(NOTE: I will be going on my first real vacation in several years on Saturday, and thus might not have another post up for a week or so. I might have occasional internet access in Hawaii(!), and if I do, I will try to post a couple short updates. If not, have a great next week!)
The Twins have a dilemma. Right now there is a good chance that Michael Cuddyer will come back from his finger injury next week. So far, after three games, he is hitting .300 (3 for 10) with two doubles on his rehab assignment in Rochester and says that his finger is responding well to actually being used (last week he said that his lingering finger pain seemed to be stemming from unuse of the finger. While it is great that his finger is doing better, it could cause a lot of problems for the club if he comes back soon.
Cuddyer is a great guy and about the closest thing the Twins have to a leader in the clubhouse (after Red Dog, but taking batting practice naked is not necessarily leaderly). He also had a great year in 2006 and a passable last year, but last year he first started showing his propensity for injury. This season, he has only played in 62 of 114 games. if he comes back next week Friday for the West Coast road trip, he will have missed only two fewer games than he has played in this year, and there is still a chance that Cuddyer won’t reach 325 at-bats this year (he is currently at 234) and is currently hitting at a rather sad .252 (in contrast, the much-maligned Gomez is hitting .257, and his average is on the upswing after that brutal slump in July). It is impossible to know how he will play at the bigs after having such an injury-filled season. He shouldn’t go back to being the everyday LF, if only to protect his finger from further injuries. I would rather have him play about half-time for the rest of the season and then undertake a full rehab program in the offseason.
So, lets say that Cuddyer comes back and plays. Where does he take playing time from? He has four choices: Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Jason Kubel, and Delmon Young.
Let’s start with Denard Span, who fighting with Alexi Casilla for the best Twins story of the year. I would have to say that Alexi is a slightly better story, since his success is a total surprise (he was hitting a whole .216 in Rochester before his call-up), but Span is a VERY close second. Since his second call-up, Span has been a major part of nearly every Twins game, and almost always on the positive side. He has been a fixture on the late-night highlight reels (hell, he’s made some of the midday shows too). He (nearly) single-handedly won the last game at Safeco Field on Wednesday, with a three-run triple that provided the first three Twins runs and one of the most amazing plays of the year, when he stole a home-run from some-people-hoped-almost-Twin Adrian Beltre. I wasn’t one of them, but that’s a story for another day. Span continues to impress at the plate everyday, getting very possibly the best at-bats of any Twins player whose last name doesn’t start with M. Any way you slice it, Span does NOT deserve to be sent down. The only downsides I can see with Span is that he is not very good at playing the Baggy and he doesn’t have a very strong arm to the plate. That’s the clearest call of any that will follow right now.
The Twins haven’t had a center-fielder with range like Gomez since, well, it’s been a while. Gomez sometimes has some difficulty with routine plays, but he leads the majors in out-of-position plays right now. I suspect a lot of this comes from having Delmon Young in left and Cuddyer (sometimes) in right. There have been at least a dozen plays this year where I thought, “Crap, that’s extra bases” only to have Gomez swoop in and steal the hit from mid-air. The kid is fast. ’nuff said. He also has a very strong arm, though not a particularly accurate one. Most of his errors on the season (four of seven) have been throws that were up the first base line far enough that they went into the dugout or to the backstop. However, he has seven assists and his errors has declined as he has hit the cut-off man more reliably. The hard question about Gomez is this: is his near-stellar defense enough to keep him an everyday player in the major leagues despite his hitting? To me, the answer is yes. Gomez is currently hitting .257 because of his devastating slump in July (which, coincidentally, started at almost the same time that Span appeared and started presenting a challenge for his job) after hitting .266 on June 27 and .282 on June 1. Everyone knows he has had trouble hitting breaking balls on the outside corner, but since being sent down to the 9-spot, with less pressure, he has hit .371 (13-for-35 with an OBP of .451, small sample size and all), even after a not-so-great series against the Indians (2-for-9, or .222). Gomez, right now, is doing what we all thought he would do at the beginning of the season. His problem is that with one stellar month, he made us all think that he would develop at a rate approaching hyperspeed (Star Wars fans out there?). I don’t think Gomez has anything to worry about.
