April 3, 2015

Season preview: Are the Twins ready to stop losing?

Paul Molitor

Nearly everyone involved with the Twins, from players and new manager Paul Molitor to general manager Terry Ryan and owner Jim Pohlad, seems convinced the team is poised to take a big step forward. Nearly everyone not involved with the Twins, from national writers and Las Vegas oddsmakers to numbers-driven projection systems and cranky local bloggers, seems convinced the team is headed for another last-place finish and possibly a fifth straight 90-loss season.

Sports Illustrated picks the Twins for last place and 67 wins. ESPN.com picks the Twins for last place and 68 wins. Baseball Prospectus projects the Twins for last place and 71 wins. Bovada sets the Twins' over/under win total at 72.5. FanGraphs projects the Twins for last place and 74 wins. Grantland picks the Twins for last place and "under 75 wins." CBS Sports picks the Twins for last place. Yahoo Sports picks the Twins for last place. You get the idea.

Last year the Twins were 72-90. Then they fired Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager, handed out the largest free agent contract in team history to 32-year-old Ervin Santana at $55 million over four years, brought back Torii Hunter for a $10.5 million reunion at age 39, signed 33-year-old reliever Tim Stauffer for $2.2 million, and bypassed young talent in favor of veteran mediocrity for every roster spot up for grabs in spring training.

Those are all the moves of an organization that's sick of losing and also sick of their plummeting fan morale and season ticket sales. They spent big on veterans and further delayed the arrival of prospects, leading to an Opening Day roster with just four players who're 25 years old or younger in shortstop Danny Santana, left fielder Oswaldo Arcia, designated hitter Kennys Vargas, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham.

This is a rebuilding team in the sense that the Twins have been very bad and are still attempting to get back on track, but it's anything but a young team. Kyle Gibson is the youngest member of the starting rotation at 27. Graham is the only member of the seven-reliever bullpen under 30. Six of the nine starting position players are at least 28. In terms of their collective average ages, the rotation is 30, the bullpen is 31, and the lineup is 29.

When the reality of the Twins' organizational collapse finally sunk in around mid-2012 or so the idea was that they'd be back to contending by now, but injuries ruined those plans. Joe Mauer's concussion derailed his career and turned him from a Hall of Fame-caliber catcher to a mediocre first baseman. Instead of making their MLB debuts Miguel Sano missed all of last year following elbow surgery and Byron Buxton missed all but 31 games with a wrist injury and a concussion.

Buxton and Sano will begin this season as teammates at Double-A, the Twins sent 25-year-old pitching prospects Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Michael Tonkin back to Triple-A rather than trust them with roster spots that went to Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey, and Blaine Boyer, and after back-to-back Opening Day starts in center field Aaron Hicks is back in Rochester too. Toss in Arcia's development stagnating a bit and it's easy to see where the rebuild sputtered.

The good news is Buxton and Sano remain superstar-caliber prospects, Meyer and May still have enough upside to project as impact pitchers in some role, and there's another wave of prospects coming soon led by Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco, and Nick Burdi. The bad news is none of that figures to actually help the Twins win many games before the All-Star break. Sadly, being a Twins fan in 2015 is still more about waiting for help to arrive than watching it play at Target Field.

Brian Dozier; Danny Santana

There's a lot of optimism surrounding the Twins' offense after the lineup produced the fifth-most runs in the American League last season, but building on or even duplicating that performance is hardly a sure thing. For starters, Santana was the only hitter on the team to crack an .800 OPS last season, coming out of nowhere to hit .319/.353/.473 as a rookie after batting .273/.314/.388 in the minors while failing to top a .725 OPS at Single-A, Double-A, or Triple-A.

Santana is good enough, young enough, and skilled enough to buy into reevaluating his upside compared to what his minor-league track record suggested, but his rookie success was still driven by an unsustainable .405 batting average on balls in play and came despite an ugly 98/19 K/BB ratio. The combination of a so-so track record, poor plate discipline, and a high batting average on balls in play makes him a prime regression candidate.

Brian Dozier also needs to fight his track record to show his 2014 was for real, albeit to a lesser extent than Santana. He was the Twins' best all-around position player, hitting .245/.345/.416 with 23 homers, 21 steals, 89 walks, and solid defense to rank among the top half-dozen second basemen in MLB. Clearly the Twins buy into Dozier's age-27 breakout, but prior to 2014 he hit just .240/.297/.384 in the majors and .232/.286/.337 at Triple-A.

