Twins' outfield better with Young in it

December, 10, 2008
I haven't seen a manager backtrack this enthusiastically since Lou Piniella tried to turn Russ Davis into an outfielder …

    LAS VEGAS -- Ron Gardenhire's public comments Tuesday about Delmon Young resembled last week's about as much as Fargo, N.D., resembles Las Vegas.

    The Twins' manager, almost sheepish about "the fire I accidentally lit" by suggesting at an appearance in Fargo last week that Young won't be in his starting lineup next season, insisted at baseball's winter meetings that "we're blessed to have four talented outfielders" and that nothing is settled about the Twins' 2009 outfield.

    "I'm backpedaling; can't you see?" Gardenhire said. "That was me sort of screwing up. … Everyone knows the players are the ones who will decide that. They're the ones who have to go out and earn (their jobs)."

    The Twins' manager told the Fargo Forum newspaper last week that Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span and Carlos Gomez "have to play every day," pointedly leaving out Young, 23. That Young became the focus of stories after Gardenhire's visit to Fargo surprised the manager, he said.

    "It wasn't a shot at anybody," Gardenhire said. "I was hunting. And I saw my picture in the Aberdeen (S.D.) newspaper, and I said, 'Whoa.'"


    "A lot of clubs might read that and say, 'Hey, we can get Delmon Young for nothing.' And I can tell you right now, that ain't going to happen," Gardenhire said. "We gave up a lot for Delmon Young, and we're not out to give him away. He's a very talented player with a lot of upside."

    Still, the manager hinted that the Twins are at least listening to offers for the former No. 1 overall pick, who hit .290 with 10 home runs after being acquired in November 2007 in a trade that sent right-hander Matt Garza to Tampa Bay.

    "If there's an area where we could move a person and somebody came after us strong for one of our outfielders, that's an area where we have a little more depth than other places. If we have to do it, we have to do it," Gardenhire said. But, he hastened to add, "there's never anything wrong with going into spring training with a little depth."

I'm not exactly sure about this "depth" Gardenhire is talking about. It's certainly true that the Twins have four outfielders who saw significant action last season. It's also true that those four outfielders combined for 26 home runs, and that the Twins finished last in the American League with 111 homers. If the Twins had any money to spend, their first priority would (or should) be finding a corner outfielder with real power.

But that's not going to happen. And while Cuddyer might be that guy, it doesn't seem likely. Yes, he did hit 24 homers in 2006. And no, he's not really as bad as his .249/.330/.369 line in 2008 might suggest. But 2006 was an outlier, and Cuddyer just isn't good enough with the bat or the glove to play every day. In fact, according to both +/- and UZR, Cuddyer is one of the worst defensive right fielders in the majors.

The Twins seem to really like Cuddyer. Fine. But he's suited for just two roles: platoon DH (with Jason Kubel) and fourth (or fifth) outfielder. And while Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez both have obvious weaknesses, they're both very young and do have the Twins' beloved "tools." Is this a championship-quality outfield? Probably not. But it's probably the best the Twins can do, and sometimes the kids will surprise you (in a good way).

(H/T to BTF's Newsstand.)



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