• Position Battle: Designated Hitter

    In Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia and Jason Kubel, the Twins have three players who are projected to be on the 25-man roster and are all probably best suited for designated hitter duty.

    Each is likely to see some time in that role, but determining which player should be the true "designated DH" is essentially a matter of judging who provides the least defensive value.

    Of course, the go-to designated hitter also has to hit enough to justify playing a position that puts sole emphasis on offense. That was a problem last year, when Ryan Doumit batted .220/.273/.351 as a DH while leading the club in at-bats there.

    It's no wonder the Twins shook things up during the offseason and shipped Doumit out.

    Kubel, whose signing paved the way for Doumit's exit, will largely serve the same function in the lineup -- a potent bat against righties that can be slotted in the middle of the order if he's going good. But Kubel doesn't strike me as the most logical choice to take over as DH.

    That would be Willingham. He turned 35 a month ago, his last season was ruined by knee problems, and he wasn't particularly good in left field before all that.

    Admittedly, I haven't seen Kubel play a whole lot since he left Minnesota in 2011, but he's three years younger than Willingham and -- despite lacking great mobility -- he struck me as a surprisingly decent outfielder when he was here.

    Arcia was already bulky and cumbersome as a 22-year-old rookie and that's only likely to worsen as he gets older and grows, but hopefully he'll smooth out some of his rough edges with experience.

    Neither Kubel nor Arcia is ideal as a regular outfielder, but I think both make more sense than Willingham, who is likely the worst defensive option of the three even before taking into account the protection of his aging knees.

    On the offensive side, all three are going to strike out a lot. Last year both Kubel and Arcia fanned in more than 30 percent of their plate appearances, placing them among the most K-prone hitters in the majors. Willingham, at 27 percent, was not far behind.

    A high volume of whiffs isn't too unusual for power hitters, but when you strike out in nearly a third of your trips to the plate, production tends to be stifled.

    Then again, while each has his dangers, I see solid offensive upside in all three players being discussed. Willingham has a long track record of success, Arcia possesses the strength to become dominant if his approach improves, and Kubel will be more motivated than ever knowing his career (along with several million bucks) is on the line.

    There's going to be a lot of mixing and matching involved with the designated hitter position this year. Ron Gardenhire will be put to the test strategically by juggling numerous considerations, such as keeping Willingham's legs rested, giving Arcia the occasional mental break, preventing Kubel from matching up against any southpaws, and above all fielding a competent defense.

    In that respect, it's easy to see why the Twins chose to maintain flexibility at DH rather than signing a bopper to plug in there. That doesn't mean they're not expecting plenty of bop from the position.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Battle: Designated Hitter started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 44 Comments
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I've kind of said consistently that I think the Twins need to play Willingham in LF as much as they can in the first half in an attempt to be able to trade him to National League teams. I also believe that Arcia will be just fine in right field. Not great, but Kubel-like. Kubel should be the primary DH.

      However, I wouldn't mind seeing Willingham DH against left-handers and give Kubel a day off then.
    1. KirbyHawk75's Avatar
      KirbyHawk75 -
      Seth I agree with you on playing Willingham in the OF to make him more tradable. Eventually I hope to see Hicks in LF to give us more defense in the OF.
    1. Grady Kruse's Avatar
      Grady Kruse -
      Great point Seth. Willingham should be in left until the trade deadline. I think Kubel should be the full time DH since Arcia is young and needs to learn how to field better.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      I conclude from this article that the Twins will play the least worst in the OF, the 2nd worst at DH, and nail the worst guy's behind to the bench. Wow! When the slant of the article is this skeptical of the abilities of the three, I find it difficult to be optimistic about this team winning anything.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I've kind of said consistently that I think the Twins need to play Willingham in LF as much as they can in the first half in an attempt to be able to trade him to National League teams.
      That's fair, but personally I'd rather just have the best possible defensive alignment (and best chance for Willingham to stay healthy enough to be a trade chip). I don't think other teams are going to get excited about the possibility of him in left from watching him out there.

      Quote Originally Posted by Kwak View Post
      When the slant of the article is this skeptical of the abilities of the three, I find it difficult to be optimistic about this team winning anything.
      I wouldn't say that was the intended slant. I'm skeptical of the defensive abilities of all three, and I mentioned each strikes out a lot, but I'm confident that at least two of them will be productive hitters this year (little iffy on Kubel to be honest).
    1. Reginald Maudling's Shin's Avatar
      Reginald Maudling's Shin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I've kind of said consistently that I think the Twins need to play Willingham in LF as much as they can in the first half in an attempt to be able to trade him to National League teams. I also believe that Arcia will be just fine in right field. Not great, but Kubel-like. Kubel should be the primary DH.

