Thursday, December 3, 2009

Our New Gaping Hole

This offseason has started off better than expected. The very first week of November, all across the internet, bloggers everywhere could be heard shouting "Hallelujah!" as our hopes and prayers were answered with the swift and beautiful acquisition of JJ Hardy to fill a position that's been a gaping hole in the Twins infield since Cristian Guzman left us.

Don't feel pressure or anything...

After the bitter taste of champagne wore off, many of us noted that our outfield defense looked slightly shaky heading into 2010. Denard Span, as amazing and fantastic as he is, is not an A+ centerfielder. He's an amazing leadoff hitter, but his glove and range are more adequately suited to left field.

For some reason, no one seems to be focusing anymore on the fact that we have no true centerfield solution on our team. The Twins have in effect exchanged one gaping hole for a new one.

No, not that gaping hole!

To be fair, we can consider our outfield (and, in particular, centerfield, to be a position of strength in our system: Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales, Joe Benson, perhaps even Rene Tosoni though I don't know enough about his range, he has played center). Unfortunately, the highest of those prospects just completed his first year of AA, and while he had a solid season, he isn't screaming to be ready for the majors this next season. So while it's definitely a position of strength that we dealt from -- that strength is still a ways off from developing.

Our best case scenario right now is that Denard Span plays adequately enough in center that we don't cringe every time a ball soars into the outfield, and that next year either Tosoni or perhaps Revere makes a smooth transition into the majors out of Spring Training to allow Span to shift to a better corner outfield position. This is highly wishful thinking.

1) We are assuming Denard Span stays healthy all year.

That's a relatively big assumption.

God forbid Michael Cuddyer or Delmon Young is tabbed to play center if Span gets injured, and that Kubel slides into a corner outfield spot. Talk about cringing at our outfield defense! The only other option here is that either Jason Pridie (who very well could be released), or Dustin Martin (not quite the best center fielder, even in AAA), steps into a starter role if Span gets injured.

There is just no ready and available talent behind Span to be a regular in our lineup and on the field. This concerns me greatly.

2) Tosoni and Revere will probably not be ready in only one year.

Tosoni seems to be moving along nicely through the minors, but he's had one full season at AA, and to assume that he'll be ready to be handed a starting role in 2011 is still a big assumption. The Twins clearly think highly of him, but his .271/.360/.454 batting slash is sure to take a hit if not in AAA then certainly upon arrival in the majors. He'll more than likely be a useful major league player, probably in the corner outfield, by 2012 or so. But to assume he's the impending answer is a leap of faith.

Josh, sorry for pirating your photo...

Ben Revere is an amazing prospect. He might not have the arm of a center fielder right now, and his power certainly hasn't shown itself, but he's been tabbed as the Twins Minor League Player of the Year for the past 2 years and his numbers show you why. His .311/.372/.369 is a low for his (limited) career, and it was still enough to garner him the Minor League Player of the Year award. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to look at him as our center-fielder of the future -- the only question is: How far away is that "future"?

Torii Hunter had 6 years in the minors under his belt before tasting the big leagues, spending a year there, and being sent down for another partial year. Denard Span, our most recent incumbent, spent 5 full years in the minors, and then another partial year before earning his spot. Revere has only spent 3 years in the minors. Assuming he's not rushed along -- and we know the Twins aren't one to rush players along, especially because they coddled Revere out of the gate in instructional league -- our earliest bet to seem him at Target Field would probably be in 2012 or perhaps partway into 2013.


OK, let me be direct: the Twins need a stop-gap true centerfield option to tide them over until Ben Revere or perhaps Joe Benson, etc. is ready take over when they are adequately ready. That means a two-year deal for one of the free agents out there, or looking around on the trade market for a rangy outfielder to help out our dilemma.

Maybe the fact that everyone seems much more concerned about second and third base than centerfield means I'm worrying too much -- but I think it would serve this team well to address what could very well be a more pressing issue than letting Punto and Harris round out our infield.

Perhaps I'm being swayed by living in New York, but there's a face out there on the trade market that could more than adequately handle center field for us and perhaps even the second spot in the order:

Angel Pagan: .306/.350/.487, 27.9 Runs Above Replacement, and 2.8 Wins Above Replacement.

...and he appears in sweet photos like this and has a fun name Bert Blyleven would love to pronounce.

OK, that's enough for one post. Check out the podcast from last night, Jack Steal hosted, I co-hosted, and John Bonnes was our suprise guest star! And be sure to check back here Friday morning for the next entry in my Twins Bloggers: Get to Know 'Em offseason series when I profile Andrew Bryz-Gornia of We Are Off the Mark. In the meantime, share your thoughts with me, am I crazy for wanting a center fielder?


