contract
=== ============ ======  =======
  C Mauer        $23.0M  2018
 1B Colabello       .5M  Rookie     
 2B Dozier          .5M  1 yr
 SS Peralta        5.0M  2015
 3B Chávez/Plouffe 5.5M  2014/3 yr
 LF Willingham     7.0M  2014
 CF Granderson    13.0M  2017
 RF Arcia           .5M  1 yr
 DH Doumit         3.5M  2014

Payroll increased by $22M to $102M

Now suffice it to say that three free-agent hitter signings, with two of them big names, is very ambitious. It may well take more years and dollars than I've allowed to get such players. Even if the Twins do end up with three free-agent hitters, they are very unlikely to be these guys--there's just too many possibilities. It is more likely that the Twins, if they want to be competitive in 2014, will find a way to make a trade to get a player already under team control. The Twins won't give up Arcia, Sano, or Buxton, but there's other talent in the system and in the major league bullpen that may be expendable. Speculating about trades is much harder than free agents, so I'll leave it at that.