May 22, 2008

Is Atkins the answer?

The Minnesota Twins lost to Sidney Ponson and the Texas Rangers last night, 10-1. Ponson went the entire way and gave up just 1 run on 6 hits. Ponson is now 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA this season. This happened just one night after the Twins scored 11 runs. The problem with the Twins has been their inconsistent play both at the plate and on defense.

Prior to yesterday's blowout, the Twins ranked 8th in the AL in runs scored and 2nd to last in home runs. Obviously, home runs don't mean everything in baseball, but the Twins inability to hit the long ball has definitely hurt them this season. Hitting home runs is not the only problem for the Twins, they also ranked 3rd to worst in the league with a .316 OBP. With a team with little power, they need to be getting on base much more than what they are.

I think the Twins could find a quick fix, but it would come at a price. Yes, I'm talking about making a trade. It's unlikely for teams to make big trades this early into the season, but I think that if the Twins don't make a change soon, they will get lost in the division quickly.

My trading partner is the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies have two players that they may consider shopping right now, Matt Holiday and Garrett Atkins. The reason for the teams desire to trade is that they're really struggling right now, they won't put that kind of money into the team, and they have a top prospect in the wings that is waiting for a chance to play at the major league level. Ian Stewart is the prospect I'm referring to and he's a third baseman, but the team seems unwilling to just move him to second base where they'd be able to keep both Atkins and Holiday while Stewart would man the right-middle of the infield. Now, before I go any further, I know that the Rockies could very easily trade a guy like Todd Helton, making room for Stewart that way, but there have been more hints of the Rockies potentially one of Atkins or Holliday, which is why I bring up their names.

Holiday is the more desirable player, however the Twins don't really have room for him on the roster, unless of course if they ended up moving Michael Cuddyer to the infield or to designated hitter. Also, acquiring Holiday would require a king's ransom, which I don't see the Twins giving up anytime soon. Thus, Garrett Atkins makes the more logical sense for both clubs for multiple reasons; (A) the Twins have a big hole at third base, (B) the Rockies would be able to keep Stewart in his natural position, (C) the Twins should have enough money to re-sign him to a long-term deal where the Rockies seem to be unwilling.

Atkins is currently hitting .332/.355/.511 with 11 doubles, 7 home runs and 28 RBI's this season. That's obviously a lot better than .223/.254/.269 with 6 doubles, 0 home runs and 19 RBI's this season. Atkins has been solid defensively this season, but he has struggled as of late.

Although Atkins has preformed well over his career, his name has been linked to trade rumors for a few seasons now, and with Stewart now ready to make the jump to the majors it now looks like this might be the right time for them to finally pull the trigger on a trade. Sure it may sound crazy that the defending N.L. Champions would consider trading one (possibly two) of their best players from a year ago, but it happens fairly often with small market teams (ala Florida Marlins) and the Rockies owner does not seem willing to sign both Atkins and Holiday to long-term deals.

So, this is what I believe the Twins should do: trade Brian Dinkelman, Anthony Swarzak and Oswaldo Sosa to the Rockies for Garrett Atkins. The Rockies may be looking for more major league ready pitchers, so if they wanted a guy like Brian Duensing, Philip Humber or even Boof Bonser (obviously in place of one of the other players), I would not mind.

This would hardly put a dent into the Twins depth at starting pitching in the minors, so I don't see why the Twins would be totally objected to doing this. Of course, no team wants to give up a potential All-Star pitcher, but the Twins have been so afraid of pulling the trigger in the past that it definitely hurt them offensively as the team has had no problem with producing pitchers where they've had many problems producing hitters. And as of right now, it looks as if there's nobody in the organization worth talking about that can really do anything great on offense (with respect to Luke Hughes and Erik Lis), at least anytime in the next year or two.

With the loss of Swarzak and Sosa, the Twins still have guys like Glen Perkins, Duensing, Humber, Deolis Guerra, Tyler Robertson, Alex Burnett, Michael McCardell, Jeff Manship and others that would make up a lot of depth in the pitching department. And that's not including guys like Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano or Scott Baker who figure to be apart of our rotation at the major league level for at least the next few years.

With Atkins in the mix, here's how I would arrange the lineup:

CF - Carlos Gomez
C - Joe Mauer
3B - Garrett Atkins
1B - Justin Morneau
RF - Michael Cuddyer
DH - Jason Kubel
LF - Delmon Young
2B - Brendan Harris
SS - Adam Everett

I know Ron Gardenhire likes Mauer in the third spot of the lineup, but he is not a prototypical #3 hitter, whereas Atkins fits that role better as he has much more power. If Gardenhire insisted on hitting Mauer third, I would consider putting Atkins 4th (although I know hitting Morneau 5th is ludicrous) and putting Kubel in the #2 hole where he hit .328/.409/.586 with 4 doubles, a triple and 3 home runs in 58 AB's last season. Hitting Kubel in front of Mauer obviously seemed to work out very well last season, so I think it would be worth a try.

And now I want to go to my next point. And that is that I'm not placing on the blame for this team's lackluster offense play on Mike Lamb, because I could very easily place it on Michael Cuddyer, Adam Everett and even Delmon Young. Those guys have all underperformed equally if not on offense, then definitely on defense. And if it weren't for Matt Tolbert's injury, Mike Lamb being benched would not be the only move that I'd want to see this team make. Inserting Matt Tolbert into the lineup in place of Adam Everett would be a great idea, unfortunately Tolbert figures to miss about 2 months with his thumb injury, shooting down any thought of this.

This entire team needs a big wakeup call, and I think that adding an All-Star caliber player to this offense could do quite a bit for our offense. Coming into the season, many thought (especially myself) that this teams offensive woes were going to be something of the past, and the arrival of Young, Lamb, Harris and Gomez was going going to make our weak offense strong. However, the offense has really not changed. The team still struggles to hit for extra-bases and the teams OBP is down from a year ago. This team looks great one day, and awful the next. The inconsistent offensive play has been something many Twins fans are used to, but it is time for a change.

I'm not calling Garrett Atkins the answer to all of our problems, but he would definitely be a big help to our struggling offense. Heck, if the Twins really wanted to make a splash, trade for both Atkins and Holliday, moving Cuddyer to second base... but I know that's really asking for too much.

Last Nights Game Ball
Nick Blackburn - Starting Pitcher
Note: Really, I just can't give the game ball to any of our hitters. Sure Adam Everett had a triple, Carlos Gomez had a double, and Joe Mauer had two singles, but if it weren't for a botched defensive play by Alexi Casilla, Blackburn would have only given up just 1 run in the 6th inning, instead of 7. Blackburn was pitching very well before his defense failed him, and then after he really was shaky and lost all confidence in his pitches and left a few of them up. But again, he should not have been in that spot anyways, so I can't really blame him all for it. Blackburn finished the game going 6 innings and gave up 7 runs (only one earned) on 10 hits. Blackburn showed great control again and walked just one batter while striking out 4. Blackburn now sits at 4-3 with a 3.55 ERA.