September 18, 2009

The Twins' Outfield Dilemma

Ron Gardenhire recently talked about his logjam in the outfield and what he plans to do with it in 2010. Gardenhire admitted that it's been a challenge this season to give everyone enough playing time and said that he's tired of shifting lead-off hitter Denard Span around the outfield. Thus far, Span has logged in 1126 1/3 innings in the outfield this season. 39% of that time has been spent in left field, 43% in center and the final 18% in right field. All in all, Span has a UZR/150 of 0.6, down from his UZR/150 of 3.9 in 2008.

Offensively, Span is very valuable and there's a reason Gardenhire is feeling the need to give him a 'set' position. He is 10th in the American League with a .389 OBP, which also ranks him third in the Majors among lead-off hitters. Span also takes (on average) nearly four pitches per plate appearance, which also is near the league lead among lead-off hitters. There's no question that Span is an integral part to this ball clubs success. The question is, where do you play him?

Gardenhire reportedly hinted at leaving Span in center field next season, but he quickly mentioned that it'll depend on who is still with the ball club, obviously making us assume that one of Carlos Gomez or Delmon Young will be traded this off-season.

Over the last two seasons, I've let my 'favorite' be known. But at least right now, I'm having a hard time choosing between which I'd prefer to keep. While I still believe one player has more potential than the other, I also recognize that one provides a valuable commodity to this ball club that is useful regardless of his putrid offense.

It seems as though many of Young's problems stem (mostly) from poor mechanics. However, he hasn't fixed those mechanics and has not garnered any reason for me to believe that he's going to turn it around other than just using the same old excuse, that he still has a lot of potential. Young is now three (full) seasons into his MLB career and is regressing instead of progressing. Obviously it's too early to abandon ship on a (recently turned) 24-year-old, but it's getting harder and harder to support him.

As for Gomez, his defense is the reason the Twins traded for him, fully knowing his offense is very (very) raw. I have thought for a while that Gomez should be sent back to Triple-A to work on pitch recognition and just the 'basics' at the plate (as in, don't swing at a pitch coming near your head, how to lay down a bunt, etc.). But that obviously wasn't in the Twins' plans and they now have wasted an entire year for both Young and Gomez. What exactly have either of them gained from sharing at-bats and starts this season? At 23-years-old, they should just be reaching the Major Leagues (a problem that was out of the Twins' hands). But the Twins felt it was more valuable to have both play only three days a week while the other just sits there... and does nothing.

To me, the Twins should have sent Gomez to Triple-A right out of Spring Training. Although Gomez had a solid triple-slash line this Spring, the Twins were delusional if they felt that he had completely turned the corner after last season. And even so, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt since nobody knew how Span would play after a terrible spring and season in which he seemingly came out of nowhere. But don't you think that after a month of April in which he hit .195/.250/.293 in 16 games was enough to finally make the (right) move? Of course not.

Instead, the Twins have made both young, raw, yet-gifted players sit on the bench and learn the game by watching. And unless they're trying to mold these guys into being coaches, I don't see much benefit from a hitter sitting on the bench and not getting regular at-bats. Gardenhire throwing them batting practice is not enough. Especially for aggressive hitters like Young and Gomez.

The Twins shouldn't be even faced with a dilemma of any sort. Instead, they should have let Gomez and Young both have the playing time they deserve and after the season, move one of them. It's likely that one of the two would have stepped up if given the proper opportunity and instead, the Twins are now faced with a dilemma on which one to give up on. If both played great, we'd still likely have to move one, but it wouldn't be a dilemma, at least in my opinion. But this is a dilemma because both have little trade value and the Twins will be abandoning ship on a young player with little-to-no return value, and a player they gave up a lot for.

The Twins shot themselves in the foot on this one.