Kurt Suzuki was another source of unexpectedly strong offense, hitting .288/.345/.383 to make his first All-Star team at age 30. As with Dozier the Twins bought into his resurgence with a new contract, but Suzuki hit .253/.313/.362 in the second half to resemble his measly .237/.294/.357 line from 2010-2013. Jordan Schafer's track record strongly suggests he'll be unable to repeat his 41-game Twins showing and Hunter is fighting father time at age 39.

All of which isn't to say the lineup lacks the ability to improve in spots. Mauer getting back to his usual self would be huge and he hit .300 with a .400 on-base percentage in his final 55 games. Arcia should take a step forward at age 24 and is capable of breaking out with a better approach. But for the most part more hitters are likely to decline than improve, some by wide margins. Of course, Buxton and Sano showing up in May or June ready to thrive could change everything.

Then there's defense, which has played an overlooked part in the Twins' struggles as the focus tends to be on the "pitching" rather than the run prevention of pitching plus defense. Combined from 2011-2014 the Twins ranked 28th in Ultimate Zone Rating at 90 runs below average and 24th in Defensive Runs Saved at 115 runs below average. They've been horrendous, especially in the outfield, which is doubly bad combined with fly-ball, strikeout-phobic pitching staffs.

Infield defense may not be bad because Dozier is solid at second base, Santana has the skills to be a plus shortstop, Trevor Plouffe showed big improvement at third base, and Mauer is fine at first base. However, the outfield is guaranteed to be a major weakness again. Arcia and Hunter were two of MLB's worst defensive corner outfielders last year and it's asking a lot of Schafer (or Hicks) to cover up their mess when he's actually gotten below average marks in center field.

Phil Hughes Twins

Last offseason the Twins gave a four-year, $49 million deal to Ricky Nolasco and a three-year, $24 million contract to Phil Hughes, and this offseason they took the uncharacteristic pursuit of free agent pitching even further by signing Santana for $55 million. Hughes got three years and $42 million tacked on to his previous deal following a breakout 2014 season and the Twins have Pelfrey and Milone under contract for a combined $8.5 million in 2015.

That's a lot of resources devoted to veteran starters and there's also a hidden cost that comes with having pitchers with guaranteed salaries locked into rotation spots that might otherwise be handed over to prospects. Hughes is signed through 2019, Santana is signed through 2018, Nolasco is signed through 2017, and even though Pelfrey and Milone aren't signed beyond this season the Twins were still hesitant to push them aside.

Hughes was a tremendous find on what was a very reasonable free agent contract that the Twins turned into a much bigger commitment. He logged 210 innings and pitched even better than his solid 3.52 ERA, striking out 186 and walking 16 for the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the history of baseball. Asking for a repeat of that performance is wishful thinking, but Hughes seemed like a truly different pitcher last season and enters this year as a clear-cut No. 1 starter.

Santana was signed to take over the No. 2 spot and what he lacks in upside he makes up for in durability, although he's probably more of a No. 3 starter on a contending team. Nolasco looked like a No. 3 starter when the Twins gave him $49 million last offseason, but then pitched horribly for several months before revealing he was hurt and is now a question mark the Twins no doubt regret signing.

Gibson is the lone homegrown pitcher in the rotation and the former top prospect finally broke through last season to throw 179 innings in 31 starts. He was wildly inconsistent, but the end result was a 4.47 ERA in a league where the average starter was below 4.00. Inducing lots of ground balls helps Gibson make up for a lack of missed bats, but at age 27 and with just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings his upside looks limited to the back of the rotation.

Milone beat out Pelfrey and May for the fifth spot and the soft-tossing left-hander will try to show that his awful post-trade performance for the Twins was due to a benign tumor in his neck that required surgery. Milone was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for the A's, but Oakland's pitcher-friendly ballpark overstated his effectiveness and helped compensate for a mid-80s fastball. He has a 4.80 career ERA in non-Oakland ballparks.

