May 24, 2004
Since this blog has sort of turned into the home of my thoughts on the Twins and anything unrelated to baseball since the launch of The Hardball Times, here are a whole bunch of semi-random thoughts on everyone's favorite AL Central leaders ...
Justin Morneau is back up, thanks in large part to Shannon Stewart's various foot injuries. The news on Stewart is not sounding particularly promising (first he had one injury, now he has that injury and another injury), so it looks like Morneau should be here for quite a while.
Lew Ford will take over for Stewart in left field and Morneau will (hopefully) be the regular designated hitter. I believe Morneau has the potential to be the best hitter the Twins have had in a very long time. At the very least, he has a good shot at being their best power hitter since Harmon Killebrew.
Now, a frequent topic of discussion here and other places regarding the Twins has always been their vast amount of quality LF/RF/1B/DH types. Before Stewart went down, they had him and Jacque Jones starting, with Lew Ford and Michael Ryan on the bench. Doug Mientkiewicz was at first base and Matthew LeCroy was catching and DHing. Michael Cuddyer was playing all over the field and, of late, was subbing for Corey Koskie at third base. And then of course they had Michael Restovich and Justin Morneau down in Triple-A, and in the last year or so they got rid of Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr.
Some might say that bringing Morneau up right now, in the middle of the year, is simply creating even more of a logjam. After all, if Stewart somehow makes it back in just a few weeks, then where do you play Lew Ford if Morneau is at DH? When Joe Mauer comes back next month, where does Matthew LeCroy get any at-bats? Where does Cuddyer fit in when Koskie is back at third base? It is, as they say, "a great problem to have," but it is still a problem.
Here's my feeling ... holding back Justin Morneau because you have too many other options without him is silly. He is the option. When he is ready -- and I would assume the Twins have decided that time is right now -- there is no one on the roster or in the entire organization who should hold him back.
Think of it this way ... say you're going out with five different women. You like them all, they all have good qualities and they are all attractive and nice. You've been trying to juggle them as best you can. Some you see on the weekends, some you see during your lunchbreak from work, some you go out to dinner with on weeknights.
Then Jessica Alba comes along and hits on you one night. She comes on very strong and makes it obvious that she is interested in something serious with you (sort of like Morneau was doing at Triple-A). Do you say no to Ms. Alba, because she will only further complicate things with these other women? Hell no.
You put Jessica into the top spot in the rotation. Any time, day or night, that she wants to see you, you make it happen. If this means you don't see some of those other women as often -- or maybe not at all -- then that's just the way it has to be.
Matthew LeCroy, Michael Cuddyer, Michael Restovich, Michael Ryan and even Lew Ford (and Kielty and Mohr before them) are these other women. Justin Morneau is Jessica Alba.
Don't you see the resemblance?
Now, I do have one way to ease the logjam and create some additional at-bats for the other women. Quite simply, put an end to Jose Offerman's career with the Twins.
Offerman was brought on as a "veteran bat off the bench" but has turned into quite a bit more than that, thanks in part to injuries and in part to Ron Gardenhire strange-but-predictable infatuation with him.
While Offerman has not been horrible, he has not been anything special either. He started very fast, which is the best way to earn undeserved playing time for the rest of the year, and has faded of late. On the year, he is hitting .235/.363/.412. Like I said, not horrible numbers by any means, and if Offerman could handle second base on a regular basis, I'd be ready to elect him president. He can't though.
Instead, he is taking at-bats at first base and DH. With Stewart, Mauer and Koskie out, that's not much of a problem. However, all indications are that at least Koskie and Mauer will be back relatively soon. Let's assume for a moment that Stewart also returns by the end of next month, at which point the everyday lineup might look something like this:
C Joe Mauer
1B Doug Mientkiewicz
2B Luis Rivas
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Corey Koskie
LF Shannon Stewart
CF Torii Hunter
RF Jacque Jones
DH Justin Morneau
Of course Luis Rivas is also hurting right now (sore groin) and you never know when the Twins might sour on him (never, is my guess, but I'm a pessimist). Still, I'll pencil him in at second. Personally, I would stick Michael Cuddyer there and just forget about his defense for a while.
With those guys playing everyday, it leaves the following players without regular jobs:
As soon as I was comfortable with Mauer's ability to play 4-5 times per week, I would let Blanco go, but I really doubt that will ever happen. The fact that he's hitting .116 this month won't sway the Twins as long as he continues to be old and good at throwing out baserunners. I think Matthew LeCroy has shown that he is quite capable behind the plate, particularly if we are talking just a start or two per week.
