This is a very hard column for me to write because everyone who knows me know that I am positive to a fault and sometimes it clouds my judgement when it comes to the Twins. However, the last few days I have really looked at the team as it is constructed right now and it is not a playoff team. So I figured in my head ok what do the Twins need to do to make it a playoff team. So I broke down position by position to decide if that position is good enough and at the end decide if it is feasible to go for it or wait until next year. I will share with you some of the feelings I have about certain players and certain positions. Let me know what you think.
Catcher- Joe Mauer is one of the top 2 or 3 players in the game and hits for average, hits for power, drives in runs, plays gold glove defense. The problem that nobody wants to talk about though is he is a free agent after next season and until he signs with the Twins there will be uncertainty around the Twins. Mauer will receive more money in free agency from the Yankees and Red Sox than the Twins can/should offer so he is going to take less money if he is going to stay with the Twins so Mauer can say you need to improve here and there or I won't sign. At the backup spot everyone knows that Jose Morales is better than Mike Redmond at this point in his career. That is a given, but Mauer plays 5 times a week so I have no problem letting Redmond finish out the year and retire in dignity as Jose Morales will have his opprotunity next season and 10 seasons after that. The catching position is fine.
1st Base- Justin Morneau is one of the best hitting and defensive First Baseman in the league and puts up huge numbers every year. The problem is Morneau is tied to Mauer so if Mauer went Morneau would want to go even though he has 4 years left on his contract after this year. If Mauer is signed Morneau likely will finish his career in a Twins uniform. The Twins have Michael Cuddyer and Brian Buscher as quality replacements when Morneau is the DH or gets the day off so First Base is fine.
2nd base- This is where the Twins start having problems as it is obvious that Alexi Casilla just can not get the job done offensively. I am beginning to think that the 3 good months Casilla had last year was an abberation instead of a trend. The Twins signed Mark Grudzilanek who is 39 years old and just a stop gap for the rest of the year, but the Twins need to solve this problem. In AAA you have Steve Tolleson who has come down to earth offensively and is not real great defensively. Im sorry, but I don't see a future from Tolleson as anything more than a utility guy. At AA you have Brian Dinkelman who is 26 years old and probably is better suited as a utility guy. You might have someone in Steve Singleton who just got promoted to AA. He might be the future guy, but he is atleast 2 years away from being able to contribute to the Twins. Therefore we need to look outside the organization and everyone wants Freddy Sanchez. The problem with Sanchez is not only will he make 8 million dollars which is alot for a second baseman with average defense and hardly any power, but the Twins would have to give up some quality prospects. He is signed through next year and after that then what do you do there. Reports have Pittsburgh asking for Francisco Liriano in a trade for Sanchez and even though Liriano has not been great this year he has too much talent to trade. Unless Pittsburgh comes down from that I would not make the move. who else Kelly Johnson, Dan Uggla who is awful defensively, Clint Barmes who would also cost a ton. What to do at 2nd base?
Shortstop- That is more of a trainwreck than at 2nd because Gardy is in love with Nick Punto and his 4 million dollar salary next season means he is going to be on the team. For those of you that want him in a backup role I have no problem with that, but Gardy will not let that happen he will either be starter at short or 2nd next season. Probably short because Brendan Harris has not took the ball and ran with it as his .204 average in July would say and he does not get to alot of balls that are called infield singles that a lot of shortstops would make. If you want to look for a shortstop in the organization your going to have to look a while. In AAA Trevor Plouffe has been the most disappointing player in the organization this year hitting only .247, but what has been more disaappointing is his organization high 19 errors. atleast with Punto at short he is going to make the plays. In AA Yancarlos Ortiz has been disappointing hitting only .225 with 12 errors. In Fort Myers Esterlin De Los Santos is solid, but very injury prone so you can't count on him. The future at shortstop is in A ball with Tyler Ladendorf, but he is probably atleast 3-4 years away from helping the Twins. So if you want to go outside the organization there are guys like J.J. Hardy, Yunel Escobar who would cost us a ton and there is no way the Twins are going to give up the prospects it would take to get those guys. So I think we are stuck with Nick Punto unless the Twins surprise me.
