October 7, 2008

Winter Targets: Middle Infield

Although it's probably a little early to start speculating, being that the Division Series' have just finished, however I don't see a whole lot changing between now and the time players are eligible to sign.

The Twins spent last year with 5 players receiving multiple starts at shortstop. None of them really played extremely well, which is the reason why it is still a major hole in the Twins lineup. Nick Punto received 61 starts (the most) and was probably the best all-around player we had start at shortstop. Punto is eligible for free agency, however it's known that the Twins would like to retain him in hopes that he can fill in as a utility player. Punto wasn't a terrible starter in 2008, however he's better suited for a backup role.

The Twins really do have a few options that they can explore. They could simply re-sign Nick Punto and just wait until Trevor Plouffe, Steven Tolleson or another player is ready to take over at shortstop hopefully before the end of the season. They could let Punto walk and allow an "in-house" player to fill the role, whether that be a player already on the Major League roster or a player in the minors. They could also sign a free agent or make a trade. Rafael Furcal or Orlando Hudson are two free agents I'd love to see the Twins look into signing.

Furcal likely will demand more than Hudson in terms of annual dollar, however he may not be looking for as many years. Although Furcal is coming off one of his best seasons of his career, he was injured for a large portion of the season (playing in only 36 regular season games) which could effect a team's decision on whether to sign him to a long-term deal. Although I think he's certainly pleading his case right now in the playoffs, he may be wise to sign a one-year deal to show that he is indeed 100% healthy and is worth even more next year. However, he could also see this as a time to lock up a long-term deal to provide security incase another injury happens next year. It's really up in the air right now, however it's well known that he'll likely be demanding at least $15 million annually which makes him somewhat pricy for Twins standards, but we certainly have the funds to cushion such an addition.

Furcal is an o.k. defender with excellent range. We will probably see a little bit of a dip in terms of defense at shortstop, at least in comparison to Punto, but offensively there is no comparison.

YEAR      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+      K/BB    BtRns    BtWns
2007     581     .270     .333     .353       76     68/55    -22.0     -2.1
2008     143     .353     .439     .573      160     17/20     13.3      1.2
Life    4636     .286     .352     .412       96   658/468    -26.6     -2.5

Althought 2008 was a small sample size, you can definitely see from his lifetime stats that his 2007 season is definitely not one of best. In fact according to OWP, 2007 was his worse season since 2001. But he certainly was turning that season around with a great start/finish to the 2008 season and did not show any rust with the bat or with the glove in the Dodgers NLDS sweep against the Cubs in which he went 4-12 and provided a spark at the top of Los Angeles' lineup to help them advance deeper into the playoffs.

The biggest problem surrounding Furcal is his demand. As I mentioned earlier, he will almost certainly demand more money annually than Hudson would, but is he worth it? You be the judge.

Hudson is a perenial gold glove winner, however doesn't play shortstop, he plays second base. The Twins have Alexi Casilla who played pretty well this season at second base, however he did have a dropoff after the all-star break. Prior to the all-star break, Casilla was hitting .315/.357/.440 in 200 at bats. Afterwards he hit .243/.305/.303 which definitely doesn't make him a lock in terms of his future in the middle of the Twins lineup, so the Twins should not head into free agency expecting that Casilla is the definite answer at second base.

Signing Hudson would do one thing however, make the Twins move Casilla to shortstop in which he could possibly battle Punto for a starting gig, if we were to re-sign him. Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert and Trevor Plouffe could also get looks come Spring Training, but it's likely that Punto or Casilla would be the victors.

Hudson (as well as Furcal) will be 31-years-old come next season, and could be looking to sign his last long-term contract of his career. He is one of the best second basemen in the league and (like Furcal) is a switch hitter with great discipline and good on-base skills making him a very good batter to have at the top of the lineup.

YEAR      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+      K/BB    BtRns    BtWns
2007     517     .294     .376     .441      106     87/70      5.8      0.5
2008     407     .305     .367     .450      109     62/40      5.6      0.5
Life    3119     .282     .346     .433       99   504/302     -7.0     -0.7

Hudson's stats have been a bit more consistent (at least compared to Furcal's) throughout his career, and he's definitetly at the top of his game as we speak. However, he too missed a good chunk of the season (about 2 months) but with an injury far less serious than Furcal's.

Overall, I think both of these two players will demand significant money, but like I mentioned the Twins have the funds to absorb any financial hit that they may have this season and next season as well, at least in theory.

Hudson I believe could be had with a 5-year $60 million deal, whereas Furcal I see demanding a deal in which averages out to be $15 million per year. Whether that be a one, two or five year deal, I don't think anyone can be sure right now. I will say though that I'd be surprised if he doesn't get a few attractive offers in the 4-5 year range.

Although the Twins haven't been big winners in free agency for a while, this year could be the year that we start putting our money were our mouth is and start spending to sure-up a few positions. Either middle infield positions are positions of need as far as I'm concerned, and the Twins would be much better off with either of these two guys in their uniform.