      However, I wouldn't mind seeing Willingham DH against left-handers and give Kubel a day off then.
      I don't know that having Willingham play left for another few months is going to prove anything. Any potential trade parter will have done their homework and scouted him enough to know he's not a good fielder.
    1. highlander's Avatar
      highlander -
      in other words a typical twins solution of plugging a dh by rotating players out of the field. mauer wont need a break as often at first, but if parmalee makes the big club he should be in the rotation as well.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      I think Arcia should be in the field. He recorded five assists in 83 games last season. He's not great, but can be an average corner outfielder until Buxton, Hicks and Rosario make him a DH/4th OF.

      By the way, Kubel recorded 14 assists for Arizona in 2012! He tied Torii Hunter for fourth among MLB OF's.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Willingham needs to play some in the field to show that he can survive out there; if he's an exclusive DH it would reduce his trade value as it'd be a message that the club thinks he just can't hack it out there. But I don't think it'll make much of a difference to his value having him out there every day. I'd rather have Kubel & Arcia in the field, despite their deficiencies.

      I think Kubel is the most likely going to make the team, unless it becomes clear that last season wasn't a blip. I think it's possible for him to cut the KO's back down; he took a pretty big jump in AZ, enough that it signaled a big change in approach. Historically, he's been much more in the 18-20% K range and hopefully he's ease back on swinging for the fences at Target Field.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I agree with Seth. Willingham might be the best DH candidate looking at the roster in a vacuum, but it is never a good thing to look at the roster in a vacuum. The strategy should be to maximize Willingham's trade value at the break. For that, he needs to play everyday in LF. It's not like he's that much worse than Kubel in the field. They are both extremely range limited.

      The other thing to consider is, some guys hit better when they play in the field. Kubel has been a DH for most of his career, so he is used to it. Willingham, not so much. For his career, Willingham has an OPS of .843 in LF, .979 in RF and .706 at DH. Kubel's splits are closer, though they still favor playing in the field--.780 in LF, .804 in RF and .787 at DH.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      I sort of agree that Willingham should play some LF before the trade deadline, but it shouldn't be more than a couple times a week. Enough to show he can do it and that his knee is sound. But he really needs to be a DH, his defense is atrocious. He doesn't even make up for his horrible range by having a decent arm.

      Kubel doesn't have great range, but I always felt he was a fair outfielder, definitely better than Willingham, and he's got a pretty good arm.

      Arcia is young enough that he needs to be playing outfield full-time until he proves to be so bad that you just can't play him there. He may never be good, but he's got a long ways to go before I consider him unable to play there. He easily has the most range of the three, hopefully regular playing time at his favorite position (RF) gets him settled in for passing-grade defense.

      So I guess I say Arcia full-time RF and just a handful of games at DH. Willingham and Kubel get to split LF and DH between them, hopefully slanted towards Willingham getting the most time at DH.
    1. birddog's Avatar
      birddog -
      I agree with Highlander that Parmelee could have a lot to say about our outfield platoon if he would put up in the majors some of the numbers he had in the minors. He's a very good defensive outfielder, who could--even should--put up Kubel-in-his-prime type of numbers. Best bet for the Twins is that Willingham puts up numbers close to 2012 and we get some excellent prospects for him. Needless to say, we have to get much better production from our DH than we got last year.
    1. TheDean's Avatar
      TheDean -
      How does Parmelee factor in to the equation? He made some flashy plays last year, but he seems similarly range-limited as the other three names. I haven't seen too much discussion, but is Parm a lock to make the roster? or would TR consider trying to DFA to Rochester? I see there being some difficulty as all four are big, slow corner outfielders, three of them bat left handed, and all were OPS-challenged last year to put it nicely (I'll give Arcia a pass for being a rookie). Will Parm be relegated to bench bat role, or will it be four guys rotating RF/LF/DH?
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      If you add a Parmelee and Mauer to the mix, you have a nice rotation.

      Willingham, yes, needs to show he can play the field if this Twins wish to use him as tradebait. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

      Arcia could be the second coming of David Ortiz, shuffling into the DH role for most of his career and if he can show the power, having quite a long career. But he can still play the outfield, so why not for a year or two.

      Kubel was in the National league where there was no DH, so he had to play the field and did better than okay, although his production slumped bigtime last year. He's a stopgap at the most, or another trade candidate if the Twins see the emergence of Hicks and Buxton this year. Kubel, like Willingham, will be on a mission to produce so they can get a bigger contract in 2015.