3rd base- Joe Crede has done a very nice job holding down the fort at 3rd base for the Twins this year, but if you think there is anyone the Twins will resign him you are crazy. He will want a 3 or 4 year deal and the Twins won't and shouldn't do that. Danny Valencia will be the starting 3rd baseman for the Twins next year and for the next 10 years. He will hit .290-.300 with 15-20 homeruns and drive in 90-100 runs and play good defense. Valencia is only 24 years old so he will solve our problem at third. Is he as good defensively as Joe Crede well of course not no one is but he is very steady over there and will be a good thirdbaseman and a cornerstone for the Twins future.
Outfield- The Twins have Denard Span who is a very good leadoff hitter who will hit between .290-.300, play good defense, take charge in the outfield and be a key to the future for the Twins. Michael Cuddyer is an interesting case as he is indespensible right now and has 8.5 million on his contract after this year and a 10.5 option for 2011. He is having a great year, but I can't see the Twins picking him up for 10.5 million and he is starting to get up there in age at 31 and 33 by the time his contract is due. However, he is what a Twin is all about he plays great defense, he is a leader in the clubhouse, has good power, and a cannon for an arm. I look for the Twins to sign him to an extension in the 9 million dollar range after 2010 so he can retire a Twin. Than you have Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez. The bottom line is if you don't trade one of them neither is going to develop into the kind of player they need to get to be. They show flashes, but as long as they don't get there consistant at bats they won't develop. I think Carlos Gomez should stay because of the fact in my mind he has a higher ceiling and his defense allows him to learn how to hit. The problem with trading Young is his value is at an all time low right now and the only way to raise his value is to play him so the Twins are between a rock and a hard place. Jason Kubel has developed into one of the best DH's in the League and he is signed through 2011 so after the 2010 season the Twins should negotiate with him a long term contract to have him with the Twins for a long time.
Starting Pitching- That is the problem with the Team this year as the starters have not lived up to expectations. We have plenty of Talent but look at the era's, Liriano 5.56, Baker 5.04, Slowey 4.46, Perkins 5.55, Blackburn 3.46. It was supposed to be a strength of ours and besides Blackburn all of them have underacheived this year. I think eventually they will get it going, but I would not bet on it this year. Anthony Swarzak has done a nice job filling in when first Perkins then Slowey got hurt. Kevin Mulvey, Jeff Manship, Deolis Guerra, Tyler Robertson, David Bromberg, Carlos Gutierrez and others are waiting in the wings so if these guys don't get it done there is hope for the future in our pitching.
Relief Pitching- Besides Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Jose Mijares our bullpen is a mess. Right now they have 3 long relievers in R.A. Dickey, Brian Duensing, and Bobby Keppel and the most disappointing pitcher in the organization in Jesse Crain who has an era in the 7's. Guerrier and Mijares have been pitched into the ground and the Twins will pay for it in August and September when they start getting hammered like Guerrier did last year. The Twins have some depth in the minors and the disabled list for the future. Next season they will get back Pat Neshek and Boof Bonser to injury. Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney appear like they can pitch at the next level. Alex Burnett in AA has jumped on the radar for bullpen help. The future of the relievers is good, but this year the bullpen needs a ton of help and they need it now.
Bottom Line: The Twins are a mess as they are being carried by Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, Guerrier, Mijares, and Nathan. When they dont have big games the Twins usually lose. To my count for the Twins to make the playoffs this year they need an upgrade at 2nd base, shortstop, 1 starting pitcher with the injury to Slowey, and 2 bullpen guys. Lets face it the Twins farm system is not what it used to be and to acquire all that help would further deplete the system and we would be paying for this division title for years to come. What I am looking for in the trade market are guys signed past this year a Freddy Sanchez if Pittsburgh lowers its demands, a Yunel Escobar, a Michael Wuertz. The biggest thing going forward is getting Joe Mauer signed because without him Target Field will be empty and Justin Morneau won't be far behind so I don't believe we should go all in this year we should try to make deals that allows us to go for it next year and the year after and so on.