May 6, 2011

Link-O-Rama

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Mila Kunis has a fool-proof plan to meet Barack Obama that should delight the president's body man, former Duke basketball player Reggie Love.

• He'll obviously land on his feet and maybe even get a more prominent overall gig elsewhere, but CBS letting Gus Johnson go after 16 years because of a monetary disagreement is terrible news for everyone who loved him calling NCAA tournament games. There's never been a more perfect match between announcer and event, so hopefully both sides reconsider.

Randy Moss' daughter, Sydney Moss, is a 5-foot-11 high school basketball star in Kentucky and recently committed to the University of Florida after averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds per game as a junior.

• Lindsay Lohan's version of community service seems fun.

Dick Kaegel of MLB.com describes how the Royals have all but ditched in-person "advanced scouting" in favor of video analysis. As manager Ned Yost put it: "You don't need an advance scout anymore. You've got everything at your fingertips. Everything I need or we need to see is on the video."

Kris Humphries has his hands full with Kim Kardashian, literally and figuratively.

Trey Kirby interviewing Amar'e Stoudemire's personal stylist is spectacular enough, but the photo of Stoudemire sitting next to Anna Wintour really takes things to the next level.

Ozzie Guillen was suspended two games for tweeting, which merely adds to his legend.

• At around 2:00 am Wednesday night the few hundred fans left at Fenway Park for the Red Sox's marathon game with the Angels serenaded Kevin Youkilis with a personalized version of "Just A Friend" by Biz Markie:

My childhood smiled.

• Judging by his scores John Smoltz is closer to coming out of retirement to pitch again than he is to making the PGA tour.

• My favorite part about 26-year-old Scarlett Johansson continuing to date 50-year-old Sean Penn is this report that "she's at his house most nights and has been accepted by his teenage sons." Not mentioned is their confusion about winning the lottery without buying a ticket.

• Journalism tops The Daily Beast's list of the "most useless degrees." Even more useless than a journalism degree? Spending four years in college without getting a journalism degree.

• According to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations report the Minneapolis Star Tribune owns the 17th-largest daily newspaper circulation in the country at 296,605.

• I watched every episode of America's Next Great Restaurant on NBC, but a combination of diet and laziness precludes me from going to the Mall of America to give Soul Daddy a try. I'm fairly certain most people don't want their soul food healthy, so what are the odds it'll still be open by the time my diet inevitably fails?

• Sad story, but this never would have happened if she was actually 50 feet tall.

• My old cantor got arrested for a DWI going to my old high school when his wife "called police to report that he'd be showing up at the school and that he was driving under the influence" at 5:45 pm. I could write another 500 sentences about that one sentence, but I won't.

• On a related note, Derek Lowe's life is like The Fast And The Furious films, except sweatier, drunker, and with a higher ground-ball percentage.

• If you enjoyed 500 Days of Summer and watch Community you'll love 500 Days of Britta:

I'm definitely in favor of Zooey Deschanel and Gillian Jacobs teaming up for the sequel.

• One of the best side effects of NBC Universal combining with Comcast is the Versus channel's website and excellent MMA writer Ariel Helwani folding into NBCSports.com.

• From the shoplifting arrest and plea agreement to his side of the story, nothing about Mike Leake's situation makes sense to me.

• I'm not really sure what took me so long aside from being the world's oldest 28-year-old, but I finally tried Skype this week and was basically amazed by the entire thing. I lost my Skype virginity taping an episode of HBT Daily with Craig Calcaterra in which we discussed Francisco Liriano's no-hitter. He was gentle and wearing the headset made me feel sexy.

• My second Skype experience was even better, as I recorded a late-night podcast with Marc Normandin and Matt Kory from Red Sox Beacon in which we talked about the Twins-Red Sox series and re-wrote the script to the upcoming Moneyball movie. As someone who listens to no fewer than 25 podcasts per week it was a lot of fun to appear on a podcast that can actually be found on iTunes and we chatted for about 45 minutes, so please give it a listen.

