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Extreme Makeover: Left Side of the Infield Edition By Ross Fyfe

The outfield is overcrowded but solid. First, second, and catcher are all in good hands. The rotation is young but promising. Jason Kubel needs to figure out how to hit lefties to be the everyday DH, but he’s adequate. The bullpen lacks depth but has some stellar arms in Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares. Additions will be needed, but the bullpen takes a backseat to the Twins most glaring hole, the left side of the infield. After failed signings such as Tony Batista, Mike Lamb, and Adam Everett, and the mistake of trading Jason Bartlett, the Twins need to shore up this problematic area that has hurt the team the last couple of years. Help could come from within the organization but most likely will need to come through free agency or a trade.

Nick Punto is supposedly asking for at least four million dollars a year to be a starting shortstop. That should price the Twins out of the race for Punto’s signature if Bill Smith is smart. Even though he had a bounce back 2008 season after his horrendous 2007 season, Punto is nothing more than a utility infielder who can make spot starts and come in for defensive coverage late in games. Apologies to all Punto lovers, but seeing him sliding in to first base in another uniform next year will be better for the Twins. Hopefully someone else will learn how to make Morneau’s special pre-game drink.

Thankfully the Twins did not complete the signing of Casey Blake to play third base. The Twins just couldn’t bring themselves to giving him and his beard a three year deal. At thirty-five years old, Blake is on the wrong side of thirty and will only regress as a player. When Blake is thirty-eight, the Dodgers will be paying him over five million dollars for his services. Blake is a decent third baseman, but he won’t be hitting twenty homeruns and driving in eighty runs when he’s thirty-eight. Thank you Casey Blake for saving us money we can use on younger players with more upside!

Plan A for the Twins seemed to be Blake at third and Punto at short. While Punto may still return, the Twins must turn to plan B now and the best plan B may come from within the organization. Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris, and Matt Tolbert all provide the Twins with options for both positions as they each showed signs of promise last season. Buscher had the best season of the three, playing average defense at third and hitting a ton against righties with a batting average of .316 and an OPS of .799. Unfortunately, his average against lefties was .205 with an OPS of .455. If Buscher learned how to hit lefties, he may have a chance as an everyday third baseman. Otherwise he will be pigeonholed as the left half of an infield platoon.

Brendan Harris is similar to Nick Punto in that he can play all the infield positions defensively, but he can’t hit well enough to start everyday at one of them. Harris is not as good defensively as Punto, but he is three years younger and could improve. Sadly for Harris, being compared to Punto and coming out better only in the age department does not bode well for being an opening day starter. Matt Tolbert is the real unknown as he only played in forty-one games in 2008 due to injuries. Tolbert doesn’t have the power to be an everyday third baseman nor the defense to be the starting shortstop. Tolbert is good enough to be on the team, just not in the starting lineup.

With Buscher, Harris, and Tolbert all possessing shortcomings that may prevent them from being starters, the Twins need to continue looking outside the organization to fix the void on the left side of the infield. This most likely would come through a trade as the free agent crop of shortstops and third basemen include expensive players (Rafael Furcal), old has-beens (Nomar Garciaparra), and league average replacement players (Luis Rivas, we’ve missed you). Rumors suggest the top two players the Twins are looking at through trades are Adrian Beltre of the Mariners and Garrett Atkins of the Rockies. Both have had big years in the past with the bat and can knock in some runs. Beltre is one of the top defensive third basemen in the league and would offer stability at third as he has played over 140 games a season since 2002. As long as the Twins don’t trade away the future for a quick fix at third or short, a trade for either player would be a good move by the front office.

The Twins need to have a decent bat starting at one of the two left-sided infield positions. A combination of a good defender/average hitter at one position and the opposite at the other position should be enough to finalize the starting nine. The answer may come from within, but it most likely will, and should, come from outside. If Nick Punto is re-signed as the everyday shortstop, a bigger bat than Buscher will need to be obtained. After some questionable moves last off-season, it’s time for Bill Smith to prove why he was picked as Terry Ryan’s successor.

Twins Blog Feature Writer: Ross Fyfe


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