If the goal was to put together a rotation less likely to be a disaster than the 2011-2014 versions the Twins absolutely accomplished that, but the price tags indicate they have much higher hopes and that may be pushing things. This is the worst rotation in the AL Central even if it's assumed Hughes will avoid turning back into a pumpkin and there isn't much upside unless Meyer and/or May hit the ground running soon. And compared to the bullpen the rotation is a strength.

Glen Perkins was one of the elite relievers in baseball for 3.5 seasons before melting down late last year while pitching through an injury. The bullpen desperately needs him to be his pre-injury self or things could get very ugly. Casey Fien is the primary setup man. Brian Duensing, who was a non-tender candidate, is the only lefty. Stauffer and Boyer have prominent roles and the Twins are hoping Pelfrey's one-pitch arsenal fits better in relief. It's an underwhelming group.


This should be the least-awful Twins team since 2010, but that's not saying much and confidence in even that mild statement dropped when they stacked the roster with Pelfrey, Milone, Duensing, Boyer, Schafer, Stauffer, Shane Robinson, Chris Herrmann, and Eduardo Nunez. That's a lot of self-imposed dreck for a team with better, younger options and there's a depressingly strong chance the same "are the Twins ready to stop losing?" question can be asked 365 days from now.

December 10, 2014

Twins Notes: Arbitration, defensive numbers, coaches, and Colabello

Eduardo Nunez Twins

• Faced with seven arbitration-eligible players, the Twins tendered 2015 contracts to everyone but Anthony Swarzak. Cutting ties with Swarzak makes sense given his lack of upside and mediocre performance in a low-leverage role, but in previewing their arbitration-based decisions last month Tommy Milone, Brian Duensing, and Eduardo Nunez also struck me as potential non-tender candidates. Instead they kept all three at a projected combined salary of around $6.5 million.

Nunez in particular seems to serve little purpose given that he's 27 years old and hits like a utility infielder without actually being able to play defense like one. His projected $1.2 million salary is inconsequential, but it's hard to imagine the Twins not being able to find a better use of a roster spot. Trevor Plouffe and Casey Fien were no-brainers to keep and rightly or wrongly the Twins probably felt retaining Jordan Schafer for around $1.5 million was an easy call as well.

In keeping six of the seven arbitration-eligible players and signing Torii Hunter for $10.5 million the Twins have around $90 million committed for 2015 based on guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration salaries, and minimum salaries needed to fill out the roster. That's already more than they spent in 2013 or 2014 and there's been little indication that a large increase in spending is planned for 2015. And the roster also looks relatively set barring trades.

• In the wake of the Hunter signing Terry Ryan was asked again about defensive statistics and again downplayed their importance while reiterating that the Twins rely on their eyes to evaluate defense. Meanwhile, in losing 90-plus games each year from 2011-2014 the Twins' defense was 98 runs below average according to Ultimate Zone Rating, 107 runs below average according to Plus/Minus, and 115 runs below average according to Defensive Runs Saved.

Ryan repeatedly saying the Twins need to pitch better and repeatedly denying the Twins' defense has been awful is a weird, frustrating disconnect. Their outfield defense rated particularly poorly, yet when asked about that Ryan scoffs at the numbers and insists guys like Josh Willingham were perfectly adequate. He also scoffed at the numbers all rating Hunter as 15-25 runs below average during the past two seasons, saying:

I saw him, I think, maybe seven games or so [in 2014]. His defense for me was more than adequate. He's not the type of guy that you're going to say, "Oh, he can go over there and play center for a length of time," but I would guarantee you he could go out and play center field for a couple days and you wouldn't really miss too much. ...

You can use the metrics or you can use the eye, and you should use both. In this instance, I think we've seen him play probably 30-35 games as an evaluation process this year, and for the most part the lowest grade we had on him was average range. That's pretty good.

Twins scouts watched Hunter for 30-35 games and graded him average or better defensively, so that's what Ryan and the front office relied on rather than trusting the defensive numbers that all agree he was somewhere between bad and horrendous. By the way, Hunter had about two balls hit to him per game this year, so evaluating his defense based on watching 30-35 games is like evaluating a hitter based on watching 60-70 at-bats.

It's one thing to pay little attention to defensive numbers if your scouting department is doing an amazing job evaluating defense with their eyes, but in the Twins' case that seemingly hasn't been true for a while now. Ryan saying "I would guarantee you he could go out and play center field for a couple days and you wouldn't really miss too much" about a 39-year-old Hunter is crazy talk and the type of thing that makes me question a whole lot about the Twins behind the scenes.