• If you're more into radio than podcasts, you can listen to my appearance on Minnesota Public Radio talking Twins with Cathy Wurzer.

• Marrying a former Miss Michigan isn't as great as it sounds, as Charlie Bell has learned.

Sammy Sosa likes to laugh at NBA playoff games.

• Congratulations to friend of AG.com Chris Jaffe, who won the Sporting News-SABR Baseball Research Award for his incredibly detailed book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers, from which the Tom Kelly section was excerpted here last year.

• Due to the strong response to my note about wanting to partner with AG.com readers who have interesting and worthwhile stuff to advertise I'm going to start a "Sponsor of the Week" program soon that will keep the site's overall advertising to a minimum while highlighting one advertiser per week for supporting the blog. I've begun reserving weeks, so to promote your thing to the thousands of people who visit this space every day drop me an e-mail for details.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is the original version of "Just A Friend":

April 14, 2011

Twins Notes: Pitching to contact, Hunt scares, upped usage, and Gatsby

• Prior to yesterday's game Ron Gardenhire reiterated something he's been saying for a while now, which is that the Twins want Francisco Liriano to "pitch to contact" rather than focusing on strikeouts. That can be a positive thing, as Liriano would definitely benefit by improving his control and going deeper in games, but it seems like an odd stance to take following a season in which he had 201 strikeouts and a team-best 3.62 ERA. Here's what Gardenhire said:

We've told him forever that he's a strikeout pitcher. We understand that he can strike people out, but if he really wants to become a pitcher, pitch to contact. Use that two-seamer and use that slider down and in every once in a while, and that changeup, but pitch to contact early. That'll get him deep into games.

Because his stuff is so good. There's times when you need to go for the strikeout. That's when you save your Mr. Nasty, as they say. You throw the nasty pitches then. But those other times you need to pitch to contact to get you deeper into games. When you want that big strikeout, maybe with a man on second, and you've got an open base, take your shot with your stuff.

Liriano followed those orders against the Royals, throwing 68 percent strikes and walking just one batter, admitting afterward: "I was throwing more fastballs than I used to. I just wanted them to put the ball in play, not try to strike out a lot of people." In doing so he also showed the downside of asking a strikeout pitcher to adopt the "pitch to contact" approach. He cruised through the first three innings, but then this nightmare unraveled in the fourth inning:

Single

Single

Single

Single

Single

Double

Ground out

Single

Caught stealing

Single

Strikeout

Six runs on eight hits and at most three of them were well-struck. Even the double came on a ground ball. And he needed a strikeout just to escape all the bloopers falling in and grounders getting through. Last year no defense in the league turned a lower percentage of balls in play into outs than the Twins did behind Liriano and yesterday was the same story, as a defense with Michael Cuddyer at second base and the usual lack of outfield range did him no favors.

To be clear, Liriano has not pitched well through three starts. However, he was very good last year largely because of his ability to rack up strikeouts and I'm just not sure about the wisdom of trying to force the guy with the best raw stuff on the staff into the Twins' preferred pitching mold, particularly when the defense behind him is ill-suited to actually make that approach look good. Why should Liriano trust a sub par defense more than his ability to get strikeouts?

Obviously the Twins have shown that pitching to contact can be successful, but most pitchers adopt that approach because they aren't capable of missing bats like Liriano and MLB hit .325 with a .508 slugging percentage when not striking out in 2010. Strikeouts are good, relying on the defense can often be bad, and forcing a uniquely square peg into a round hole brings back bad memories of the Twins trying to change David Ortiz into something other than a slugger.

Alex Wimmers was the Twins' first-round pick last June after winning back-to-back Big Ten pitcher of the year awards at Ohio State and ranked No. 5 on my annual list of the Twins' top prospects. After signing Wimmers debuted with a 0.57 ERA and 23-to-5 strikeout-to-walk in 16 innings at high Single-A, but his first start back at Fort Myers this year couldn't have gone any worse, as he walked the first six batters before being yanked with no outs in the first inning.

