Injured right fielder Michael Cuddyer is unlikely to come off the disabled list on Sunday, his first day of eligibility, because he's still unable to properly throw a baseball or grip a bat after dislocating and lacerating his right index finger while sliding into third base on April 4. I'm far from the world's biggest Cuddyer supporter, but I'm certainly not happy to hear that he won't be returning to the Twins any time real soon. With him out of the lineup, Joe Mauer has slid down to the No. 3 slot. I think Mauer was a good fit in the two-hole, and having him and Justin Morneau back-to-back in the lineup makes it much easier for opposing managers to throw lefty relievers at them late in games without much repercussion.
Moreover, Cuddyer's replacement in right field has been wholly uninspiring. Denard Span has started nearly every game in right since being called up to replace Cuddyer on the roster, and his defense out there has ranged between sub par and atrocious. Last night he committed two costly errors in the Twins' 7-3 loss to the Rays, and beyond that, he has consistently taken poor routes and turned routine plays into heart-palpitating adventures. This probably shouldn't be held against Span, as he himself has admitted that he hasn't played right field since high school, but either way, his defense has not been good and his offensive production (.222/.300/.222) has been downright horrendous, particularly for a corner outfield spot.
If Ron Gardenhire truly does feel the need to continue penciling Span into the lineup, it makes absolutely no sense to keep sending him out to right field while leaving Delmon Young, who actually has a good arm as well as experience playing the position, out in left. If you have a weak-armed center fielder with essentially no corner-outfield experience and a natural right fielder with a cannon for an arm on your roster, who do you put in right and who do you put in left? The logic should be simple.
This isn't all meant as some major slight toward Span. To be honest, in spite of fact that I've always been pretty low on the 2002 first-round draft pick as a prospect, I haven't been totally unimpressed with him since his call-up this year. While his offensive numbers are paltry, he has at least shown a good approach at the plate, and has been pretty solid on the base-paths. But really, his major-league upside is as a fourth outfielder; feeding him starts in right field doesn't really make a whole lot of sense.
If Span is going to stay in the lineup, he should certainly swap positions with Young. If not, there are a few other intriguing options who could step in until Cuddyer returns. Despite a slow start, Jason Pridie is now batting .280/.362/.460 in Rochester; he would likely be a much stronger offensive contributor than Span while also playing a more serviceable right field. Another option would be to call up someone like John Knott or Randy Ruiz and stick them in the DH slot while moving Jason Kubel out into the field.
I don't really know what the best option is. All I'm getting at here is that, even with one of the team's key contributors out of the lineup, there are better ways to maximize this roster offensively and defensively than sticking a mediocre minor-league center fielder out in right field. Hopefully last night's game will help Gardenhire realize this fact.