Minnesota Twins: How To Fix the Messy Outfield Problem

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer IMay 17, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Carlos Gomez #22 of the Minnesota Twins fields the ball against the Kansas City Royals on May 28, 2008 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

The "Good" Outfield Problem

Five outfielders for four positions: Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel. Here is a brief run-down of each and what their playing time should look like:

  • Denard Span (.302/.385/.381, 17 BB: 20 K, 18 RBI, 8 SB) Span has been a decent lead-off batter for the Twins thus far in 2009. Hitting for a good average, Span has also gotten on base at a decent clip. He has been a regular fixture somewhere in the outfield; usually either left or center field, depending on whether Gomez is playing. Span has a better RZR percentage when he plays center field, successfully converting over 94 percent of all balls hit in his zone into outs. That number goes down to 92 percent when Span plays left, but he does have three outfield assists from that position. Whether Span plays center or left field, his offensive and defensive abilities have proved why he should be playing every day.
  • Carlos Gomez (.207/.277/.310, 6 BB: 16 K, 2 RBI, 3 SB) Gomez's offensive play certainly doesn't have the appeal of other outfielders. What he lacks at the plate, though, he makes up for with his outstanding defense. Gomez has only played 28 games this year, and all of those have been while stationed in center field. He has converted an amazing 98 percent of all balls hit into his zone into outs. Gomez has a total of eleven outs made outside of his zone, and hasn't committed an error yet. The question of the century, though: is his defense enough to merit his presence in the batting lineup every day?
  • Delmon Young (.277/.322/.325, 1 HR, 4 BB: 22 K, 14 RBI, 2 SB) Young has had a very disappointing lack of power this year. He swings for the fences every at-bat and, as his BB:K ratio attests to, misses more often than not. Offensively, Young is the epitome of decency. Defensively, Young has not wandered from left field this year. He has a total of three assists to go along with two errors. His RZR percentage of .833 leaves much to be desired.
  • Michael Cuddyer (.268/.361/.417, 3 HR, 19 BB: 25 K, 18 RBI, 3 SB) Cuddyer had an awful start to the season, but has rebounded nicely. He has been swinging a hot bat lately and has seen a lot of the action in recent games from right field. He hasn't committed an error so far this year, and has converted nearly 88 percent of the 57 balls hit into his zone into outs. Twelve outs have been made by Cuddyer outside of his right field zone, which goes to show that the 30-year-old still has a solid set of legs under him. He will eventually regress some from this offensive outburst he has been on and his playing time will be more limited when that happens.
  • Jason Kubel (.339/.378/.576, 5 HR, 8 BB: 19 K, 20 RBI) Kubel has played almost exclusively from the designated hitter position this year. He has been one of the best of the Twins from a batters' perspective and is an extremely valuable left handed bat in the middle of the batting order.

Knowing all of that, how do you distribute the playing time between these guys? For guys like Gomez and Young who are struggling at the plate, they can't get better unless they have plate appearances. Allowing them to have at-bats, though, is not a good thing from an offensive perspective. Can you afford to have guys like Cuddyer and Kubel, who the Twins' are paying millions of dollars this year, ride the bench two or three days a week?

Here is the ideal solution: 

Versus LHP

Left Field—Denard Span
Center Field—Carlos Gomez
Right Field—Michael Cuddyer
Designated Hitter—Delmon Young

Versus RHP

Left Field—Denard Span
Center Field—Carlos Gomez
Right Field—Michael Cuddyer
Designated Hitter—Jason Kubel

As you can tell, I am a firm believer that Gomez's defense makes up for his offensive ineptitude. He and Span need to play every game, especially considering that the majority of the Twins' starting pitchers have a high tendency to surrender fly balls. Their range will be vital to the success of the starting rotation; something we cannot compete without.

The most controversial aspect of the above list is obviously Young in the designated hitter position against lefties. He has been a defensive liability, as Kubel can also be at times. Unlike Kubel, however, Young needs at-bats before he can develop a better swing. Working with hitting coach Joe Vavra is all well and good, but what the 23-year-old needs most is at-bats at the Major League level.

Obviously, if Cuddyer ever regresses a significant amount at the plate, he would be replaced by Young and Kubel would once again be the full-time DH. (Of course, Mauer needs the occasional day off from behind the plate and will bat from that position at least once a week, but that is beside the point.)

This could all fit into the "master plan" of finding another home for Delmon Young. I cannot picture him a successful Twin in five years and think he would be better off somewhere else (whether he turns into the next David Ortiz or not.)

If the Twins were to attempt to trade him right now, though, they would get almost nothing in return. Should Young improve at the plate enough to draw interest from other teams, he could be unloaded and the outfield mess (a good mess, but a mess nonetheless) could be solved.

If the Twins could get a good reliever in return they would be killing two birds with one stone.