• To round out Paul Molitor's coaching staff the Twins hired Butch Davis as first base coach. He spent 20 years coaching in the minors for the Orioles and joins pitching coach Neil Allen as the only coaches without previous Twins tiesTom Brunansky and Joe Vavra were with Molitor on Ron Gardenhire's staff, Gene Glynn was Rochester's manager, Rudy Hernandez coached 14 years in the organization, and Eddie Guardado pitched 12 years for the Twins.

• According to Darren Wolfson of 1500-ESPN the Twins reached out to fired Cubs manager Rick Renteria about becoming Molitor's bench coach, but "he rejected the overture immediately" and they eventually settled on Vavra. And according to Bob Nightingale of USA Today they wanted to hire Delino DeShields first base coach, but he chose instead to manage at Triple-A for the Reds and the job went to Davis.

Chris Colabello was dropped from the 40-man roster and claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays. He followed up a big April for the Twins by slumping horribly and getting demoted to Triple-A, and Colabello later admitted that he played most of the season with a significant thumb injury. At age 31 and with little defensive value it's hard to fault the Twins for giving up on Colabello after he hit .214/.284/.364 with a 124/34 K/BB ratio in 114 games.

Shane Robinson agreed to a minor-league deal with the Twins after spending the first nine years of his career in the Cardinals organization. Robinson has good speed and enough range to handle center field defensively, but he's hit just .231/.303/.308 in 452 plate appearances spread over parts of five seasons in the majors. He's shown a bit more offensive promise at Triple-A, but at age 30 he's strictly a backup option in what currently looks like a crowded outfield.

Danny Santana played mostly center field as a rookie despite never playing there regularly in the minors, but Molitor indicated that the Twins view him as an infielder for 2015. That seemingly makes them more likely to pursue center fielders in trades and free agency--Schafer, Robinson, and Aaron Hicks are the current in-house options--and could mean Eduardo Escobar is headed for a bench role after being an above-average starting shortstop in 2014.

• Willingham, whom the Twins traded to the Royals in August for minor leaguer Jason Adam, announced his retirement at age 35. Willingham had a great first year in Minnesota, but ended up hitting .232/.353/.446 and missing 116 of a possible 440 games for the Twins during a three-year, $21 million contract. Helluva career, though. Despite not getting his first extended chance in the majors until age 27 he posted an .823 OPS with 195 homers in 1,147 games.

Francisco Liriano, who posted a 3.20 ERA with 338 strikeouts in 323 innings for the Pirates during the past two years, re-signed for three years and $39 million. By comparison, the Twins have Ricky Nolasco signed for another three years and $37 million.

• Hunter debuted for the Twins on August 22, 1997 by pinch-running for Terry Steinbach in a loss to the Orioles. In that game Molitor was the Twins' designated hitter, batting third versus Baltimore starting pitcher Scott Erickson.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode was recorded at Sociable Cider Werks and we talked Hunter, Hunter, and more Hunter.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

December 5, 2014

Link-O-Rama

• At the press conference announcing his $10.5 million contract Torii Hunter used the "those nerds never played the game" cliche when asked about his terrible defensive numbers and then called Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press "a prick" four different times in response to questions about Hunter's very public and repeated stance against gay rights. As if there weren't already enough reasons to question to wisdom of signing him for purely on-field reasons.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily went inside the numbers to show why Hunter's defense rates so poorly, including video of specific plays. Hageman played the game in high school, so not sure if that counts or what.

Aaron Purmort died at age 35, leaving behind a great wife, a great son, and a community who loved him online and in person. He also went out with the best obituary I've ever seen.

• Wanna buy Jonathan Papelbon's condo? It costs $7 million and includes zero colors.

• This is probably one of the top 10 signs someone has posted in the elevator of my building during the 10 months I've lived here.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post raised a lot of good points in arguing against the need for online comment sections attached to articles.

Jerry Kill was named Big Ten coach of the year just 15 months after Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote that he shouldn't be allowed to coach the Gophers.

• This review of the new "America" restaurant at Donald Trump's hotel in Toronto is pure gold.

• Out of shape amateur MMA fighter tries the "Showtime" kick made famous by Anthony Pettis:

Some might say he failed, but failure is subjective anyway.

