November 18, 2011

Offseason shopping on a budget: Right-handed bats

Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel potentially both departing as free agents has the Twins in the market for help in the form of corner outfielders, designated hitters, or first basemen, and Cuddyer's exit would leave them even shorter than usual on strong right-handed bats. Below are 15 free agent options--some everyday guys, some platoon guys--who could help balance the lineup from the right side of the plate without costing a ton.

Josh Willingham: Normally the Twins would never forfeit their first-round pick to sign a Type A free agent, but because next year's top pick is protected it might be an option. They've been linked to Willingham, who's quietly posted an OPS above .800 in six straight seasons despite playing in pitcher-friendly ballparks. Over the past three years Cuddyer has hit .276/.341/.465 and Willingham has hit .257/.360/.479. It all depends on price, but he wouldn't be a dropoff.

Derrek Lee: Last offseason Lee signed a one-year, $7.25 million deal with the Orioles and he should be even cheaper this time around after playing 35 fewer games with a nearly identical OPS compared to 2010. Lee is no longer a middle-of-the-order threat and his plate discipline vanishing this season is worrisome for a 36-year-old, but even a repeat of his .267/.325/.446 line with solid defense at first base would be worth a one-year investment.

Andruw Jones: Jones looked completely washed-up at age 30, but he's gotten back on track enough to be a solid bench player for the past three seasons, batting .228/.338/.478 in 881 plate appearances spotted mostly versus lefties. If you focus on the Hall of Fame-caliber player Jones was in his twenties he's sure to disappoint, but as a 34-year-old corner outfielder who's hit .254/.374/.492 off southpaws since 2009 he's still plenty useful.

Jonny Gomes: Strikeouts, poor defense, and flailing away against righties have limited Gomes to part-time roles, but he's always fared very well versus lefties and batted .298/.383/.492 off them during the past three years. As an everyday player he's overmatched, but as a platoon player and bench bat Gomes would be worth adding and figures to be cheap. He has big-time power, draws plenty of walks, and at age 31 might be helpful beyond 2012.

Cody Ross: Ross predictably resumed being a mediocre hitter after his out of nowhere playoff breakout in 2010, but as a right-handed bat with 20-homer power and enough range to play center field in a pinch he'd be a worthwhile pickup at the right price. During the past three years Ross hit .272/.342/.521 versus lefties and his .258/.316/.404 line off righties is passable enough to not be a total disaster if pushed into extended action, assuming he's cheap.

Magglio Ordonez: Ordonez finally stopped hitting at age 37 and two fractured ankles in two years means he may simply be finished, but he's also just a year removed from a decade-long run as one of the elite right-handed hitters in baseball and has always destroyed left-handed pitching. Limiting him strictly to designated hitter duties could help keep Ordonez healthy and prior to the first fractured ankle in mid-2010 he hit .303/.378/.474 in 84 games for the Tigers.

Ryan Ludwick: Since batting .299/.375/.591 with 37 homers in a 2008 breakout Ludwick has seen his OPS drop from .966 to .775 to .743 to .674. He was terrible this season against both righties and lefties, but was an above-average hitter in 2009 and 2010 despite poor batting averages and is a solid defensive corner outfielder. If a team still wants to pay Ludwick like a middle-of-the-order bat the Twins should bow out, but as cheap right-handed pop he's decent.

Reed Johnson: Johnson has always been an ideal fourth outfielder because he can handle all three spots defensively, puts up strong numbers versus left-handed pitching, and isn't totally overmatched versus right-handers once in a while. At age 34 his range has slipped some and his strikeout-to-walk ratio over the past two years is laughably bad at 113-to-10, but he also hit .303/.327/.467 off lefties during that time.

Scott Hairston: He never really developed as expected or found an obvious home defensively, but Hairston is a .274/.328/.486 career hitter versus southpaws and has outfield experience in all three spots. He's a free agent after hitting .235/.303/.470 in 79 games for the Mets on a one-year, $1.1 million deal and Hairston has averaged 23 homers per 550 at-bats throughout his career despite calling pitcher-friendly Petco Park home for half that time.

Vladimir Guerrero: At age 36 his knees are shot, he looks lost in the outfield, and his bat is no longer anywhere near elite, but Guerrero hit .304/.319/.456 in the second half to finish with an above-average OPS overall for the Orioles. He shouldn't be playing every day or batting in the middle of the lineup, but for a one-year deal and a part-time job focused mostly on lefties the former MVP still has some value.

Xavier Nady: As a 29-year-old Nady batted .305 with 25 homers in 2008, but multiple injuries have limited him to 208 games in three seasons since and he's hit just .254/.299/.359. Prior to all the injuries Nady consistently knocked around left-handers and he has lots of experience as a first baseman and corner outfielder. Assuming he's willing to accept an inexpensive one-year contract and a part-time role Nady would fit as a backup and platoon player.

Mark DeRosa: Injuries derailed DeRosa's career, limiting him to 71 unproductive games during a two-year, $12 million deal with the Giants. He's also 37 years old, which adds to the risk, but DeRosa is a career .297/.370/.481 hitter versus left-handers and has started games at every position except catcher and center field. On a cheap one-year contract he'd make sense and a part-time role might help him stay off the disabled list.

Marcus Thames: Thames has quietly been one of the most powerful bats of the past decade, ranking sixth among all active right-handed hitters in Isolated Power. He's actually had slightly more raw pop versus righties, but low batting averages and little plate discipline mean Thames should be limited to facing mostly lefties. He's also 35 years old and terrible defensively, but figures to be available on the cheap after being cut loose following a 36-game Dodgers stint.