Wimmers was a strike-throwing machine in college and his pro debut, but clearly this goes well beyond simple control issues. He threw just four of 28 pitches for strikes, uncorked three wild pitches in addition to the six walks, and was immediately placed on the minor-league disabled list with "flu-like symptoms" after the disastrous start. Wimmers isn't actually sick, but that's a way for the Twins to shut him down without the presence of an injury.

He's been pulled from Fort Myers' rotation and sent to extended spring training to work on his mechanics, as the Twins don't want to let things snowball after watching what happened to 2008 first-round pick Shooter Hunt when his control suddenly abandoned him following a good pro debut. Hunt has 145 walks in 104 innings since 2009, falling off the prospect map. There's no reason to assume Wimmers is destined for the same fate, but it's an awfully scary red flag.

• Now that Matt Capps has been freed from the misguidedly rigid usage patterns of the closer role Gardenhire is using him far more often. Capps threw 27 innings in 60 games on the Twins' roster last season, which is a 73-inning pace. So far this season he's logged 6.2 innings in 11 games, which is a 98-inning pace. Not only is Capps working the eighth inning in front of Joe Nathan, he's pitched in the seventh inning twice after doing so zero times from 2008-2010.

He's unlikely to stay on a 98-inning pace, which would be a 30 percent increase from last year, but given the middle relief question marks having Capps for, say, 20 percent more action than he'd get as a closer can make a big impact. There's risk of breaking down physically with that much work, but Capps was very durable prior to becoming a closer and as an impending free agent likely to seek big money as a closer the Twins have less reason to worry beyond 2011.

• Rather than trade Kevin Slowey during spring training the Twins shifted him to the bullpen and now his landing on the disabled list with a shoulder injury has put any trade talk on hold, but Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com speculates that the Twins could renew their efforts to deal Slowey once he's healthy and with top prospect Kyle Gibson close to being MLB-ready it would make plenty of sense.

Last month most reports had the Twins shopping Slowey for bullpen help, but Morosi correctly notes that the middle infield is now a much bigger area of concern with Tsuyoshi Nishioka out with a fractured fibula and Alexi Casilla predictably struggling on both sides of the ball. Morosi mentions the Red Sox as a possible suitor and they have shortstop depth to spare with Marco Scutaro backed up by Jed Lowrie and slick-fielding prospect Jose Iglesias at Triple-A.

• Gardenhire talked of giving Luke Hughes some action at shortstop, which is a bad idea when he last played shortstop at Single-A in 2006 and doesn't even get strong reviews for his glove at second base. Plus, in what scenario might that make sense? Hughes isn't going to be the shortstop if Casilla or Matt Tolbert are in the lineup. He may get the nod there if Cuddyer is at second base, but then the game would be canceled when the pitcher refuses to take the field.

Trevor Plouffe is off to a great start at Triple-A, hitting .348 with three homers in six games, but before anyone gets too excited remember that he played his way out of the middle infield mix during spring training by performing horribly and came into the season with a career line of .255/.306/.417 in 1,200 plate appearances at Triple-A. Plouffe hitting well is nice to see, but a good week in his fourth go-around at Rochester shouldn't change anyone's view of his future.

• So far so good with Denard Span's mechanical adjustments following his disappointing 2010. While the Twins' lineup as a whole has hit just .236/.283/.306 for a .589 OPS that ranks dead last in the league, Span has hit .333/.375/.422 through 11 games. Not only is that a massive improvement compared to last year's .275/.326/.375 line, it's very close to the .305/.390/.422 line he posted between 2008 and 2009. If he keeps that up, the lineup will click soon enough.

Parker Hageman at Over the Baggy passes along this shot of the new right field scoreboard at Target Field displaying Delmon Young's "favorite book." This whole time I had him pegged as more of a Tender Is The Night kind of guy.

