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Friday, December 9, 2011

The Outfield - Question Mark???

Cuddyer??? Span??? Revere??? Kubel??? You get the idea. So many questions surround the Twins outfield this off-season. Michael Cuddyer remains the top free-agent priority of the front office, with a 3 year offer on the table worth around $24 million.

Let’s start with #5. Cuddyer is rightfully a favorite with Twins faithful, having been in the organization his whole career, producing an excellently consistent .272 BA, 20 HR and 82 RBI average as well as a 272/343/451 line over 11 big league seasons. Add this to his versatility, having played at every outfield position besides SS in his major league career as well as making a relief appearance pitching for the Twins beleaguered bullpen in 2011 and he is a valuable weapon indeed.

Cuddyer is also a renowned positive locker room influence, a power bat from the right side of the plate – the list goes on. It seems unlikely that the Twins will be able to keep both Cuddyer and Kubel, who both rejected arbitration offers to test the waters of free agency. The Twins front office is waiting with baited breath on the decision of Cuddyer, who has drawn interest from financial power houses such as the Red Sox and Phillies, as well as other suitors such as the Rockies and Dodgers.

Span will be another key piece if the Twins are to challenge for the Central in 2012. Owning a career OBP of .361, having an excellent glove, good speed and a friendly contract that will keep him under team control until 2015, Span was another huge loss for the Twins in 2011 missing 92 games with concussion symptoms that had Twins fans asking if they were experiencing Groundhog Day. Span is a table setter at the top of the lineup and one of the truly underrated lead-off hitters in baseball.

Ben Revere made a solid start to his big league career, leading the big league team with 34 steals (a Twins rookie record). While the youngster is not without his flaws, having a much below average arm, he makes up for it with excellent range. Revere needs to work in the off-season on strengthening the areas in which his talent lies. With very little power Revere is a slap hitter with speed who has to be consistently on base to be truly effective. In 481 plate appearances with the big league club in 2011 Revere only had 26 walks, good for a BB% (amount his plate appearances result in a walk) of 5.4%, well below the league average of 8.3%. Revere on average saw 3.52 pitches per plate appearance in 2011, compared to a league average of 3.82, with a typical top of the order players’ number being a little higher still, Denard Span’s career pitches per plate appearance being 3.84, for example.

Despite having excellent speed Revere also needs to improve his base stealing. He was thrown out 21% of the time or 9 out of 43 attempts. Elite base-runners typically have a stolen base % in the low to mid 80s. If Revere can improve his OBP and SB% he and Span could form a dangerously speedy 1-2 tandem at the top of the Twins lineup while covering a huge amount of ground in the outfield.

If Cuddyer does re-sign with the Twins it seems that Jason Kubel, another career long Twin will be on his way out the door. Financially it is impossible for the Twins to resign both (especially given that Terry Ryan has also sighted the bullpen and rotation as other areas he would like to strengthen). Kubel was another Twin who struggled to stay healthy in 2011, taking the field in only 99 contests. He made solid power contribution across the board but since his break out year in 2009 when he posted a line of 300/369/539 with 28 HR and 103 RBI; he has struggled to live up to his talent level. Having Kubel on the roster instead of Cuddyer would add the problem of all three of the Twins power bats being lefties. Kubel has been a solid power contributor in the last 4 seasons but does not seem destined to break out and achieve the super-stardom that many predicted for the South Dakota native early in his career before injury slowed his progress to the big league level.

Josh Willingham is a name that has been bandied around as a potential replacement for Cuddyer should he seek pastures new. Willingham set career highs in RBI 98 and HR 29 but is either on par or slightly inferior to Cuddyer in almost every other statistical category, including in the field, while also being unfamiliar with the Twins personnel and system. The shape and balance of the outfield in 2012 will undoubtedly rest on the decision of #5.

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