Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Backup Plan

Thursday marks the deadline for Twins pitchers and catchers to report to camp in Ft. Myers. It's an annual holiday for baseball fans, and this year it will serve as prelude to a very interesting six weeks leading up to the start of the regular season. Rarely has a Twins team entered spring training with as many questions needing to be answered as this one.

How will Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer look after going through minor offseason knee surgeries? How will Scott Baker's arm look after reports of a setback in his recovery from a seemingly minor elbow surgery? Can Joe Nathan return to form just 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery? How will the middle infield and bullpen shake out?

Order the MSP Twins Annual 2011
All important questions, to be sure, but without a doubt the most discussed topic over the next month-and-a-half will be Justin Morneau. Trying to return to baseball for the first time since suffering a concussion over seven months ago, the first baseman will have his every move and word  closely scrutinized, especially with club officials hinting at the possibility that he might not be ready for Opening Day.

Everyone hopes for the best with Morneau this year. But there's a realistic chance that he suffers a setback and the team is forced to open the season without him in the lineup.

It's important that they have a plan in place for that scenario.

Last year, the Twins got by fine without Morneau by sliding Cuddyer to first, Jason Kubel to right, and Jim Thome to regular DH duty. Those players all return this year, but it's awfully optimistic to expect that plan to pay the same kind of dividends, especially if Morneau will be missing months and not weeks.

Cuddyer and Kubel are defensive liabilities when venturing out of their expected roles, and over time such liabilities become magnified. Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine Thome, who will turn 41 this season, playing almost every day without breaking down.

There's really no candidate other than Cuddyer to play first base (which makes one wonder what Ron Gardenhire would do if both he and Morneau were unavailable) but the Twins can limit Kubel's exposure in right field, which will help both his knees and their defense. Jason Repko is available, but Gardenhire will want to avoid writing his punchless bat into the lineup too frequently.

The door would be open for Ben Revere.

If the 22-year-old outfielder has another hot spring (last year he hit .326 in exhibition play) he could put himself in line for a quick call-up should Morneau open the season on the disabled list. Revere could serve as part-time right fielder, representing a massive defensive upgrade over Kubel and an offensive upgrade over Repko (especially against right-handed pitching). This would allow Thome to be used more as a bench bat and occasional DH, increasing his odds of staying healthy and productive throughout the summer.

The Twins would benefit from getting an extended look at Revere in the big leagues. Kubel and Cuddyer will both be free agents after this season, and Delmon Young could be due for another significant pay raise. There's a good chance that the team will have an opening at one or both of their corner outfield spots, and I'm sure the organization would like nothing more than for the inexpensive, speedy and likable Revere to step in. Gaining some valuable experience this year would help prepare him for the challenge.

Revere looked pretty raw in his first sampling of the majors last September, and he has yet to spend any time above the Double-A level in the minors. But, if he looks the part this spring, there's no denying that he's an appealing option should Cuddyer be forced to serve as the team's first baseman.

If he's able to make meaningful contributions to the big-league club less than four years after joining the pro ranks, Revere would go a long way toward proving wrong those of us who doubted the Twins' wisdom when they reached for him in the first round of the 2007 draft.


The image in this article is the first page of a story I wrote about Morneau and concussions for the Maple Street Press Twins Annual 2011, which can be ordered here. This is your chance to get it before it even hits newsstands. Thanks to all for the support!


Bombo said...

To say Revere looked raw last season is like saying CC Sabathia is slightly overweight. Like you said he has not seen triple A yet, so we should give him his opportunity to rise through the system. With that being said, he appeared to be a speedy, light hitting outfielder with an arm worse than Span's noodle arm which is really saying something.

Patrick said...

If Revere were to spend a significant portion of time with the Twins do you think it would be better to play him in center and shift Span to right? Span seemed very comfortable in either corner when Gomez played center and Revere seems to have a bit more range.

Anonymous said...

First off - Jason Kubel needs to learn how to play 1B! He doesn't run well enough or throw well enough to be any kind of long term solution in the outfield. I simply don't understand how or why the Twins are not demanding that he learn what is arguably the least demanding position on the field.
Second, It doesn't seem like Ben Revere has the arm for RF. I think it would make more sense to move D. Young to RF next year and let Revere battle for the LF and leadoff position with Span. I think Cuddyer is done with the team after this season, unless he's willing to take a huge salary cut.
Third, if Morneau is potentially out for an extended time this year, I wonder if it would change the Twins' thinking about making a deal for Michael Young. And no, I don't want to deal Liriano for Young. That's just plain dumb.


Nick said...

If Revere is in the starting line-up, you absolutely need to shuffle the OF defense. Span in LF, Revere in CF, Young in RF is the only configuration that makes sense. That alignment would actually be a formidable D and help save some runs with our flyball happy pitchers.

You also have to expect Parmelee to get a long look this spring if Morneau is not available.

Ed Bast said...

I think secretly the Twins want Morneau to miss large portions of the season. This allows them to say, after their downgraded lineup finishes 2nd in the division or gets destroyed yet again in the 1st round, well, we didn't have Morneau, how could we possibly compete? It's an excuse that Twins fans have absolutely eaten up the last 2 years. The front office LOVES excuses. Otherwise, considering Morneau's a guy who hasn't come close to finishing a season since '08, why would they leave themselves vulnerable once he inevitably goes down again? They won't sign Liriano because of injury concerns, but they won't get a backup 1B for a guy that's been hurt far more than Frankie the past 2 years?