September 13, 2010

Twins Notes: Fox, Young, Revere, Blackburn, Santana, and Batgirl

• Yesterday the Royals scored six runs in the top of the first inning against the White Sox and then lost 12-6. Despite that lack of help the Twins hold a six-game lead with 19 games left and this week's series is their final matchup with the White Sox, so most simulations put the Twins at 95-98 percent to win the AL Central. Basically, as long as they avoid being swept in Chicago the biggest question will be whether the Twins play the Yankees or the Rays in the first round.

Matt Fox fared well in his last-minute spot start on September 3, holding one of the AL's top lineups to two runs in 5.2 innings, but the Twins designated him for assignment a couple days later to clear 40-man roster space for Ben Revere. Calling someone up, having them pitch well on short rest and little notice in their MLB debut, and then cutting them loose 72 hours later is obviously not an ideal scenario for anyone involved, but it's important to note Fox's situation.

He wasn't on the 40-man roster to begin with and was only added when a dreadful 13-inning game the previous night left the Twins' pitching staff extremely short-handed. Had that mess of a game never happened (or had the Twins better prepared for it by expanding the roster on September 1) he never would have been in the majors and could have left the organization as a 28-year-old minor-league free agent this offseason anyway.

So instead of remaining at Triple-A to finish the season and then having the right to leave as a free agent Fox got to make a completely unexpected major-league debut and collected an MLB paycheck for a few days. And, as it turned out, Fox impressed the Red Sox enough that they claimed him off waivers, used a 40-man roster spot on him, and now seem likely to keep him in the majors for at least the rest of the month. And all because of that stupid 13-inning game.

• Speaking of unexpected debuts, Revere was certainly surprised that the Twins called him up for the stretch run. Not only wasn't he on the 40-man roster, Revere was initially thought to be out for the year after being hit in the face by a pitch and suffering a fractured orbital bone on August 3. Instead he returned to the Double-A lineup three weeks later, went 13-for-34 (.382) in eight games, and is now in the majors wearing a protective face guard on his helmet.

Albert Lyu of Think Blue Crew used swing zone charts to take an interesting look at Delmon Young, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jeff Francoeur, who are the only hitters in baseball to hack at 60 percent of the pitches thrown to them. Young's swing-at-everything approach was easy to overlook when he was crushing the ball early on this season, but that production has dried up and unfortunately now just the horrible plate discipline remains.

Young has hit .211/.242/.314 in 38 games since August 1, striking out 29 times while drawing just five walks in 158 plate appearances. His batting average is still around .300 and he'll drive in more than 100 runs, so I'm sure some people will call it a great season. However, his .805 OPS isn't very far above the .775 average for corner outfielders and once his terrible defense is factored in Young ranks just 33rd among AL outfielders at 13 runs above replacement level.

The clutch hitting has been very valuable and Young has obviously been much better than he was in 2008 and 2009, but a .328 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage from an awful defensive left fielder just isn't all that great. For some context, in his four seasons as a regular Jason Kubel has a .344 on-base percentage and a .477 slugging percentage, topping Young's current OPS by 15 points. And rarely does anyone make a big deal of his production.

• His overall numbers are still ugly and that's not going to change, but Nick Blackburn has a 1.71 ERA while allowing zero homers in four starts since returning from a month-long demotion to Triple-A. Prior to the demotion Blackburn induced 49 percent ground balls while striking out 7.4 percent of the batters he faced. Since the demotion he's at 58 percent grounders and 16.8 percent strikeouts. Also encouraging, he's more than doubled his rate of swinging strikes.

• As expected, Randy Flores has proven to be a horrendous "lefty specialist." He's faced eight left-handed batters since joining the Twins and has recorded one out, giving up six hits and a walk. Overall this season lefties are hitting .298/.385/.509 off Flores and he's apparently been shaking off Joe Mauer while refusing to throw off-speed pitches. Hopefully with Brian Fuentes available and Jose Mijares back after surgery Flores has seen his last high-leverage spot.

