Thursday, August 2, 2012

Do the Twins have a "Playoff Offense"?

During the recent trade deadline, and all other trade deadlines, a lot of talk centers around whether a specific team should opt to be a buyer or a seller. For Minnesota, the decision should have been fairly easy: seller. However, simply choosing to be a seller isn't the only choice to be made. Beyond the initial choice, a front office needs to decide what type of pieces they want in return for the departing players. This can tell us an awful lot about when exactly the front office predicts the team will be contending again.

In the Twins' case, they made significant moves and non-moves that show the organization believes they can compete in 2013. For one, the Twins' held on to all their trade chips that will be under contract for next season: Morneau, Span, Willingham and Perkins. Trading any of them would have signaled a delay in contention. Furthermore, the one trade they did make brought back major-league ready talent. I've already discussed my thoughts on the Liriano trade in which the Twins received useful pieces for a team in the near future. The takeaway should be that the Twins wanted pieces back who will help them win in the next two years. More than anything, the Twins signaled not a lack of decisiveness at the deadline but that they have a plan.

The merits of the plan can be argued, but I am on board with the notion. The core of the team, Mauer, Morneau, Willingham, Doumit, Plouffe and Span, are all at some point in their peak years. These seasons should not be written off as rebuilding years - it would be a complete waste of a lot of talent. In fact, some would suggest the talent of that offense could be playoff caliber. That is, given a competent pitching staff (a topic I'm sure I'll get into soon enough).

But I wonder is the offense really ready for the playoffs next year?

The primary lineup this year has been:

D Span (L)
B Revere (L)
J Mauer (L)
J Willingham (R)
J Morneau (L)
T Plouffe (R)
R Doumit (S)
B Dozier (R)
J Carroll (R)

There's no reason to believe this will change for 2013, everyone is under contract and there are no obvious replacements knocking on the door. 1-7 is solid, and an argument can be made for Dozier and Carroll as the 8-9 hitters. I personally like Carroll and would be surprised if he continued to hit .234 for the rest of the season. His babip is .272 which is about 50 points below his career norm. Meaning he should be closer to a .255-.260 batter ~ league average. On top of that his walk rate of 10% and mortal hate with making baserunning errors make him an ideal #9 hitter. Tangent over.

I would like, however, just to compare this lineup to some contending American League lineups to see how the Twins stack up-

 Tigers       ChiSox        Yankees         Sawx                  LAA          Rangers
                                                                                                           *Torrealba replaced by G Soto.

Given a quick look, all of these teams have solid lineups, at least 1-8. Carroll could stack up with most of the other #9 hitters, especially Beckham or Aviles. At the top of the lineup, Span/Revere compares favorably to the Tigers and ChiSox but can't compete with the AL West teams. The meat of the lineup 3-7 is probably slightly less productive than most of these teams, barring a return to MVP form from Morneau. I'd easily put LAA as the best lineup in the land, despite hitting Callaspo as high as he is. And then I'll also put the BoSox up there too, assuming better health next year they will be adding Ellsbury and Crawford to their already fearsome lineup. But also given that the 5-7 of the Tigers is a vortex of suck, the Sox are generally old and inconsistent, A-Rod and Teixeira may be declining rapidly and with the Rangers going through tough times, the Twins lineup could be in the conversation.

The Twins proved they should be in the conversation during July, matching the Angels for the MLB lead in runs scored (138). Even as a skeptic, I can see the lineup being productive enough to contend in 2013.

The bench could be an issue for the Twins. Darin Mastroianni has proven to be a solid 4th outfielder, playing all 3 positions well and hitting with some pop and plate discipline. Eduardo Escobar could back up 2B, SS and 3B with the impending departure of Alexi Casilla. Ideally, Chris Parmelee could come up and get some time (~400 PA's) at 1B, DH and in the corner outfield positions. The last bench spot will likely go to Drew Butera or another catcher and given the composition of the roster, that works for me.

Terry Ryan was right to protect his core at the trade deadline. This lineup is ready to contend next season. The pitching staff is a whole 'nother story.

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