Yesterday I described 5 problems that might derail the Twins' season. Here I am trying to tackle a solution for the first of them: Inadequate batting against LHP.
This problem was obvious and identified before the winning streak and even with the winning streak, the numbers have not changed much. The solution is fairly straight forward: add a bat or two, but where? If you look at the current starters, there are 3 potential places that a strong bat against lefties can be added, which will make a difference:
a. Third base:
Here are how the players used at third base this season are batting against LHP (BA/OBP/SLG):
b. Short stop:
Here are how the players used at SS this season are batting against LHP (BA/OBP/SLG):
Punto: .333/.348/.444 (not sure how sustainable that is)
b. Designated hitter:
Here are how the players used at DH this season are batting against LHP (BA/OBP/SLG):
Based on the above, the priorities would be: DH, 3B, SS. The proposed solution to this problem would also solve part of problem 4 (the 25- and 40-man rosters and the minor league rosters are a mess.) Who is available at these positions that can make a difference for the Twins?
This weakness was identified here in early April. Clearly, the Twins front office passed on a couple of opportunities to replace Monroe with another RHB to platoon with Kubel as DH against LHP. The first of these opportunities was Frank Thomas, early in the season, and it was not clear whether Monroe would rebound or whether Thomas was willing to be a platoon player (and he was not.) Opportunity number 2 flew away a couple of days ago: Richie Sexson who just signed with the Yankees yesterday as a part time player, is hitting .344/.427/.609 against LHP and would have been an ideal Monroe replacement. The past is the past, but there are a couple of things that can be done to improve performance against lefties from the DH position:
For all options, Monroe, needs to be cut (the Twins will lose $1.6 mil).
I. When Cuddyer is healthy, he assumes the DH spots against LH and is the RF against RHP and Span rotates to RF/CF/bench. One potential issue is that Cuddyer is batting .250/.354/.321 against LHP this season.
II. Ruiz is called up to take Monroe's spot as a DH against lefties and part time 1B when Morneau needs rest. Ruiz is hitting .327/.400/.525 against lefties in Rochester, and while this is in AAA, the numbers that Buscher, Span, Macri and Casilla put in the majors this year, compared to their AAA numbers, indicate that Ruiz has a legitimate chance to repeat that performance for the Twins.
A potential trade target would have to fit the following requirements:
a. being fairly inexpensive (in terms of prospects) to acquire
b. have a contract that ends either the end of 2008 or 2009
c. be available
d. hit exceptionally well against LHP
e. be a RHB
here is a list of potential such players (alphabetically) and a lot of them might be surptising:
Rich Aurelia Giants .278/.367/.506 (against LHP), free agent after 2008, due the remaining of $4.5M for 2008. Inexpensive and available, can fill in at 1B and 3B.
Ron Beliard Nationals .260/.351/.700 (against LHP), free agent after 2009, due the remaining of $1.8M for 2008 and $1.9M in 2009. Very inexpensive and available, can fill in at 2B and 3B.
Jerry Hairston Reds .391/.461/.563 (against LHP), free agent after 2008, due the remaining of league minimum for 2008. Inexpensive and available, can fill in at SS (he is the Reds' starting SS).
Mark Loretta , Astros .347/.458/.571 (against LHP), free agent at the end of the season, contract: $2.75M. Probably inexpensive, not much a HR thread but a solid gap hitter. Can also fill in at 2B/SS/3B. Very available.
Kevin Millar Orioles .259/.373/.435 (against LHP), free agent after this season, due the remaining of $2.8M for 2008. Probably inexpensive and available, can fill in at 1B.
Melvin Mota Orioles .273/.337/.580 (against LHP), free agent after 2009, due the remaining of $7.8M for 2008 and $9M in 2009. A slugger past his prime, extremely inexpensive and extremely available, can fill in at 3B/1B; Baltimore would need to probably pay half of his salary for a trade to happen
Dmitri Young Nationals .318/.412/.591 (against LHP), free agent after 2009, due the remaining of $5M for 2008 and $5M in 2009. A bit past his prime, maybe inexpensive and extremely available, can fill in at 1B; An interesting brother reunion possibility and a player the Twins have coveted for a long time.
This is about it, given that the Twins will not try to pull a blockbuster and get Manny Ramirez from the Red Sox... I think that the Hairston and Loretta possibilities are most intriguing, would not cost the Twins much, both in $ and players and would give them a good bench piece.
I am treating both of these positions as similar, since there are a lot of similarities:
a. They were the 2 positions where the Twins had holes during the pre-season
b. The signings of Mike Lamb and Adam Everett did not produce
c. current players (Harris and Punto) are rotating in both positions.
It has been clear that even though Buscher exceeded expectations with the bat against RHP and has been a better alternative to Lamb, he cannot hit LHP and his defense is inadequate. A platoon with Harris and Runto as the every day SS (when healthy) has been the answer so far, albeit not sustainable.
The Twins need to find a home for Mike Lamb. They could potentially promote Macri to platoon with Buscher and have a Harris/Punto platoon on SS. For several reasons, the only external possibility is Adrian Beltre who is hitting .355/.473/.553 against LHP. He is owed the remainder of $12M this year and $12 in 2009. He will probably be expensive but attainable. A few days ago, I looked at previous trades and suggested what it might take for the Twins to obtain him. I think that he will provide a legitimate #5 hitter for this team and an excellent 3B, until Young is ready to take the #5 spot and Valencia to start at 3B.
What would I do if I were Bill Smith?
I would replace Lamb, Monroe and Punto with Hairston, Loretta and Beltre. Beltre would be the starting 3B, Loretta the DH against LHP (platooning with Kubel) and a infield replacement on the bench and Hairston the starting SS against LHP (platooning with Harris). Punto does have trade value and the Reds would potentially trade 1 for 1 with Hairston. Lamb might have a value as a LH PH for a NL contender, but I am not sure that Monroe would have any value at this point...
Here is an intriguing thought that I think that it is way too good, so I did not include it above, but left it as a parting shot: The Dodgers need a SS for the rest of the season. Nomar Garciaparrais hitting .471/.571/.824 against lefties this season and is a free agent after the season due the remainder of $8.5M. Would the Dodgers be willing to trade him for Punto? What else might be necessary to make that trade work (other than handcuffing Gardenhire ;) ) He then could be the platoon DH instead of Loretta in the scenario above, and a potential win-win situation for 2 contenders. Mr Smith get on the phone