Joe Posnanski wrote a fun piece for SI.com ranking the majors' 30 managers by their playing careers and Ron Gardenhire fares a lot better than you'd probably expect from someone who hit .232/.277/.296 in 285 games for the Mets in the early 1980s. I won't spoil the whole article, because as usual with Posnanski it's really good and really lengthy, but fewer than one-third of current managers could reasonably be described as good major-league players.

• Gardenhire wasn't much of a player, but as a manager he's on an historic pace for ejections. During the aforementioned 13-inning nightmare Gardenhire was tossed for the 51st time in his nine seasons as Twins skipper, which works out to 3.6 percent of his career games managed. Bobby Cox is the all-time ejections leader and has been booted from 3.5 percent of his games.

Johan Santana will miss the rest of this year and possibly much of 2011 following shoulder surgery. That doesn't make the Twins' haul from the Mets any better, but it does reinforce that handing out the long-term deal likely needed to keep Santana in Minnesota would have been a mistake. His performance hasn't been the problem, with a 2.85 ERA for the Mets after a 3.11 ERA in 175 starts for the Twins, but now his future is murky and he's still owed $77.5 million.

• Last year the Twins sent a fairly underwhelming set of prospects to the Arizona Fall League, but this year's group of seven players is pretty strong: Revere, David Bromberg, Joe Benson, Kyle Waldrop, Chris Parmelee, Carlos Gutierrez, and Tyler Robertson. In my annual ranking of the Twins' top 40 prospects six of those guys made the list (and cracked the top 20) coming into this season and all seven will definitely be among the top 40 for 2011.

• According to Jim Callis at Baseball America the Twins are one of nine teams to hand out less than the MLB-recommend "slot" signing bonus amounts to draft picks this year, spending the fifth-least money relative to the suggested numbers. While not uncommon for the Twins, that's a definite change from last year when they went over "slot" to sign Kyle Gibson after he fell to them with the No. 22 pick despite once being a consensus top-10 prospect.

• Something to think about next time an announcer claims "doing the little things" is the key to the Twins' success: Matt Klaassen of Fan Graphs points out that of the nearly 3,000 bunts and bunt attempts across MLB this year just 27 percent have actually increased the bunting team's Win Probability Added. Most of the time, giving up an out is just a bad idea.

• Random stat: Matt Capps has thrown 78.3 percent fastballs this season, which is the fourth-highest rate among all pitchers with at least 60 innings.

• Last week Wilson Ramos hit his first career homer off R.A. Dickey while behind the plate for a Livan Hernandez start. The game was played in some sort of Twins bizarro world.

• If you remain on the fence about joining Twitter despite my obsessive involvement, perhaps this will push you over the edge: Batgirl is now tweeting.

June 23, 2010

Twins Notes: Mauer, Lowell, Bonser, Neshek, Plouffe, and prospects

• A few weeks ago after Ken Griffey Jr. retired friend of AG.com Jay Jaffe wrote a good article at Baseball Prospectus focusing on his place in baseball history, which also included this list of the best No. 1 overall picks of all time based on Wins Above Replacement Position (WARP):

NO. 1 PICK           YEAR     WARP
Alex Rodriguez       1993    101.0
Ken Griffey Jr.      1987     79.7
Chipper Jones        1990     72.4
Harold Baines        1977     48.4
Darryl Strawberry    1980     46.9
Joe Mauer            2001     34.5

I was surprised to see that only six No. 1 overall picks in baseball history have accumulated as many as 30 career WARP. To put that in some Twins-related context, Corey Koskie and Greg Gagne had 26.0 and 24.6 career WARP, respectively. Joe Mauer is already the sixth-best No. 1 pick ever despite being in the middle of his age-27 season. He won't top Alex Rodriguez and may be a long shot to pass Griffey, but should give Chipper Jones a run for the third spot.

