Thursday, February 19, 2009

Last-Ditch Effort

As part of a series of articles on potential free agent targets back in October, I wrote up a post on Orlando Hudson, noting that I felt the second baseman would make a great addition to the Twins. I tempered my hopes with the caveat that Hudson would likely command a spendy long-term deal, and I failed to mention another fact that would make him an unlikely target for the Twins: as a Type A free agent, Hudson would cost whichever team eventually signed him a first-round pick in this June's draft.

Never would I have dreamed that Hudson would still be available in mid-February, with players already working out in Ft. Myers. One of Hudson's biggest sticking points may no longer be an issue, as it seems now that Hudson may have to settle for a one- or two-year deal at a reduced salary. The troubled economy has been unkind to Hudson, which is unfortunate for him, but the situation presents a great opportunity for the Twins to nab a high-quality player who could be a great fit at an unbeatable price.

Many have been yearning for the Twins to hammer out a deal that would bring in third baseman Joe Crede, but I am actually more concerned about the Twins' status at the middle infield spots than at the hot corner. I'm relatively confident that between Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris, the Twins can find reasonable production at third base (whether that is in the form of a strict platoon, or a lion's share of playing time going to one player or the other, I'm not sure). I'm less convinced that between Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla -- both of whom carry some major offensive downside -- the Twins can coax reasonable production at two starting spots. I'd be much more comfortable if the Twins trotted out a reliable player like Hudson at second base, with Casilla serving as a backup infielder or perhaps pushing for playing time at shortstop should Punto's performance start to remind us of 2007.

I've noticed a lot of concern amongst fans about Punto being etched in as the starting shortstop for this year, but I'm somewhat surprised at how little worry seems to be floating around regarding Casilla at second base. I think this is, in large part, because fans remain enamored by the energy Casilla brought to the team when he was called up in mid-May last year and proceeded to .313/.351/.424 over the next couple months while helping the Twins charge toward the top of the division. However, Casilla went down with a finger injury at the end of July and, after returning on August 21, batted just .225/.302/.289 the rest of the way. It's entirely possible that this offensive dropoff was a result of lingering effects from his injury, but it's worth noting that Casilla had hit just .219/.350/.250 in Triple-A prior to his call-up last year, as well as .251/.313/.312 between Triple-A and the majors in 2007. Over the majority of the past two years, Casilla has been a poor offensive player. When laying out the likelihood for each starter to improve upon their 2008 performances this season, I guessed that the odds for Casilla to improve were 50 percent. If I'm right, that means that a bad flip of the coin would have Casilla producing worse than his .281/.333/.374 line from last season. That could make him a major offensive liability.

Signing Hudson would give the Twins a strong solution at second base, while either allowing Casilla to serve as a backup middle infielder and pinch-runner or else take over at shortstop with Punto returning to his role as a super utility man.

Of course, one major stumbling block remains when it comes to Hudson. The Twins would still have to surrender a first-round draft pick by signing him, and that's something they've been strongly opposed to all offseason. Still, Hudson might be worth it. He'd give them a legitimate, switch-hitting on-base threat at the top of the order along with sound defense at second base while also creating additional infield depth, all for what would likely be a bargain price. That's some major short-term gain. The question is whether the Twins are willing to swallow the long-term expense.

Twins players are already in camp and the front office seems prepared to move forward with what they've got, but there have been rumblings that Bill Smith is still mulling over some options in a last-ditch effort to augment his current group. Crede might be the most likely spring acquisition, but in my opinion Hudson would be a much more meaningful and substantive addition.

5 comments:

Dwade said...

I've been on the Hudson bandwagon from day one, so I'm all for this!

You know my views on Casilla, so I won't repeat them here. Given that when he had the original injury it was reported that he was done for the year, I'm willing to believe he was still feeling the effects of it when he came back.

Topper said...

I think at the onset of the offseason I wasn't that sold on signing Hudson -- though I do remember your write-up and definitely gave the idea some merit. But this was back when I was sure the Twins would do SOMETHING to upgrade significantly: get a Koskiesque third baseman or make a blockbuster trade for JJ Hardy or Yuniel Escobar or some young stud shortstop.

But their failure to really upgrade us anywhere this offseason definitely makes the question marks around Casilla much more prominent. I think the Twins won't succeed this year without SOME offensive upgrade, and I'll buy that Crede probably isn't it. So unless there's still some deal in the works for Beltre or some other third baseman that I don't know about, then Hudson really does seem like the piece we need. You're dead on that the Buscher/Harris platoon has a lot less in the way of question marks than the Casilla/Punto line-up spots.

Marv said...

The idea of Hudson playing 2B is very attractive. It should also give Casilla some time in ST at SS.
I read somewhere that Casilla had an excellent winter, but I have no stats to back that up with.
Yes, adding Hudson would be encouraging. His OBP the last couple of years would put him at third (2007) and fifth (2008) on the 2008 Twins.

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