      Parmelee is bench bait, yet do the Twins need a fifth outfielder (assuming they add a backup in center, and Kubel can play the outfield, so Parmlee becomes #6). They need a backup for some games at first. I wish he was more versatilem and this is the year he actually needs big league at bats, but I don't see him getting them. At some point Plouffe will become the super backup for a season or two. Maybe Parmelee will show enough to also be tradebait. Right now I don't want to be a first anseman in the Twins system...Mauer is pretty much blocking you out unless you can play another position and give us something at DH.

      The joy is that the Twins do have the potential to trade Willingham and Kubel and even Parmelee, even if they are in the hunt. You would assume Hicks can drop in somewhere, and maybe another body will come out of nowhere or advance faster than the norm. Like the rotation, the Twins are possibly rich in talent to trade if they can figure out a way to showcase them, sending people elsewhere and bringing up plausible prospects to replace them and still not fall in the standings.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I've kind of said consistently that I think the Twins need to play Willingham in LF as much as they can in the first half in an attempt to be able to trade him to National League teams.
      The problem with this logic is that it's based on long term strategy. It's the difference between strategy and tactics. Winning the war requires strategy, but winning a battle requires the proper tactics. Strategy is big picture, like wanting to be competitive in 2015. This is Terry Ryan's job.

      Ron Gardenhire's job is to fill out a lineup every day, based upon tactics: pitching matchups, who's healthy, who needs a day off, who's hot, etc... I hope the Twins make day-to-day tactical decisions in order to win ballgames, rather than whether or not Willingham can be dealt by the trading deadline.

      Will Willingham's relative trade value make that much difference in the big strategic picture? I think not. I'd rather see the Terry Ryan's of the world support their manager's capacity to read his guys on the field, in the dugout, in the training room, and in the clubhouse. Then, let the manager put together the best tactical lineup, day in and day out.

      Bottom line: I don't think Willingham's trade value will determine who Gardy plays in the field, who rides the bench, and who gets penciled in at DH. At least I hope not. That decision should be based upon tactical advantage.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Don't Feed the Greed Guy View Post
      Will Willingham's relative trade value make that much difference in the big strategic picture? I think not. I'd rather see the Terry Ryan's of the world support their manager's capacity to read his guys on the field, in the dugout, in the training room, and in the clubhouse. Then, let the manager put together the best tactical lineup, day in and day out.
      Well said. The season still hasn't started yet and already there's all this talk about putting an admittedly inferior defensive alignment on the field for the sake of potentially increasing a player's trade value. Isn't that sort of putting the cart before the horse? Willingham needs to stay healthy and hit before anyone's going to want to trade for him.

      If he does those things, he'll have a market, but regardless of whether or not he's playing the field regularly I don't think it's going to be a huge market considering he's a 35-YO in the last year of his contract.

      Let Gardy put the best possible team on the field and worry about the details later.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      So, just give up on not being in big holes at the beginning of games, by playing a terrible defender in LF with a fly ball staff, just to increase his trade value? I know the future is all this team cares about, but how about just caring about the present a little bit this year? And, Hicks is not going to be the CF for long, play him in left now, and Wililngham at DH.Teams know what Willingham is, and is not.

      I agree with don't feed the greed guy, strategically, there is more value in playing Hicks in LF and Willingham at DH, now and in the future.

      Put the best team on the field, and quit worrying only about the future.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      So, just give up on not being in big holes at the beginning of games, by playing a terrible defender in LF with a fly ball staff, just to increase his trade value? I know the future is all this team cares about, but how about just caring about the present a little bit this year? And, Hicks is not going to be the CF for long, play him in left now, and Wililngham at DH.Teams know what Willingham is, and is not.

      I agree with don't feed the greed guy, strategically, there is more value in playing Hicks in LF and Willingham at DH, now and in the future.

      Put the best team on the field, and quit worrying only about the future.
      I agree that you should make trading secondary to putting the best team together. Using Hicks in Left makes sense when Buxton is ready. Until then, the best line-up this team can muster might have Hicks in center and Willingham in left. If Kubel's defense is that much better, swap them out. I'm not convinced that it is.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      To my way of thinking we have 5 guys for 3 spots (once Sano takes over 3B). Willingham, Plouffe, Parmalee, Arcia and Kubel (assuming he makes team). I agree with Mike--don't play your worst defender in the OF costing you a potential of a couple of runs a game. Keep Willingham as primary DH if he hits like 2012. If he doesn't hit, he gets splinters. Put Arcia in OF daily (except for DH for mental health breaks). Rotate Kubel and Parms in RF (with Plouffe once Sano is here to stay). Eventually (July??) Hicks will be up but if he is--he goes to CF and Presley to the bench.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by highlander View Post
      in other words a typical twins solution of plugging a dh by rotating players out of the field. mauer wont need a break as often at first, but if parmalee makes the big club he should be in the rotation as well.
      With the number crunch, we wont have both Kubel and Parm make the team.
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