Well, the Twins don’t need backup, but I’m willing to bet that a large sum of Twins fans wouldn’t mind bringing in someone else to be the 4th-5th outfielder on the team. Right now, I don’t think anyone, even those in the front office know who will fill this spot on the roster. It wasn’t helpful when the team shot themselves in the foot (feet?) by putting only one outfielder on the 40-man roster but not a regular on the 25-man roster last year (Jason Pridie) and having only 4 additional outfielders as regulars on the 25-man roster, of which only one rates well defensively and he’s not even playing his best position (Denard Span), one probably would rate better with a position change as well (Delmon Young), and the other two are just plain bad (Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel).
So who backs up Denard Span this season? If you want to save some cash and roster space, you go with Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, or either Michael Cuddyer or Delmon Young. However…
…Punto (11 games, 52 innings) and Tolbert (0, 0) have the least major league experience in the outfield.
…Tolbert will probably be in the minor leagues due to the Orlando Hudson signing.
…Cuddyer is horrible defensively in the outfield, according to UZR/150 (-10.1 in RF for his career).* UZR/150 is simply a player’s UZR per 150 defensive games, or roughly a player’s UZR per season.
…Young is even worse than Cuddyer at his respective position (-18.9 UZR/150 in LF).**
…Kubel is probably the worst period (-18.7 UZR/150 in the outfield).
…there’s only four outfielders on the 40-man roster, and they will all be on the 25-man roster as well. If someone gets hurt, then the Twins will need to clear a 40-man spot for a minor league or free agent outfielder unless they are confident in having only 3 true outfielders.
* A common argument though is that the baggie in the Metrodome hindered Cuddyer’s UZR rating. This is partially true, considering that the fence prevented Cuddyer from catching fly balls that would have been outs in many other stadiums, but UZR does not account for that. Who knows, maybe he’s not as bad as we think.
** Yet Delmon Young rated above average in RF while with Tampa Bay, and a common defense is that the Metrodome lights are harsh on left fielders.
Clearly, many problems exist with this solution, so I’d guess the Twins would look outside the current players on the 25-man roster. Jacque Jones is a possibility, although he hasn’t played in the major leagues since 2008, hasn’t had a successful season since 2007, and hasn’t hit for power since 2006. He’s pretty good defensively, but considering that he’s 35, I see his signing as more of a “We’ll give you one last chance” sort of transaction rather than “You’ll fill a hole for us.” The fact that he’s already agreed to go to the minor leagues if he doesn’t make the major league roster reinforces this idea.
Granted, this is not a hole that needs to be filled immediately. I bet the Twins won’t find their answer until sometime during spring training when teams start making roster cuts and minor league players start impressing the major league coaches. Here are a few possibilities for the Twins:
Willy Taveras: Recently released by the Athletics after being traded from the Reds this offseason. He’s in the same boat as Eric Byrnes in which any team that signs him is almost guaranteed of paying the minimum because he’ll already be owed $4 million from the A’s.* If I did a 5 tool graph for him, he’d rate well in Speed, Arm, and Glove, while grading poorly in Bat and Power. Practically his entire career has been spent in center field, so if he was signed, the Twins would probably stick with a combination of Young, Cuddyer, and Kubel in the outfield corners. Taveras is only 28 years old.
* Quick lesson: Since the A’s released him, they still need to pay him $4 million. If another team signs Taveras, they pay whatever they want at or above the major league minimum. The amount this new teams pays Taveras gets subtracted from what he gets from the A’s, so no matter what, he’s guaranteed of getting $4 million in 2010.
Endy Chavez: One of the contributors to the ’09 Mariners fantastic defensive season before getting hurt, he would provide more offense than Taveras, but with a little less speed. Despite the difference in speed, Chavez’s defense rates better than Taveras’ and he also has experience playing all three outfield positions, which makes him more appealing. However, he needs to show that he’s recovered from last year’s torn ACL. Surprisingly, he’s already 32 years old.
Felix Pie: This is more speculation than an actual possibility for the Twins. He was suggested by my buddies at “1,000,000 MINNESOTA TWINS FANS!!!” because the Baltimore Orioles are looking for starting pitchers and they have a surplus of outfielders. Pie (“pee-ay”) would most likely be a 4th-5th outfielder already for the Orioles, so a trade might make sense for both teams. He uses his speed well in the outfield, but still needs a little work on the basepaths (only 12/16 in stolen bases despite almost 570 career plate appearances). He just turned 25 on Monday, so he definitely could still improve, but I could easily see the Orioles holding on to him. For all we know, the Twins haven’t and don’t have any plans on inquiring if he is available.
Rene Tosoni: After having his name pop up several times during the ’09 season, I bet Tosoni will be a popular suggestion by fans between now and April. However, from what I’ve heard he’s really only adequate defensively in the corner outfield (thus below average in center) and he struggles with lefthanded pitchers. Also, he’s only reached Double-A so far, so I bet he’ll be starting the ’10 season in either New Britain or Rochester.
Ben Revere: Possibly another popular suggestion by fans. My argument though is that he has the Wilson Ramos syndrome: Plenty of hype, but developmentally is not ready for the majors yet since he’s only made it to high Single-A. He’ll be a solid major league player someday, it’s just that we’ll have to wait a few years before that day comes.
Is there anyone I forgot? I know that Rocco Baldelli is missing from this post, but I think his injury history and the fact that he’ll probably ask for more than the major league minimum will likely chase away the Twins. If there’s anyone else you’d like to discuss, leave your suggestion in the comments below.