What about Jason Kubel? He is rocking it right now, against everyone but, well, lefties. He is second on the team in HRs, with 16 (only two behind Morneau). He is finally giving Morneau a little protection, when Gardy will actually bat him in the 5th spot. Right now, he is losing a few at-bats to the right-handed DH du jour, but that is fine with me. He has been hitting very well recently, and almost handed the Twins a game the other day with two home runs, one against a lefty. However, he is sllllooooowwwwww in the outfield. He is defnitely a DH, and he has really come into his own this year. If we had anyone to replace him, I would say he would be good trade bait for next year, but for now, I will say that the FREE JASON KUBEL movement has a been a rather stunning success.
This brings us to Delmon. This is only his second year in the majors, so I have tried to cut him some slack. I did rip on one play the other day, but that was because it was Soooooo bad. His bat is doing fairly well right now, but his power is still totally absent. He has four home runs on the year, three of them at the Metrodome. Not exactly what we expected when we traded our top pitching prospect for him. For a while, he flirted with .300, but has since fallen back off to .290 or so. Above average, but not exactly the numbers we expected. His defense, on the other hand, has been exactly what I expected, back when I hadn’t heard of Delmon Young and thought we had traded for Dmitri (I was writing a thesis at the time, OK? So sue me.). Young hasn’t gotten a good jump on a ball all year and his routes to the balls that he does get to are horrendous. His range is tiny; his ass would be grass if Gomez/Span weren’t in CF to save balls in the gap. He manages to underhustle balls on a regular basis; he has been a half-step too short on balls over his head because of lackadaisical play at least six time in the last two weeks. His feet-first dives for the ball drive me insane right now. He has a good arm; I’ll give him that. His eight assists on the year lead the team, though I can’t remember when his last one came. It has been a while. He is absolutely killing the Twins in the field. I hate to say it, but I miss RonDL and Ford in LF, and that’s saying something. At the same time, I understand the dynamics of the game, and that the fans would be rather unhappy if the prize of the Garza trade was sent to the minors; it just won’t happen. However, I think a good benching would do him well.
So, with Cuddy re-appearing, what should the Twins do? The first is obvious: DFA either Ruiz or Lamb. Ruiz is a great guy and I was happy to see him get a couple hits, but I don’t think he has a spot when Cuddy gets back. He is a AAAA player in every sense of the expression. Mike Lamb is another good guy, and I have been waiting to throw out this article that shows his softer side for weeks now. I think he could help a team down the stretch that needs a lefty bat off the bench if the Twins do let him go. But for now, Ruiz is the most likely to go, and I could see a team poaching him off waivers and the Twins getting some unlikely prospect back (Ruiz has great numbers in the minors, and I could see a team grabbing him for a right-handed PH).
So, here is what I think the outfield and DH spots should look like when Cuddy gets back:
- At home against a RH pitcher: RF: Cuddyer; CF: Gomez; LF: Span; DH: Kubel (Span has enough trouble with the baggy that Cuddy should play in right).
- At home against a LH pitcher: RF: Cuddyer/Span; CF: Gomez; LF: Young; DH: Kubel/Cuddyer
- On the road against a RH pitcher: RF: Span/Cuddyer; CF: Gomez; LF: Span/Young; DH: Kubel
- On the road against a LH pitcher: RF: Span; CF: Gomez; LF: Young; DH: Cuddyer
I don’t really think it will shake out that easily, but I can dream, right?
New on my List (NOMY):
The BBTN announcers that are calling Manny “THe Great One” merely because he shares the same uniform number with Wayne Gretzky, who, if you were paying attention, played HOCKEY, which shares as many similarities with baseball as it does with Equestrian. Seriously. Just. Stop. It.