Column: What will the Minn. Twins look like in 2008?Published 12:00am Thursday, November 22, 2007
Jon Laging, Talking Sports
One of the questions that might be posed to our Twins&8217; organization is where the team is headed? Will they compete for the pennant next year or are they in a rebuilding mode?
Will they take the stars of the team of 2006, and add a few low-cost pieces in hopes of being able to outlast the Tigers, Indians and White Sox of the Central Division? I would imagine it would be tempting to do so. After all, it&8217;s not as though Mauer, Morneau, Nathan, Santana, Cuddyer and Hunter played badly. In fact, Hunter had what could be described as a career year, at least offensively. They just didn&8217;t play as well and it&8217;s reasonable to expect improvement from the big guns of the Twins.
Granted, the Craig Monroes of the world do not replace a Torii Hunter, but the Twins had so many weaknesses last year that if the organization just does a little better with replacements there is substantial room for improvement.
Surprisingly, Bill Smith, the new general manager has an easy job as he goes about improving the team. This opinion may not be shared by many, but to me if you have position players that provide little offense, it&8217;s not difficult to improve upon them.
If your regular third baseman hits 210 with no power and has the fourth most at bats on the team, you do not have to be a baseball genius to better third base. The same holds true for the designated hitter slot. Rondell White must be a swell guy, but how long can personality and charm get you by. (I was a little harsh in that statement.) It was not his fault or the Twins that he was injured throughout most of his time with the team. These seem to be two positions that could easily be improved with average major leaguers for a reasonable amount of money. Therefore, given better hitting and all things equal, the Twins will score more runs.
However, there is another big decision for the Twins to make regarding their future strategy. Last year they stood on the sidelines and lit bonfires, to paraphrase Minnesota Sen. Gene McCarthy. They had a couple of decisions to make and did nothing. Which of course, is a decision in itself. They could have bolstered their offense. They didn&8217;t. Failing that they could have traded Torii Hunter for present or future players. They didn&8217;t and the Twins floundered to a third place finish anyway.
This type of opportunity still exists. Both Johan Santana and Joe Nathan are in their contract years. Trades might be made for the future. I can&8217;t think of a more attractive duo than these two. The surprising thing is that the Twins, while nobody can really replace these two, have promising players in the wings. Neshak for Nathan and Liriano or Garza for Santana. It&8217;s an option the Twins&8217; fans would not be happy with, but it might set up the team for another five years if the trades are well done. The young players would probably mature in time for the stadium in 2010. Plus it frees up a lot of money.
Speaking of money, the analysts project that the Twins have $25 million available, not including what Hunter might get if the team signs him. When you add all these factors mentioned together, the organization might have a substantial amount of money for good hitting free agents that could help the team immediately. It&8217;s possible such a Santana-Nathan trade and additional money for free agents would help the Twins both now and in the future. The Twins might be able to eat their cake and have it too. It would be a tremendous gamble, getting rid of who may be the best starter and finisher in the American League.
I think the Twins will go the conservative route, preserve the status quo and attempt to patch the team offensive needs. How well they do this may well define the Bill Smith era.
Jon Laging writes his regional sports column from his home in Preston.