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Quick Fixing the Minnesota Twins

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The Twins are a very good baseball team.  They play in a division where two of the teams are completely uncompetitive, and the other team is ten games under against it’s own league, and is done with interleague play at the conclusion of this weekend.  The Twins were just swept by a very average Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, and now sit on a half game lead in the AL Central.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that the Twins are underachieving what they could be with their lineup and pitching staff in this division.  The good news is that division titles aren’t won or lost in interleague play, and so if they can tweak some minor things, they should be again considered the favorite in the AL Central.  This article will address a fix of the Minnesota roster towards winning the AL Central this season.

For their last 30 games, the Twins have been a .500 ballclub against one of the weaker schedules in baseball.  While run prevention has regressed in the month of June for the Twins, that was not unexpected and the the team is still 2nd in the AL in runs prevented and third in team ERA.  Scoring runs have been more of an issue, and without an 8-spot in a losing effort against the Royals, and a 13-spot in an 11 inning miracle against the Phillies — coming back from 5 down in the ninth to win — the Twins’ bats would be on the verge of a disaster month.

The problems are as follows:

  • JJ Hardy has been one of the worst regular shortstops in baseball, which could be worse if he could stay healthy and in the lineup
  • The team is getting zero power from Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, and the entire 3rd base position
  • Michael Cuddyer isn’t getting on base, and his power is down from previous years
  • Joe Mauer is just a guy with the bat, has been hurt, and has only three homers

A bigger flaw in the roster in my estimation is that the team has two of it’s best hitters in Jason Kubel and Jim Thome, both of whom are DHs who hit  from the left side.  Thome is probably playing at exactly the rate he should be, appearing in half the teams games, which has allowed the 39 year old to post an .874 OPS without wearing down.  Thome’s appearances have cut into those of Jason Kubel, who has had to re-learn how to wear a glove in order to collect at-bats this year.  It’s hard to find any fault in the way Ron Gardenhire has managed having two DHs in the lineup, and perhaps it’s not all that shocking that the Twins have been terrible in NL road games.

The Twins outfield defense has been bad enough to make a fan want to cry, but Kubel hasn’t been much worse than either Delmon Young or Michael Cuddyer when he has played out there.  That says less about Kubel, and more about understanding the marginal cost of sending him out into an outfield that is already terrible.  Denard Span is having his best year with the glove, but the Twins simply don’t have another centerfielder.  Credit Gardenhire’s management of the situation for Cuddyer still having a job, as Kubel has overcome a slow start to sufficiently outplay him.  Then again, someone has to play half of Jim Thome’s season, and no matter how good of a year Delmon Young is having with the bat — the last thing I would want to do is trade away the last guy on my team who can play in front of him.

Perhaps the biggest issue for the Twins is that it’s nearly impossible to improve the offense without hurting the defense.  I think there are two places where they can do this: at second base with Orlando Hudson, and at third base with a revolving cast of characters.  Hudson’s defense is still above average, and he’s still a valuable player, but he’s slugging .384 this year, and the trade market will offer legitimate second baseman who can play mediocre defense and drive in more runs with the bat.  The Twins, on the other hand, have a gaping hole at third base where plus defense is about all they are getting, and have a lot more options here than they do at second base.

The biggest need that I see right now for Minnesota is an outfielder.  The Twins need to have a backup plan if Delmon Young decides to “Adam Jones” the second half of the season, and probably need to send Cuddyer to the bench.  Acquiring someone who has to share playing time with Jason Kubel, yet will still help the team, will be challenging.  The Twins need to think: glove first, so acquiring someone like David DeJesus of the Royals, Andruw Jones of the White Sox, Florida’s Cody Ross, Kansas City’s Mitch Maier or Scott Podsednik, or Gerrado Parra of the D’Backs really improves the team in multiple ways, not the least of which would be scoring runs.

The move I would make is to acquire Reed Johnson of the Dodgers in exchange for pitching depth.  Johnson offers a nice platoon option vs. lefties, which is the Twins weakness, and offers strong outfield defense at all times.

Just a minor tweak in the roster should push the Twins back into playing .550 ball for the rest of the season and taking the AL Central.  The move should be relatively minor, and made before the trade deadline, because over the last 30 days — time has been the enemy of Minnesota.

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