• Last week I examined whether the Twins should trade for Mike Lowell after Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported they were talking to the Red Sox about the veteran third baseman. Rosenthal has since followed up his initial report, adding that the Red Sox are in a "stalemate" with the Twins and Rangers regarding Lowell because they're willing to pay the rest of his $12 million salary, but only if they get a decent player in return.

In other words the Red Sox want to save money or get a decent player. If the Twins are willing to absorb most of Lowell's remaining salary they can likely get him for a low-level prospect. If the Twins are willing to part with a mid-level prospect the Red Sox will likely pay the rest of his salary. Either way, the price is right. Lowell makes sense as a third baseman or DH platoon partner for Jason Kubel, who has a Jacque Jones-like .235/.317/.352 career line off lefties.

• Traded to the Red Sox in December after missing all of last year following shoulder surgery, Boof Bonser spent the first two months of this season on the disabled list, allowed four runs without recording an out in his first big-league appearance in 21 months, and was designated for assignment a week later. Meanwhile, the prospect the Twins got in return, Chris Province, has a 5.66 ERA in 41 innings as a 25-year-old reliever at Double-A. Seems like a fair trade.

• After angering the team by writing publicly about his injury status, Pat Neshek was activated from the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A earlier this month, with Ron Gardenhire saying:

He's just like everyone else in the minor leagues now. He's got to pitch his way back up. When there's a need, he'll get an opportunity ... if he's the one throwing the ball good.

Neshek has pitched in four Triple-A games with a 2.00 ERA, .152 opponents' batting average, and 7-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings. So far so good, although I doubt he's gotten much closer to rejoining the Twins and even a 2.00 ERA ranks just third-best in the Rochester bullpen behind Kyle Waldrop at 1.16 and Anthony Slama at 1.60 ERA. Despite that, Rochester is 28-41 and has the worst team ERA in the International League at 5.03.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported recently that the Orioles have been "sniffing around for a shortstop" and Trevor Plouffe "is rumored to have piqued their interest." Plouffe was oddly the only shortstop Stark mentioned by name and that seems like some awfully random smoke if there's zero fire behind it. Over the weekend Plouffe was sent back to Triple-A, where he's hit a career-best .278/.340/.449 in 54 games.

• Last week B.J. Hermsen was four outs from a no-hitter at low Single-A, settling for a one-hit shutout. Friend of AG.com and former part-time MLB.com Twins beat writer Thor Nystrom was in attendance and told me Hermsen was "very solid looking" and "goes after guys." However, he was surprised that Hermsen "doesn't throw hard for his size" and "doesn't have dominant stuff," which matches reports I got before ranking him as this year's 18th-best Twins prospect.

• After signing in September for $3.15 million, Miguel Sano homered on the first pitch he saw in the Dominican Summer League and is hitting .341/.444/.636 in 14 games. What makes that even more impressive is the DSL as a whole hitting .234 with a .315 slugging percentage this year, so his OPS is 427 points higher than the league average. Also worth noting is that Sano has played primarily third base, so any notion of him as a long-term shortstop is already over.

• In less positive prospect news, last year's supplemental first-round pick Matthew Bashore is out for the season following Tommy John elbow surgery and third-round pick Ben Tootle is out indefinitely after shoulder surgery. Bashore signed for $750,000 shortly after the draft, but got into just one game before being shut down and never pitched this year. Tootle looked good in his debut last year, but gave up 17 runs in 18 innings before going under the knife this year.

• Outfield prospect Rene Tosoni is also out for the season following shoulder surgery, which is a shame because he was off to a good start at Double-A after ranking 11th on my preseason list and could have factored into the Twins' plans at some point next season.

June 16, 2010

Should the Twins trade for Mike Lowell?

