January 5, 2006

Koskie's Return?

It's been amusing watching the ongoing rumors surrounding Corey Koskie's potential return to the Twins. The story changes seemingly every day, and the two major newspapers here can't seem to agree on what's happening. One day someone in one paper writes that the Twins and Blue Jays are in serious talks to bring Koskie back to Minnesota, and the next day someone in the other paper writes that the Twins aren't even interested in Koskie coming back.

Thankfully, Joe Christensen had a thorough, seemingly fact-based report on the rumors in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The Toronto Blue Jays have offered to trade third baseman Corey Koskie back to the Twins while absorbing a sizeable chunk of his remaining contract, a major league official familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday. But so far, the Twins have been reluctant to make the trade.


Before the Twins let Koskie leave as a free agent, they offered him a two-year deal for about $8.5 million. The Blue Jays apparently have floated that number back to the Twins, making it clear they would absorb at least $3 million, if not more, to make the deal happen.

In return, Toronto is asking the Twins for a minor league prospect. The Twins have refused to move Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker in other deals, but the Blue Jays aren't asking for anyone at that level, the major league official said.

There is some other good stuff in the article, including a hint that Terry Ryan may have promised Tony Batista some sort of a playing-time guarantee, but at some point I've got to stop quoting an article and simply tell you to go read it for yourself.

As for Koskie coming back to Minnesota? I'd be all for it if the price was right. Koskie is extraordinarily injury prone and will probably cease being a quality player very suddenly, but even in a dismal first year with the Blue Jays he managed to hit .265/.365/.437 against right-handed pitching. That's very solid production at third base and significantly better than Batista can ever hope to do.

Koskie can only be counted on for about 100 games a year at this point and needs to be platooned against left-handed pitching. However, if used correctly he can still be a key contributor to a contender both offensively and defensively. Replacing Batista with him at this stage in the game -- when the Twins' lineup appears all but set heading into 2006 -- would be a major upgrade.

The question is whether or not the Twins can expand their payroll to take on Koskie even at a reduced rate or if that would mean having to trade away Kyle Lohse to make room. Much is made of the Twins' inability to sign big-name free agents, but the worst part about being a small-market team is the struggle that comes along with something as minor as adding enough payroll to re-acquire a player like Koskie who was lost in the first place over relatively little money.

The only problem I've had with the Twins' offseason has been the signing of Batista and the indication that he is in the team's plans as the everyday third baseman for 2006. If Ryan is able to pick up Koskie from Toronto for a mid-level prospect while having the Blue Jays eat a large portion of his contract, I would become extremely happy with how the winter has gone.

Not only is Koskie a massive upgrade over Batista (assuming he is anything close to healthy), he would give the Twins another on-base threat while providing a little better balance to the lineup with his left-handed bat. Here's how things might look if Koskie returns:

LF   Shannon Stewart     R
2B Luis Castillo B
C Joe Mauer L
DH Rondell White R
1B Justin Morneau L
CF Torii Hunter R
3B Corey Koskie L
RF Michael Cuddyer R
SS Jason Bartlett R

That is a lineup with good balance and little major weakness, even if Jason Bartlett struggles again in 2006. Plus, if Jason Kubel is somehow healthy by Opening Day he can step in for Michael Cuddyer in right field, allowing Cuddyer and Batista to sub for Koskie at third base when the inevitable injuries come. Toss in Lew Ford as the fourth outfielder (plus Cuddyer's ability to play the outfield) and that is a group with plenty of quality and depth.

The Twins were in a very difficult spot with Koskie last offseason. Their concerns about his durability proved correct and in that sense they were right for letting him go. However, their attempts to replace him at third base (first with Cuddyer and now with Batista) have been anything but successful. Now they have a chance to get Koskie back without nearly as much risk, and in doing so can add the final piece to an offense that would be significantly improved.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it'll happen. Christensen followed up his previous report today, writing that the trade talks for Koskie have been "officially pronounced dead." He also quotes Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi as saying, "I don't see a deal happening with Minnesota." Of course, knowing the way this rumor has changed so drastically on a daily basis, Koskie could be back in a Twins uniform by tomorrow.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Pictures of Batted Balls (by Dave Studeman)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)

Pick of the Day (161-142, +$1,665):
Michigan State +7 (-110) over Illinois

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