Aaron Rowand: San Francisco finally gave up on Rowand four seasons into his five-year, $60 million contract, releasing the 34-year-old outfielder in September with $12 million still on the books for 2012. Rowand was a bust for the Giants and has hit just .231/.277/.363 during the past two seasons, but the former Gold Glove winner still covers enough ground to be a fourth outfielder and could be reasonably productive if spotted versus left-handed pitching.

Conor Jackson: Once upon a time Jackson was a top prospect who hit .287/.367/.443 through his first three seasons, but valley fever threatened his career in 2009 and he hasn't been the same since. It'd be worth a minimal investment to find out if Jackson can still be productive in a part-time role and he's played lots of right field, left field, and first base in addition to being an emergency option at third base.

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com/ Shane

    I like Lee, Jones, Gomes, Guerrero, and Thames on that list. Now if one could get Gardenhire to ACCEPT what platoons have to offer . . .

  • FD

    None of these options seem favorable. I would much rather give Plouffe a shot in the outfield than overpay for any of the players mentioned in the article.

  • Dirleton

    I think Gardy would have to come to understand the concept of platooning before we can hope he comes to accept what they offer.

  • spoofbonser

    As an armchair GM, I’d just throw out all of the righty/left splits for the reasons Shane and Dirleton mentioned. Unless the Geek has finally come up with an example of a platoon that Gardy has used in the past, what’s the use?

    I think Cody Ross would work as a good 4th outfielder and would fit in with “the Twins Way,” but I am sure his agent is forced with finding him a starting role and in that case I’d just go with Benson, Tosoni, or Plouffe.

    I think both Ludwick & Ordonez would be decent DH’s but you are getting back into that limited territory the Twins tired of with Thome. I think they need to stay young and develop in 2012. Go for it in 2013.

  • Bob

    FD, to say you’d rather have Plouffe than Willingham shows your lack of knowledge about baseball. What a ridiculous comment!

  • Ken Buddha

    Bob, FD didn’t say he’d rather have Plouffe than Willingham, he said he’d rather have Plouffe than overpay for Willingham (et al). Big difference.

    Personally, I’d think that Nady’s agent would urge him to sign a cheap 1-year contract with the Twins knowing that the Twins outfield is weak, leading to plenty of chances to prove he could still do the job.

  • Dan

    Willingham or Doumit, none of these other guys seem appealing to me at all

  • ossieO

    In the minimal investment/Conor Jackson mode, is Josh Fields available? He is a former 1st round pick who went to Japan mid-season last year.
    He had 1 good year with the White Sox, a strong minor league record, and punished AAA pitching the last 2 years. He barely got any chances in the majors the last 2 years after a bad 2009 season.

  • Josh

    Sad to see how 3 of the first 4 comments question Gardy’s ability to understand a basic matter like a L/R platoon split. I share these fears, which make some of these options more risky than they should be.

    I’d stay far away from Magglio. The Twins may need the DH slot too often for Mauer/Morneau (Kubel?) to make Mags a good choice, and there’s a lot of risk there. Pass.

    Lee is a good choice if you’re more concerned about Morneau’s ability to play the field this season (a reasonable one, sad to say). He’s more of a 6 or 7 hitter at this point, but coiuld be a nice asset, and I think he’d fit this clubhouse well, which seems to be a priority for this franchise.

    Willingham would be good if the price isn’t too high. We’re going to get a better pick for Cuddyer than we’ll give up for Willingham, so if we can get him at a reasonable price, I think it’s a solid move. The question is how high will he go? The market for RH hitters isn’t great, he could be looking at 4/$40M, which I think is too much.

    Jackson is an interesting guy to take a flier on, especially because of his positional flexibility. If he can get it back he’d be able to push a number of guys.

    Also kinda interested in Rowand, but he makes me nervous, because I’d be afraid Gardy would over-use him as a 4th OF and play him too much against righties. Probably should pass on him.

    Jones would be a nice pickup on a short-term deal, but again, Gardy has to put him in positions to succeed. The awful BA is a little scary, but he’d give some pop off the bench and down in the order that would be nice to have. But I’m suddenly having visions of Gardy sticking him in CF because “he likes it better there” or something equally stupid.

  • Craig in MN

    Reed Johnson seems like he is terribly underrated….a slightly different set of luck could have had him earning a lot of money. A Kubel/Johnson platoon would be very effective. That could be said of most lefty OFs the Twins could bring in, or Morneau for that matter if he doesn’t turn things around.

    In short, he’s cheap, very good against lefties, ok against righties, would improve the outfield defense, and give them some flexibility if Span can’t bounce back. Plouffe seems poised to take most of those opportunities right now, but I’d still see room for Johnson. Failing that, I’d consider Rowand on make-good contract for a similar role.

  • pk

    I’m guessing a trade or two is made before Ryan’s overpaying for one of the veteran OF’s.

  • Dave T

    OMG, get Guerrero. He will put fans in the stands while the Twins rebuild their pitching staff.

  • D-Luxxx

    Sometimes I wonder if the Strib paywall is causing an uptick in inane comments here…

  • dave

    Not so, same high quality comments. With an expensive but productive Willingham as an everyday player in left, I’d take my chances with Plouffe and Toscani in right. With Morneau and Mauer sure to miss at least one hundred games between them and needing rest [i.e., DHing], anyone the Twins get must play every day.

  • spoof bonser

    I think they should get get Ryan Doumit, like right now!

    posted at 1:37 pm

  • sid

    Already got Willingham.