But okay, assuming Blanco stays, then you need to get LeCroy some at-bats by playing him as the third catcher, letting him get some time against tough lefties in place of Morneau at DH, and making him your primary pinch-hitter. He deserves more time than that, but I'm not going to cry bloody murder on this one.
The next guy with a spot on the bench is Lew Ford. Now, Ford has done absolutely nothing but hit the snot out of the ball every chance he has gotten with the Twins. He's at .338/.400/.535 in 73 career games, including .338/.393/.503 this season. He's not a .335 hitter, but the man can hit, and he's also a good defensive outfielder at all three spots.
He is, of course, a great fourth outfielder, just as any number of starting outfielders in the major leagues would be great fourth outfielders. He also deserves a chance to play every day. As long as Stewart is hobbled, that will happen, but once he returns there's just nowhere to play regularly. I would put Ford and Jacque Jones in a strict platoon out in right field, with Jones playing against righties and Ford against lefties.
Before everyone jumps on me about how Jones is hitting lefties this year, let me just remind you that he was hitting lefties well early last year and still ended up stinking against them for the season. It takes more than 50 decent at-bats to wash away years and years of suckitude, at least in my mind.
So now you've got LeCroy scrambling for playing time at C, 1B and DH, and Ford looking for work in all three OF spots. That still leaves Cuddyer, who would normally get some action in the OF, but will have to scrap for time at 2B and 3B in this situation.
That makes three guys, all relatively young, all ready to play every day, and all trying to find two days a week where they can get into the lineup.
I'm fine with Michael Ryan only serving as a pinch-hitter and I'm fine with Nick Punto being the utility man (although I'd play him over Rivas at second base, just like I would with anyone else in the Minneapolis phone book). Still, all of this leaves Offerman to further complicate things.
He'll take away at-bats from LeCroy at 1B and DH, he'll take away at-bats from all three (LeCroy, Ford, Cuddyer) as a pinch-hitter, and he may take away time from Cuddyer at 2B and 3B. And there's just no reason for him to do so. As long as Offerman can't handle a middle infield position on a regular basis defensively, there is no reason to have him on the team.
When Morneau was in Triple-A and a bunch of guys were hurt, it was fine. I didn't like it, but it was fine. Now that Morneau has claimed 1/9 of the everyday time and guys are starting to come back from the DL, Offerman is just taking up space. And that space would be better off being given to more deserving, more qualified, younger players like Ford, Cuddyer and LeCroy.
Assuming there is no chance of displacing Rivas at 2B, here is how I would construct the bench, once everyone is healthy:
C Matthew LeCroy
IF Nick Punto
IF Michael Cuddyer
OF Lew Ford
OF Michael Ryan
No Blanco, no Offerman. The funny thing is, if you finally bit the bullet and got rid of Rivas, putting Cuddyer at second base (with Punto as his defensive replacement/spot starter), it would actually create a spot on the bench for Offerman. As you all know, once Rivas is gone, everything else is just gravy, including keeping Offerman.
You can't tell me you wouldn't be excited to see this lineup on a regular basis:
C Joe Mauer (LeCroy vs. LHP)
1B Doug Mientkiewicz
2B Michael Cuddyer (Punto when Silva is pitching and late in games)
SS Cristian Guzman
3B Corey Koskie
LF Shannon Stewart
CF Torii Hunter
RF Jacque Jones (Ford vs. LHP)
DH Justin Morneau
That is an offense with only one weak link, at shortstop. That group is strong from top to bottom and it could score an awful lot of runs.
And finally ...
What can I say about Johan Santana? I've been his biggest backer for quite a while now and I've been talking him up as the next great starting pitcher. Quite simply, he has not been good this year. He has mixed in some very nice performances, just enough to keep getting my hopes up, but the overall numbers are just awful.
I'm not sure what to say. I'm inclined to think that he is injured, but who knows. It's still early, but a 5.60 ERA is plenty to get worried about from someone who was dominant as a starting pitcher in each of the past two years (18-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 31 starts, to be exact). Plus, he had offseason surgery to clear bone chips out of his elbow.
If you'd have told me Santana was going to be disappointing this year, I would have believed it. His being great was no sure thing. But what he's done so far is beyond disappointing, it's troubling.
Nothing to do but wait it out, I guess. I'll say right now that I won't be shocked if we find out in a few weeks that something is wrong with him physically.
New article at The Hardball Times: How Long is a Fluke a Fluke?
Arizona (Webb) +140 over Florida (Pavano)
Atlanta (Thomson) -100 over Montreal (Day)
Anaheim (Lackey) +110 over Toronto (Miller)
Total to date: -$835
W/L record: 54-69 (1-4 on Friday for -405 with one rainout. I stink.)
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****