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported recently that the Twins are involved "in trade talks" with the Red Sox for Mike Lowell, who has been relegated to bench duties after an offseason deal to the Rangers was nixed by thumb surgery. According to Rosenthal "the Twins' field staff is lobbying for Lowell" because "the need is obvious" but the "front office would need to work through money and durability concerns."

Rosenthal is my choice for the best, most plugged-in national reporter in baseball and on the surface at least the Twins being interested in Lowell makes sense. Twins third basemen have been awful this season, hitting .207/.275/.274 with just two homers in 64 games to rank dead last in the league in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, homers, extra-base hits, and RBIs while also ranking second-worst in on-base percentage and runs.

Lowell has barely played for the Red Sox thanks to the winter signing of third baseman Adrian Beltre and the resurgence of designated hitter David Ortiz, logging a grand total of 90 plate appearances in 65 team games. He hasn't fared well in the extremely limited action, batting just .215/.311/.354, but 90 trips to the plate spread over three months is hardly a significant sample size and his OPS still beats Twins third basemen by 117 points.

Lowell is 36 years old and has undergone hip and thumb surgeries within the past 20 months, so the risks are obvious. However, he's said to be reasonably healthy now and when given a chance to actually play last season batted .290/.337/.474 with 17 homers and 29 doubles in 119 games. In fact, his current poor production in sporadic action marks just the second time in 11 full seasons as a big leaguer that Lowell hasn't posted an OPS above .785.

If you're curious, the last time someone started at least 100 games at third base and posted an OPS above .785 for the Twins was Corey Koskie in 2004. Lowell's lack of consistent work this season makes it nearly impossible to say exactly what he's capable of offensively at age 36, but there's no doubt that he'd be an obvious upgrade over the horrendous production the Twins have gotten from third base so far and the improvement would likely be significant.

Lowell is also a right-handed hitter and has batted .287/.354/.493 versus left-handed pitching during his career, making him a good fit for a Twins lineup heavy in lefty bats. When healthy his overall production has essentially been identical to Michael Cuddyer, with Lowell batting .279/.342/.466 and Cuddyer batting .270/.343/.457. Cuddyer has obviously been a key cog in the Twins' lineup for a long time, so adding a similar right-handed bat would help a lot.

Defensively is another story, because while Lowell was once a Gold Glove-winning defender at third base age and injuries may have turned him into a liability there. He graded out very well in Ultimate Zone Rating all the way up to 2008, but had hip surgery that offseason and came back to rate 10.7 runs below average in 107 games there last season. He's started just four games at third base this season, which makes it impossible to say if his range has recovered.

I'd be confident calling him a worthwhile, sensible target if the Twins are comfortable pursuing Lowell after presumably having access to his health status and scouting some of his starts this year. He could provide a big offensive upgrade at third base while holding his own defensively and even if his range is gone for good the tradeoff may be worth making. Worst case, if Lowell proved to be a huge liability in the field they'd benefit from his righty bat in a platoon at DH.

Lowell will be a risky acquisition however you slice it, so the potential move comes down to what the Twins would have to trade the Red Sox to take that risk. Back in December they had a deal worked out to send Lowell and $9 million of his $12 million salary to the Rangers for an intriguing but ultimately mid-level catching prospect named Max Ramirez and obviously teams haven't been banging down their door since the trade was nixed.

Money isn't as much of a factor at this point in the season, but assuming the Twins have some room to add salary they presumably should be able to get Lowell for a prospect clearly outside their top 20. It's tough to speculate any more specifically than that in terms of which players the Red Sox would target, but if the Twins can get Lowell for a prospect in the 30 range (now, not based on preseason rankings) they should pull the trigger.

He's a risk, but if reasonably healthy and productive Lowell would fill a clear area of need with a massive offensive upgrade in the form of a right-handed bat with some pop and might even surprise some people with his glove. Old, injured players are scary and I'm as hesitant as the Twins when it comes to parting with even mid-level prospects, but if the price is right Lowell was good enough as recently as last season to potentially give the team a major boost.