Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The corner infield "logjam"

Terry Ryan on Tuesday had a media session Tuesday heading into the organizational meetings that start later this week in Fort Myers. The consensus on Twitter was that there was no big news coming out of it but a few tidbits were informational.

  • No surgeries are planned, but Brian Dozier is to have an MRI on his hip. 
  • The coaching staff is expected to return en masse, although contracts have yet to be finalized.
  • Ryan won't pinpoint any specific position or player for offseason moves. (No kidding.)
  • Trevor Plouffe and Joe Mauer won't be changing positions, and Ryan doesn't want Miguel Sano pigeonholed as a designated hitter.

That last is probably the most significant of the items. Plouffe has become a quality defensive third baseman, and he led the Twins in RBIs this year while hitting in the middle of the lineup. Mauer had the worst offensive season of his career but still led the Twins in walks and on-base percentage (as long as we draw the qualifying line above Sano, who had about half a season of plate appearances.)

The irrational grief Mauer takes on talk radio and social media obscures reality. He isn't the .330/.400/.500 hitter of his 20s. But his OBP still plays in the upper half of the batting order.

Both Mauer and Plouffe were, by OPS+, slightly below league average at the plate but considerably better than, say, Torii Hunter. Neither was as good at hitting as Sano, whose time in the field was limited by hamstring issues.

There is only a problem here for the Twins if they make it one. They have three corner infielders, each of whom still has a useful role in the lineup, and three positions to play them (first base, third base and designated hitter). This isn't a true logjam.

There's a fallacy that the Twins have fallen into before, notably with David Ortiz: So-and-so is "too young" to be a designated hitter. This is not unique to the Twins, of course; most notably, the Seattle Mariners wasted a sizable chuck of Edgar Martinez' career because he had no defensive position. He had to get into his late 20s before the M's let him do what he was born to do.

The Twins want Sano to work on his defense, and one piece of that may well be that he will have to hold his weight down if he's playing in the field. Another is that they'll want him in the lineup for interleague road games. But the core reality is this: The 2016 Twins, barring trade or injury, figure to have Mauer, Sano and Plouffe in the middle of the lineup, and the best defensive alignment of the trio has Sano as the designated hitter.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your remarks about Mauer. The fact is that at any point of the season, despite his struggles, he was one of the 4 best hitters on the team. Which is why he batted 2nd or 3rd all year. Unlike say Hunter, who started out 4th, was moved to 2nd, and ended up moving down to 5th and eventually 6th or 7th at the end of the season.

    I don't really agree with you on trading Plouffe. It makes sense if Ryan can find a reasonable deal. Sano is probably as good defensively as Plouffe was 2 years ago. I think he probably has the skills to be as good or nearly as good defensively as Plouffe. Even if that doesn't happen, It should be easier to find an all bat player to fill the dh position who in theory anyway, a better offensive player than Plouffe. Possibly, Arcia or someone else internally can do that or some sort of platoon situation involving Hunter, if they have to bring him back. If none of that works you can pick up a bat as good as Plouffe, during the season.

    Although the Twins won't get a haul for Plouffe, and probably won't get the catcher everyone seems to think they need, it seems plausible that they could get a package somewhat similar to what they got for AJ back in the day. Say a hard throwing reliever who might work at the back of the bullpen, a formerly highly regarded prospect, and a lottery ticket who is likely a long ways away from the majors but could be really good.