Last year, June’s west coast road trip cemented management’s perception that team speed needed to be upgraded. Tony Batista and Juan Castro were ditched, Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett were handed jobs, and the team rolled through September. So what change needs to be made this year?
Seeing as they scored eight runs in the first five games of their road trip, the easy answer is ‘offense’ but a better answer is ‘depth’. The issue of the Twins offensive depth was first raised in spring training, as manager Ron Gardenhire lamented the lack of a backup infielder. When the season started the team carried a third catcher and a twelfth pitcher, not so much because they needed them, but because there weren’t much better options.
Then came the injuries. When Rondell White and Jeff Cirillo went down, a merry-go-round of designated hitters was plugged in. The lack of depth meant that lesser injuries to Torii Hunter, Luis Castillo, and Michael Cuddyer impacted the offense. And note that none of them were put on the disabled list because there was nobody worthwhile to use on the roster spot. As soon as Cuddyer returned, Joe Mauer was shut down, so Gardenhire has spent the last four weeks spackling over several holes in his lineup card as best he can.
The result is a lineup full of players who are being overexposed. This team is trying to get by at third base with Punto’s on-base skills and glove. They’re trying to let Bartlett overcome his neck injuries and sophomore slump. They’re trying to get Jason Kubel to battle back to his promising past. And they’re trying to fill White’s DH spot with a hodge-podge of slumping back-up position players. Oh, and they’ve been trying to do it while their best pure hitter is out of the lineup. It’s too much. It can’t be done.
The blame falls at the feet of GM Terry Ryan. Ryan has done an exceptional job in the past of stocking the high minors with decent replacements, like Dustan Mohr, Bobby Kielty, and Buck Buchanan. And when he has needed to go outside the organization, scouting has helped provide productive veterans like Jose Offerman and Chris Gomez. In retrospect, depth was one of the differentiating factors between the Twins and a White Sox team that was deemed more talented.
This offseason, those pieces weren’t put in place. Cirillo was signed to help out at both designated hitter and third base, and he hasn’t helped at either one, and the Twins need help at both. The only move to bolster the middle infield was to nab Alejandro Machado in the Rule V draft, and he’ll be injured the whole season. The right-handed pop of the bench options are either hurt (Ken Harvey) or slumping (Matt LeCroy) and the Twins passed on signing any left-handed options.
The task at hand falls at Ryan’s feet, too. With the news that White has again been shut down, the Twins will likely be short at least one designated hitter for the remainder of the year. That’s a position that provides a lot of flexibility for deal-making. What’s more, the Twins farm system is fairly lush with starting pitching, a valuable asset. The only possible reason to wait is if Ryan isn’t sure the Twins will be buyers at the trade deadline.
Are there any options? Well, there are at least five teams that can reasonably be expected to be looking towards 2008 already. One of them is visiting this weekend. Their best hitter this year is Dmitri Young, the right-handed slugging ex-Tiger, who is signed for one year at $500,000. And did I mention that this year’s Nationals starting rotation was filled reality-show style, inviting 50 guys to camp and taking the top five finishers? (I can hardly wait until they leak the footage of the threesome in the hot tub.)
Ryan is talking a lot about how the Twins don’t necessarily need to add power, they just need solid batters. He’s probably right, but there aren’t enough of those batters on the roster right now, and he’s on the hook for getting them. Hopefully, for the second year in a row, a gut-wrenching West Coast road trip will drive this organization to make some needed changes.