Josh Willingham announced his retirement, two months after his wife got mad at Berardino for reporting he planned to retire.

Dave Brown made his Fan Graphs debut writing about Willingham being the losing-est player.

• As someone who prefers staying home over just about anything movie theaters trying to be more like your living room is intriguing. But it'll never compete with not leaving the house.

Chris Rock gave a lot of interesting answers in a long, wide-ranging interview with Frank Rich.

Fran Tarkenton is never going to make the baseball Hall of Fame after admitting this stuff.

• It turns out the Twins' new coaching staff looks awfully familiar.

• If given the chance, how many MLB teams would wipe the slate clean and rid themselves of all contracts on the books? I think the Twins would likely be one of the them, despite Phil Hughes.

• Two of my favorites, Todd Barry and Tom Scharpling, sat down for a good chat.

• Scharpling is bringing "The Best Show On WFMU" back, minus WFMU, as a podcast.

• For the second time in three months the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an anti-transgender ad that never would have been accepted if it depicted any other minority group.

Gerald Green had one of the best in-game dunks you'll ever see:

And he's playing well for the Suns after looking like a bust early in his career.

• As expected, I crushed Michael Rand in the Minneapolis Star Tribune fantasy football challenge.

• Coup d'etat has good fries, gnocchi, fish and chips, and whiskey. Joy Summers wrote a good article about their one-year anniversary in Uptown, including guys like me asking for more TVs.

• My pick for Minneapolis' most underrated restaurant, Louie's Wine Dive, got a nice write-up centered around their chef, Patrick Matthews.

• "Gilmore Girls" watching update: Jon Hamm was on an episode in Season 3.

• Heyday is a fantastic restaurant and I'm sure that will remain true, but seeing Lorin Zinter's smiling face was a big part of the experience.

• Nye's Polonaise is closing after 65 years as a Northeast Minneapolis staple.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Aaron Gleeman in a bear suit"
- "Naked parties"
- "Paul Molitor's wife"
- "Snoop Dogg and Eddie Guardado"
- "Fred Durst baseball"
- "Angelina Jolie in Minnesota"
- "Where is Scott Ullger now?"
- "Lizzie Caplan smokes Marlboro lights"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Best That I Can" by Vance Joy:


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

December 3, 2014

Twins sign Torii Hunter for $10.5 million

Torii Hunter Tigers

Torii Hunter took a "re-sign with the Tigers or retire" stance shortly after the season ended, but once it became clear that Detroit wasn't interested having him back a reunion with the Twins was all but inevitable. Hunter talked about wanting to finish his career with a contender and reportedly had interest from 2014 playoff teams and potential 2015 playoff teams, but in the end he chose a one-year, $10.5 million deal with a full no-trade clause to return to Minnesota.

Hunter was the Twins' first-round draft pick in 1993, debuted in 1997, and spent 1999-2007 as a power-hitting, quote-giving, Gold Glove-winning center fielder who frequently turned home runs into spectacular outs at the Metrodome. He left as a free agent following the 2007 season, signing a five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels that doubled the Twins' half-hearted attempt to retain him for three years and $45 million.

Hunter was 32 years old at the time and his defense had already shown major signs of decline, so the worry was that further slippage combined with good but not great offense would make him overpaid. Sure enough his defense slipped dramatically, to the point that he was not a center fielder by 2010, but his offense actually got better after leaving. With the Twins his OPS was 23 points above the league average, but after leaving the Twins it was 73 points above average.

He returns now at age 39 and as a completely different player. Hunter hit well this past season, batting .286/.319/.446 with 17 homers in 142 games for the Tigers, producing an adjusted OPS+ of 111 that would have ranked as his fourth-best mark for the Twins. But not only did he play a grand total of nine innings in center field during the past four seasons, Hunter's defense in right field has been horrendous according to nearly every prominent defensive metric.

Combined between 2013 and 2014 he graded out 22 runs below average in Ultimate Zone Rating, 25 runs below average in Plus/Minus, and 28 runs below average in Defensive Runs Saved. And in 2014 alone he rated as poorly as any outfielder to receive regular playing time. Surely the Twins will insist their scouts disagree with the numbers and perhaps they're right to an extent, but he's a bad defensive corner outfielder and that's one area that screamed out for them to improve.

