Commentary

Twins need help on left side of the infield

Originally Published: November 6, 2008
By Jonah Keri | Special to ESPN.com

The Twins were one of the game's most pleasant surprises in 2008, riding a loaded young starting rotation to 88 wins before falling to the White Sox in a one-game tiebreaker. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins all had breakout seasons, leaving expected ace Francisco Liriano to play late-season catch-up.

MINNESOTA TWINS
GM: Bill Smith
Manager: Ron Gardenhire
'08 record: 88-74, T-1st in AL Central
Minnesota Twins '08 payroll: $56.9M, 25th MLB
Runs scored: 829, 3rd AL
Runs allowed: 745, 7th AL
OPS: .748, 9th AL
ERA: 4.16, 7th AL
Fielding percentage: .982, 12th AL

If not for an ill-advised bout of loyalty toward washed-up sunk cost Livan Hernandez, the Twins might've beaten out the White Sox for the AL Central crown and made some noise in the playoffs with their deep pitching and the deadly duo of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Primary needs

Power. The Twins managed to finish third in the AL in runs scored despite finishing last in homers. They can thank their .305 team batting average with runners in scoring position, a mark that was far and away the best in the league and is a long shot to be replicated next season. A full year of health for Michael Cuddyer would help a lot, as would a breakout season from Delmon Young -- if only to make the Twins feel better about giving up Matt Garza.

Even with improved production from the outfield, though, the Twins need to upgrade the left side of their infield. At shortstop, Brendan Harris can't field and free agent Adam Everett can't hit; at third base, Brian Buscher is a cheap, adequate placeholder, but the Twins' courting of Adrian Beltre and other third basemen suggest that they'd like to upgrade. Meanwhile, Pat Neshek's injury last season exposed the Twins' lack of depth in front of Joe Nathan. Minnesota might have enough pitching depth coming up from the minors to fill that hole, though.

Free agents

INF Nick Punto, SS Adam Everett, LHP Dennys Reyes

The Twins' free agents also play the positions where the team needs the most help. Minnesota tends to be frugal when it comes to pursuing free agents -- sometimes with ugly results. The Twins kept the likes of Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson and Hernandez in the rotation too long after giving them free-agent deals, costing them crucial games in the standings. Look for Minnesota to address most of its bullpen needs in-house, with a trade a possibility to address the holes on the left side of the infield.

Trade bait

Anthony Swarzak, Kevin Mulvey and Philip Humber could all be valuable bullpen additions or trade bait depending on how the Twins approach Hot Stove season. The Twins don't have enough depth at other positions to open trade talks.

Farm aid

Swarzak, Mulvey and Humber are merely the three pitching prospects closest to the big leagues. Deolis Guerra is a right-handed teenager with an electric arm, while Tyler Robertson is a talented lefty who could be a factor down the road if he can overcome injuries. There aren't any hitting prospects in the high minors who are ready to make the leap, either, with center fielder Ben Revere still a couple years away.

Outlook

If the Twins do little more than stand pat this offseason they should still be dangerous, especially if Cuddyer and Neshek bounce back from injuries and Young takes a step forward. Solid bullpen contributions from the next wave of pitching prospects combined with one well-placed trade for a shortstop or third baseman would make the Twins the favorites to win the division in 2009.

Jonah Keri is a regular contributor to Page 2 and the editor and co-author of "Baseball Between the Numbers." You can contact him at jonahkeri@gmail.com.

Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) is a staff writer for Grantland. His book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First, is a national best seller. His new book Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available for preorder.