The Twins were expected to be active this year. They are reaching the point where many of their top prospects are getting ready to make the leap to the majors, and they should be able to identify which areas within the system are strengths and weaknesses. As such, I, and perhaps many observers, believed that the Twins would be active on the trade market this year. The Twins were bad at the top last year, but they had the pieces necessary to begin a push back towards relevance.
Instead of making those trades, they opted to address their holes via free agency. The pitching stunk last year, and the team needed a full time corner outfielder, so they signed Torii Hunter first for the outfield, and last week signed Ervin Santana to fill out the pitching rotation. I think that anyone who knows much about baseball can tell you that Ervin Santana and Torii Hunter aren’t going to turn the Twins around. What do they still need to do?
Let’s identify the problems that they have now within the system after their moves thus far, and see if we can’t figure out some solutions.
1) The outfield defense still sucks. Despite what I said earlier about anyone being better than the Willingham/Kubel combination in the outfield, the Twins managed to get better by the slimmest of margins. I’ve made mention of the fact that the Twins poor defense is culpable in the poor performance of the pitching staff, perhaps more influential than many people consider. They were one of the worst defenses in the league by any measure, and it wouldn’t be crazy to assert that the poor fielding cost Minnesota as much as .5 runs a game.
2) There is a logjam of prospects now, and nowhere else is it more evident than in the AAA pitching staff. It seems pretty well confirmed that the rotation will consist of Phil Hughes, Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson and a mystery 5th. Who to give that spot to, though? The candidates are plentiful. Trevor May, Tommy Milone and Alex Meyer seem like the top candidates, but there is also Mike Pelfrey who could be considered. And then J.O. Berrios doesn’t seem too far from making a major league debut either. What do the Twins do with all of this talent, especially now that there is well over $100M locked up in the first 60% of the rotation?
There is still time for a trade, and I believe the Twins should be in the market. In fact, I have an idea. The San Diego Padres, even if the Matt Kemp trade fails to be consummated have a glut of outfielders, and some good ones will be available as we head into January. I’m specifically interested in Cameron Maybin, who is going to be paid $5 million a year for two more seasons, and would be coming to Minnesota at his lowest value after coming off an injury and failing to meet his personal standards last season.
Maybin is two years removed from surgery on his knee and wrist, but managed to return to his high level of fielding ability last season. He’s never been much of a hitter, although he is still better at the plate than Aaron Hicks. Besides, whatever he adds to the offense, the contribution to the defensive side would be significantly greater.
The Twins have the resources to acquire someone like Maybin. I noted the pitching situation, which could use some clarity. It would be perfect if the Padres wanted Milone, but I think it would be more likely that they would want Trevor May. May might be more valuable than Maybin, but used correctly, Maybin would be more valuable to the Twins.
Of course, this would bring about a different concern. Where do you put Maybin? If you just swap out Hicks and Maybin, there is definitely an improvement, but not as much as moving Hicks to a corner. If you move Hicks to a corner, that takes either Hunter or Oswaldo Arcia out of the field. They can both hit so perhaps they could slot in as a DH. If you do that, then you have 3 people fighting for that spot in the lineup: Hunter/Arcia, Kennys Vargas and Josmil Pinto. Pinto has value because he is expected to become the team’s catcher, eventually. Vargas has a lot of power, but came on strong very recently and happens to be enormous, which likely will lead to a shorter viable career. Vargas is more expendable, and could be spun for younger prospects still. Perhaps he could be used as part of a trade for another starting pitcher. There are a lot of options.
Another option? Wait. If Maybin were acquired, Arcia could be pushed to DH with Hicks going to left. Arcia would move to DH, and would split time with the corner outfielders and Vargas at DH. Pinto continues to bide his time either on the bench or in Rocherster. Torii Hunter is only in Minnesota on a one year deal, and Hicks is nearing the end of his free passes. In 2016, with Hunter, and maybe Hicks gone, there is still a very good defensive outfield available. Assuming healthy, you could stick Arcia in right and Maybin in left and welcome Byron Buxton to Minneapolis for his rookie season. Doing that, you would still have space for Vargas at DH and Pinto would be ready to assume the spot of primary catcher. After all of these machinations, the top 4 of the rotation will still be around, assuming health again, and the 5th spot in the rotation is likely to be confirmed. I think by 2016, it could well be Berrios. That’s not the point though.
The point is that the Twins haven’t done enough to make themselves relevant yet, but that there are options to get there quicker. The Twins just have to choose one.