Nick Punto, Adrian Beltre, Casey Blake and the Twins' Third-Base Vacancy
Rumors of the Twins' desire to pillage, er, strike a deal with the Mariners have gained serious traction since the front office confirmed that Adrian Beltre was on the team's wish list.
Since then, BP's Will Carroll has revealed that the Twins are also looking at Garrett Atkins, Hank Blalock, and Casey Blake, all of whom would help the Twins as they try to overtake the White Sox in the second half.
Before I break down the pros and cons of each, it's important to note what's going on here: The Twins are seriously looking at adding a marque bat for the stretch run.
Bill Smith has already shown himself to be more of a gambler than his predecessor, Terry Ryan, and that is a welcome change.
Each of these players brings a better bat to the table than what the Twins are trotting out there right now. I've got nothing against Brian Buscher, but he hasn't shown power at any level, so there's no reason to believe he'll start now.
However, each player has other pros and cons that make a few players a smarter buy than the others.
Pros: Best overall hitter, right-handed bat, good glove, under team control
Cons: Likely the most expensive of the bunch
Verdict: If Smith is serious about making his mark as a different GM than Terry Ryan, this is the man. Atkins is young, brings a big bat and solid glove, and would help the team now and down the line; simply put, he's the perfect target.
He would also cost a lot in terms of prospects, especially pitching ones. Fortunately, the Twins have a bunch. Some are having down years, but the fact that there isn't a hole on the rotation among the young pitchers means that a lot of the AAA pitchers are trade bait.
What's the point of being stocked full of young talent, all of whom are blocking each other, if you can't deal some of them to fix an area of need.
Ryan so loathed to deal his prized pitchers, whom he called "My Preciousssssssss", that a deal like this wasn't even a possibility. Smith needs to be smart here, because as good as Atkins is, he isn't worth a package comparable to what the Twins received for Johan Santana. That all said, if the price is anywhere in the right neighborhood, Smith should buy on Atkins.
Pros: Decent glove, best power this year, low cost
Cons: nagging injuries, large contract, Scott Boras' client, poor season overall
Verdict: Not a bad consolation prize. If the Twins lose out on Atkins, Beltre isn't a terrible option, but the deal depends highly on what the Mariners want. In all likelihood, Beltre could be had for a very reasonable price as the Mariner's fire sale begins early. However, Beltre is plagued by a number of nagging injuries, which can kill a player's performance, a la Michael Cuddyer's 2007 edition.
I'm very worried that the Twins' turf will cause Beltre's bone spurs to flare up, and that he'll be another Ron "DL" White. The Twins will also take on Beltre's huge contract, which he earned with one magic season, and that will hamper the team's ability to make moves in free agency until 2010 when the new park opens.
Pros: youngest, buy-low candidate, good power and average
Cons: Injury prone, poor defense, Left handed, may be switching to first base
Verdict: Very tempting, but probably not. In the last year-and-a-half, Blalock has played 80 games, and just 22 this season. That is by far the biggest red flag here, since his talent is never in question.
Like Rich Harden, he'd need to stay healthy to make any deal worthwhile, but if he does, any deal hatched now would probably look like a steal.
There is also the matter of a position change. It has long been rumored that Blalock will move to first base in order to lessen the toll his body takes. First base is one place where the Twins do NOT need an upgrade; Justin Morneau just signed a new deal and he is making Smith look really good for locking him in when he was still cheap.
Pros: Better power than Atkins, knows divisional pitchers, good clubhouse guy
Cons: Oldest, questionable defense, free agent at the end of the year
Verdict: Thanks, but no thanks. Blake is one of the many Twins' farmhands who hit it big elsewhere. Bringing back Casey Blake would be a cheap and easy solution, and he'd fit right into the clubhouse, since he knows guys like Cuddyer anyway.
The major problem is that while Blake is better than Buscher, he doesn't blow him away like the other trade targets do. He doesn't help the team past this year, and he may not even help all that much this year. Unless the Indians want Livan Hernandez and a C-level prospect for him, I'll pass on Blake.
The Twins have other options besides adding a bat from outside. One that makes most Twins fans weep, but shouldn't, is Nick Punto. Last year was a horrific year for Punto, who has missed large swaths of this year with injuries, but this year is looking like his best season as a pro.
His line of .324/.383/.854 is far above his averages, and he will likely regress at least some in the second half, but his glove is one of the best in the majors, and if the price on Atkins or the others is too high, Punto is a viable option.
If nothing else comes of these talks, it is interesting to see the Twins so prominently involved with deals near the deadline. I love Drew Butera as much as the next Twins fan, but adding Atkins or Beltre would be a lot more exciting than the deals done at deadlines past.
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