Instead, with Hunter in right field, Oswaldo Arcia sliding over to left field to accommodate him, and a center fielder to be determined later the Twins have almost no chance of avoiding being a well below average outfield defensively and could easily rank among the very worst in baseball. For a low-strikeout pitching staff in a spacious ballpark that's a recipe for runs-allowing disaster, as we've unfortunately already seen for the past few seasons.

Make no mistake, the Twins are paying for nostalgia here. Even if Hunter exactly duplicates his 2014 performance--which is always unlikely at age 39--he'd be average offensively for a corner outfielder and well below average defensively. Any further decline on either side of the ball would make him a liability and as with most 39-year-olds there isn't a whole lot of upside to balance out the potential for a major dropoff.

The good news is that it's a straight up one-year deal, which makes it easier to cut bait on Hunter if necessary and doesn't lock the Twins into anything beyond 2015. And while $10.5 million is way too much money to spend it's not as if the Twins were going to spend money elsewhere anyway. In each of the past two seasons they've left massive amounts of payroll unspent and there's zero indication they planned to make a real effort to sign any front-line free agents this offseason.

In the best-case scenario Hunter hits .275 with 15 homers and merely bad defense, allowing the Twins to keep a corner spot warm for Eddie Rosario or Miguel Sano or another prospect. In the worst-case scenario Hunter struggles offensively, proves totally washed up defensively, and takes playing time from better, younger players while the haze of nostalgia keeps media fawning. For an organization stuck in the past a reunion with Hunter almost seemed too obvious, but here we are.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

November 12, 2014

Examining the Twins’ free agent options: Outfielders

Most teams coming off four straight 90-loss seasons have obvious holes all over the roster, but the Twins' lineup is pretty well set for 2015. Kurt Suzuki has a new two-year deal at catcher and first baseman Joe Mauer is signed through 2018. Brian Dozier isn't going anywhere at second base and shortstop will be filled by Eduardo Escobar and/or Danny Santana. Trevor Plouffe played well enough to stay at third base, at least until Miguel Sano is ready after elbow surgery.

Santana or Aaron Hicks will do the same type of seat-holding for Byron Buxton in center field and Oswaldo Arcia will man an outfield corner, presumably right field. Designated hitter can be filled by Kennys Vargas and/or Josmil Pinto. All of which leaves left field as the only clear spot that needs filling for 2015 and making a big splash with a long-term solution seems unlikely since post-surgery Sano, Eddie Rosario, or another prospect may be there by 2016.

Finding a veteran outfielder to provide 2015 help without blocking younger options and eating up future payroll would seemingly be a smart approach for the Twins and in looking over this year's free agent crop quite a few players fit that bill reasonably well. Here, in alphabetical order, are nine free agents who strike me as a worthwhile option or strike me as someone the Twins will view as a worthwhile option. Or both.


Norichika AokiNorichika Aoki: He's hit .287/.353/.387 in the majors, going 3-for-3 in solid seasons since coming over from Japan at age 30. Aoki had MLB's third-lowest strikeout rate from 2012-2014--one spot ahead of ex-Twins contact machine Ben Revere--and draws a decent number of walks while having the speed to steal 15-20 bases. All of which would make his left-handed bat a nice fit atop the lineup. During the playoffs Aoki's shaky routes in right field for the Royals stood out, but his defensive numbers have been just fine in all three outfield spots. At age 33 and unlikely to command big money, he seems like an ideal stop gap until the Twins decide who they want in left field long term.


2013 San Diego Padres Photo DayChris Denorfia: After a nice four-season run as a very productive part-timer Denorfia slipped to .230/.284/.318 in 121 games for the Padres and Mariners last season and at age 34 the risk is that his decline is permanent. However, from 2010-2013 he hit .280/.338/.414 in 484 games despite calling the majors' most pitcher-friendly ballpark home. Denorfia is also a plus defensive corner outfielder with the ability to handle center field if needed and has the speed to swipe 10-15 bases. Ideally he'd be used in a platoon role versus mostly lefties, but as a short-term solution Denorfia could be a regular if the Twins were willing to sacrifice offense for defense in a corner.


