Minnesota Twins: 6 Reasons Josh Willingham Should Remain in the Twin Cities
It’s that time of year again: trading season. For many baseball fans it doesn't get any better than this. Even if your team is having a terrible season the trading deadline provides some hope. It allows your team to acquire talent to make it a winner down the road.
The Minnesota Twins should be in prime position to make two or three deals to improve a farm system in need of difference makers.
One player who should not be dealt is outfielder Josh Willingham. Willingham has more value than any player the Twins are likely to deal come Tuesday’s deadline, but it’s a move the franchise should not pursue.
He's Minnesota's Most Productive Player in 2012
Anyone who says 2012 was a successful season for the Minnesota Twins, up to this point, needs to rethink their world views.
But Josh Willingham has been a bright spot for the Twins. Entering Friday’s game, Willingham was hitting .271 with 25 homers and 72 RBI. His RBI total is third best in baseball and his home run total is eighth best (he leads the Twins in those two categories, too). His on-base percentage (.384) is 18th best and his slugging percentage (.563) is 14th best.
If the Twins were to deal Willingham it would remove the one player worth going to Target Field to see play. He’s the only batter who gets the people going. Joe Mauer doesn’t do that. Justin Morneau doesn’t do that. Josh Willingham does.
Just Signed with Minnesota This Past Offseason: It Sends the Wrong Message
Josh Willingham just signed with the Twins this offseason. He stuck his neck out and said yes to an organization that many wouldn’t have signed with after the 2011 season. But Willingham did.
To deal Willingham would send a message to potential free agents that their time in the Twin Cities could be short. Potential free agents may look at Minnesota and think, “Why bother? The Twins show no loyalty to free agents, and I want to sign somewhere long term.”
Yes, this is a business. The Twins can do what they want with Willingham. But if the franchise wants to lure in future free agents it should keep Willingham at least through his first full season.
Minnesota is stuck with two very poor contracts to date: Justin Morneau ($14 million in 2013) and Joe Mauer ($23 million every season through 2018). With neither player playing up to the dollars he is paid, Minnesota needs to have more contracts that produce more bang for the buck.
Josh Willingham has a contract that dwarfs in comparison to what he’s producing on the field. While I don’t expect the .270 batting average to stay around for the next two seasons (.250 to .260 is reasonable), it’s very reasonable to expect 25 to 30 homers and 85 to 100 RBI.
And while Willingham isn’t great as a defender in left field, he isn’t terrible.
For all that, the Twins owe him a mere $7 million for each of the next two seasons. Sounds like a good deal.
No Prospects Ready to Take His Left Field Position
Some argue that Josh Willingham playing left field takes away playing time from a player who can help Minnesota win in the future.
This point would be valid if there were any franchise-altering players ready to play in the big leagues.
The only outfielder in the minors who could have an argument made for him to be promoted and inserted into the starting lineup to see what he’s got is Joe Benson.
Benson is playing with Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. On the year in Triple-A he has hit an eye-opening .179 (17-for-95) with two home runs and eight RBI. I think he needs a little more time in the minors…
Aaron Hicks should be a player on the verge of the bigs. Hicks was Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2008 and is still a promising outfield prospect. With the New Britain Double-A affiliate he’s hitting .284 (94-for-331) with 10 homers and 45 RBI. He owns a .379 on-base percentage and .456 slugging percentage.
If Hicks were ready and Willingham was blocking him, then it would make sense to deal Willingham. But there’s no one with Hicks’ skill set or draft status deserving a promotion to the show.
Willingham should man left field for the remainder of 2012.
Right-Handed Power Hitter
Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, whether their stats reflect it or not, are the bread and butter of the middle of Minnesota’s batting order. Both hitters are left-handed.
While the Twins are slowly but surely creating a more balanced lineup, the tides would turn heavily towards a left-handed lineup again without Josh Willingham.
Denard Span, Ben Revere, Mauer and Morneau are all left-handed with Ryan Doumit and Alexi Casilla serving as the lineup’s two switch-hitters. Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe are the lone right-handed hitters not named Josh Willingham.
For a team that values the lefty-righty or righty-lefty matchup with its pitchers, it should seek to do the same with the batting lineup. Keeping Willingham keeps it that way.
Willingham is the only proven source of power for the foreseeable future, too. While Plouffe is having a nice season, is this who he will be down the road or is this a one-year wonder?
Keeping Willingham assures Minnesota has a hitter who can mash 25 to 30 homers next season.
Great Clubhouse Guy
The Minnesota Twins have always prided themselves on employing good guys and doing things the right way, on and off the field. Josh Willingham fits right into that mold.
Matt Sosnick is not only Willingham’s agent but is also a personal friend with the 33-year-old. Sosnick named his only son after Willingham.
“He's everything you want a person to be,” Sosnick said in this story by Joe Stiglich of the Oakland Tribune.
In that same story it’s revealed that Willingham came from humble beginnings and was born and raised in Florence, Ala. Sosnick said if "you're taking a shower and anyone in the town flushes the toilet, you get scalded."
Everywhere Willingham has played he has been the quintessential professional and that includes his time in the Twin Cities. With a young squad full of impressionable players, he sounds like the type of player the front office would want to keep in the clubhouse.