Makes no sense. More evidence of the incompetency of the front office and the lack of interest in the playoffs from the organization as a whole.

Shane Wahl said...

Revere needs to play every day, not be part-time, and that will only happen if he starts in Rochester. While Kubel really SHOULD learn to play first (no one ever seems to talk about this possibility ever???--does anyone know anything about this?), the Twins have Jeff Bailey and Justin Huber to fill in at first base. Bailey is the likely choice because he can play both 1B and the corner outfield positions. Not sure at all why people forget that these two players exist for this very reason . . .

cy1time said...

Shane's right, Revere needs to play everyday, whether it is in Minnesota or in Rochester. My preference is he at least starts the season in Rochester. He needs a little more seasoning and no use starting the arbitration clock unless we absolutely have to.

Nick N. said...

Regarding Revere's position, I agree that he's not particularly well suited for right field but the fact is that the Twins don't like moving existing players out of their established positions. Yes, Young would fit better in right, but that was also true when Span was playing RF.

And as to the argument that Revere needs to be playing everyday, I'm not sure I agree. If he'd be able to draw 2-3 starts a week and serve as a pinch-runner and late-game defensive replacement at other times, I think both he and the team would benefit from some time spent in the big leagues.

Shane said...

I guess it would be true that Revere would be in the lineup when Thome wasn't, so he would be the pinch runner for Thome all the time--that would increase his playing time. Don't get me wrong, I want to win THIS YEAR, but I am also looking to making the best situation possible for next year and a potential Revere-Span-Benson OF (Young DH). I do think that developing at AAA for a full year might be more productive--I fear the Carlos Gomez situation that the Mets brought on themselves and the Twins by pushing him too fast. Being able to work on improving Revere's OBP might be possible in AAA, but it's a different situation if he is on the big league team.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Revere play some fall or winter ball after the regular season ended? I thought I read that he did. He might come into Spring Training looking more polished than what we saw of him last September.

Josh said...

I'd love for Revere to hit enough to be a serious contender to make the club out of spring training. I just hope it's not because Morneau isn't ready to play 1B!

I do think that if Justin isn't ready and Cuddy slides in at 3B, and Revere hits like he's ready to play that they'll install most of his PT at CF and slide Span to one of the corners. Revere has never been a corner OF before and Span has, and I think it's more likely the rookie would be placed in his usual spot with the veteran with experience making the change. I'm not sure whether they'd completely reshuffle things with Span playing LF, Delmon playing RF, and Revere playing CF, although that certainly seems to make sense.

I am worried about revere's arm, but I love his speed and range. He should get consideration for the last spot on the bench regardless. Right now the Twins should carry 11 pitchers with a bench of Thome, Tolbert, Repko, Butera (ugh) and one more. The one more should probably be drawn from Hughes, Revere, or Plouffe right now.

cy1time said...

Revere has only 1521 minor league plate appearances. He needs to be playing everyday, somewhere. I agree that some time in the bigs would be beneficial. Bring him and up and play him everyday if we need an outfielder for a couple of weeks, but sitting 4-5 days a week isn't going to improve him over the long haul.

cy1time said...

For the sake of accuracy, 1513 minor league PA, not 1521.

Shane said...

Unless all of these new AAA signings suck in spring, I see them filling in, not Revere (the only possibility for Revere is if Span goes to the DL). Especially Jeff Bailey. Still . . . . Jason Kubel not learning first base is just so strange to me.

Dave said...

Why knock Repko? I liked his D last year, and if Revere isn't on the roster we have exactly nobody that can take over CF when Span needs a day off.

Sticking Revere in a platoon situation or even worse as a random replacement can only hurt his long term development. Young players simply don't improve when they can't get a groove going, and can significantly regress when only batting 2 games a week. I'm not saying it can't work, but why risk it? If he does do good as a platoon bat he has not increased his trade value one bit, and I do consider increasing trade value as an important consideration.

Jaime said...

Wow, what great armchair quarterbacks!

Shane said...

Thanks for the compliment, Jaime!

(It is a blog and these are blog comments, after all)

Anonymous said...

Repko is not exactly the second coming of Lew Ford but he is not very good either.

I will say that at least Repko seems to understand that he is on a baseball field, he just doesn't do much for me. He as well as a few other players on this team are not much better than AAA talent and if you want to win a title you can not have too many AAA players on your MLB squad. As of now we have three bench players and one or two out of our starting nine.

This does not even include the "wonderful situation" of having six starting pitchers. C'mon lets make it seven and include Perkins with the rest of the group. There are five more AAA players in that group as well.

Is the rest of the AL Central really that bad? Don't get me wrong I love the Twins but Chicago and Detroit should be ashamed that they have not been able to surpass the All American, the All Star and their tribe of minor leaguers. Its either that or the human walrus has been shorted a couple of manager of the year awards. Regardless Revere is the last thing this club needs at this time. From what I saw last year he is two to three years from having any real value on at the "Major League Level". Last time I checked great personalities don't drive in runs.

Well at least we're not in St. Louis; good luck trying to replace Pujols with Punto.