2014 Seattle Mariners Photo DayCorey Hart: Who knows. Hart was one of the best right-handed power hitters in baseball for the Brewers from 2010-2012, batting .279/.343/.514 with 31, 26, and 30 homers. Then he missed all of 2013 with a knee injury and was a mess for the Mariners this season, hitting .203/.271/.319 in 68 games. Hart is 6-foot-6 and was known for having great speed and range for his size, starting 41 games in center field and twice stealing more than 20 bases. Knee problems, time off, and normal aging may have ruined that skill set and it'd be crazy to offer Hart significant guaranteed money, but as a bounceback candidate he wouldn't be the worst idea as a cheap pickup.


Detroit Tigers Photo DayTorii Hunter: Not surprisingly the Twins have reportedly expressed interest in a reunion with Hunter, who left as a free agent in 2008. Hunter was 31 years old at the time, but his hitting actually improved after leaving. Even this season, at age 38, he hit .286/.319/.446 with 17 homers in 142 games. Defensively, however, Hunter has gone from being an elite center fielder to being one of the worst right fielders. During the past two seasons he was 22 runs below average in Ultimate Zone Rating and 28 runs below average in Defensive Runs Saved. Hunter and Arcia as the corner outfielders could be ugly, although the haze of nostalgia might keep a lot of people from realizing it.


Baltimore Orioles Photo DayNick Markakis: As a top-10 draft pick and stud prospect who had some big years early in his career Markakis looked like a long-term star, but now he's 31 years old with a .435 career slugging percentage. Combined during the past three seasons he hit .279/.342/.396. By comparison, Aoki hit .287/.353/.387 over that span. Markakis has a great defensive reputation, including a pair of Gold Glove awards, but the numbers do not view him as especially strong in the field. He's a superior all-around player with far more upside than Aoki, but you get the idea. He'd be a fine fit for the Twins, but my guess is that Markakis is going to get paid for his reputation rather than his actual production.


michael morseMichael Morse: After an injury wrecked 2013 season Morse was his usual self, hitting .279/.336/.475 with 16 homers in 131 games for the Giants to nearly match his .281/.335/.473 career line. Morse swings at everything, but doesn't strike out a ton and has hit above .275 in four of the past five seasons. And few right-handed bats have more power. Unfortunately he's a butcher defensively. Among all left fielders since 2011 he's dead last in Ultimate Zone Rating at 22 runs below average per 150 games. For some Twins-related context, Jason Kubel is -14, Josh Willingham is -10, and Delmon Young is -10. He should be a designated hitter, which the Twins don't need.


2013 Toronto Blue Jays Photo DayColby Rasmus: His production has varied wildly and he has a reputation for being a doofus, but Rasmus is an under-30 center fielder with 25-homer power and a .751 career OPS. It remains to be seen if new manager Paul Molitor is more open-minded to platooning than Ron Gardenhire, but Rasmus is a career .257/.323/.465 hitter off righties and struggles against lefties. Rasmus in left field would go a long way toward improving the defense without sacrificing any power and if he balks at that using him in center field until Buxton is ready may not be a bad idea either. I'd avoid any sort of major commitment, but Rasmus' skill set at age 28 is very intriguing.


2014 Texas Rangers Photo DayAlex Rios: For nearly a decade Rios was one of the better, most underrated corner outfielders in baseball. His lack of big-time power kept him under the radar, but Rios was a solid hitter who averaged 20 homers and 25 steals per 150 games from 2006-2013 and had center field-caliber range defensively. His offense and defense have slipped at age 34, causing the Rangers to decline his $13.5 million option, but Rios has been right around an average hitter for the past two seasons and could still get to plenty of fly balls in left field. Injuries sapped his production in 2014, but Rios played 145 or more games every year from 2007-2013 and is one season removed from 18 homers and 42 steals.


Milwaukee Brewers Photo DayRickie Weeks: I have no idea if Weeks would be willing to play left field. He was the Brewers' starting second baseman from 2005-2013 and then turned down a chance to play left field after losing the job to Scooter Gennett. He's never been a good defender and has struggled to stay healthy, so perhaps at age 32 he'd be more open to a position switch. Weeks hit .274/.357/.452 in a part-time role this season and has averaged 20 homers and 65 walks per 150 games for his career to make up for poor batting averages. If he's interested in trying to re-establish himself as a corner outfielder offer Weeks a one-year deal with the promise of an everyday role.


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