  1. I see where you are coming from, but I think this is probably a luxury the Twins cannot afford. One of the publicized reasons the Twins dealt Gomez for Hardy was to get rid of the logjam in the outfield. If we acquired Pagan, we'd be right back in that same situation. Personally, I'd love to see them deal Young and then do something like this. Regardless, the Twins have bigger holes in the rotation and at either 2nd or 3rd base since we all know that Punto will (unfortunately) be starting at one or the other.

    Also, I think we need to give Span a chance in center. We are so quick to look at his UZR scores out there and think he is subpar, but he has only accumulated 700 innings in center. With another 1200 innings, we could feel completely different about him. If anything, I'd argue that Gomez was a bit overrated in that he misjudged several flyballs and was not real savvy with catching balls against or over the wall.

    Finally, I really don't think Revere or Tosoni are your answer in center. Revere has the bat, but looks prime for LF with his noodle arm. Tosoni looks to be a platoon player with his issues against lefties. My guess is that we settle with Span who'll play slightly above average defense in center until Aaron Hicks arrives in 2013.

  2. Topper,

    I agree with you about needing a proven 4th outfielder who can play defense. However, I disagree with you about the range of Denard Span!! Yes it is true a lot more hits will fall into the gaps with him in center field but Span is still a lot better than his UZR might suggest. Span is very athletic and will respond by staying in one spot throughout an entire season. A bigger concern is the corner outfielders and their defense late in the game.

    The situation should resolve itself in spring training but needless to say there is no need to panic. The only way we should panic is if GM Bill Smith does not improve the infield situation and pickup a sold veteran to lead the pitching staff.

  3. Josh, you raise some good points:
    1. The thing about someone like an Angel Pagan (or an Endy Chavez, Coco Crisp, etc.) is that they could also be a more than adequate 4th outfielder, something we really don't have right now. Pridie and Martin are probably our leading candidates for that but both seem like AAAA players. If for some reason Span doesn't pan out as a center fielder, or if anyone is injured, Pagan, Chavez and Crisp have at least proven that they can be capable-to-good major league outfielders. Pridie and Martin have not. Giving Span a chance to prove himself is one thing, having no viable back-up option is quite another.

    2. Span could very well be a solid center fielder if given enough innings, true. But regardless of that, any mistakes he makes will be exaggerated by the fact that he has two extreme defensive liabilities on either of the corners for which he's going to have to compensate as well. This will probably be more of a problem than if Span had two solid or average defenders on either side of him.

    3. I'd agree, Tosoni and Revere are very likely not answers. Revere probably has a better chance in my opinion than Tosoni, but neither could pan out as a center fielder. Just as it took Kubel several years at the major league level to become a good everyday player vs. both lefties and righties, it would probably take Tosoni several years of adjustment to get to that level at the majors (if he ever does get to that level) and in the mean time yes, he'd probably simply be a platoon player and bat off the bench. Revere's arm strength issues make him a little cloudier to project as well, but he has plenty of range and a strong bat which should give him a better edge. Benson and Hicks are probably our best bet but are even further off than Revere and Tosoni, which is kind of the point I was hoping to make anyway, so thanks for stating it better than I could!

  4. Jack, you're right, I think the bigger issue than Span is the players at the corners, but as I said above, I think that will only magnify any problems Span has -- he won't have much help out there.

    My main point is that we simply don't have a Plan B. Pridie and Martin are not Plan B on a championship team, which is what we're trying to build for Joe...

  5. You're dead-on with the corner outfielders... they will definitely have an effect on any issues Span may have because both Cuddyer and Young are limited. This will only be magnified by the fact that we have a pitching staff that attempts to feast on flyball outs.

    Another interesting thing to think about that may or may not play a role is that the Twins are moving to a new stadium. I am interested to see how the little architectual nuances play a role. From the less spacious outfield corners to the overhang in right field, I wonder how long it takes the Twins players to get used to these bounces? Cuddyer was adept at handling balls of the baggy, but how will he react when one clanks off that low-hanging outfield deck?

    It's probably nothing, but I am certainly interested to see how the Twins translate on the new grass field. Perhaps this is why they are slowly transfering to a team with more power instead of turf speed?

  6. I mentioned the outfield defense a bit in the first paragraph of this:

    I don't remember if I mentioned this on Off The Mark or not, but as I calmed down after this trade, I realized that the Twins would no longer have a true backup center fielder. Jason Pridie might be first in line, but I don't know if the Twins are willing to let him be that guy. He is the only outfielder on the 40-man roster that didn't see regular time in the majors last year, so who knows what the Twins might do...