Ten Right-Handed Free Agent Hitter Targets for the Twins

Does Pat Burrell have anything left in the tank?

On Tuesday I broke out my second wish for the Twins off-season philosophy: finding quality right-handed bats. Today I wanted to build off of that by presenting ten realistic free agent targets, fitting that simple description, who would be good fits in Minnesota. Of course, you can't sign them all.

My list of ten, in alphabetical order, starts with...


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Pat Burrell 92 183 17 42 9 1 7 21 33 67 0 0 .230 .352 .404

The fact that Burrell is on my list was a bit of a surprise, even to me. He just turned 35, rates abysmally in the outfield, and this season he made signifantly less contact (72.3% contact rate, averaged nearly 80% from '04 to '10). His swinging strike percentage jumped into double digits for the first time since 2003. His power looked sapped this season (although his .175 ISO would have looked good for the Twins).

But one thing remains strong for Burrell: he takes walks. And I'm not trying to go all Moneyball here, partially because Moneyball was about so much more than walks, but the Twins will desperately need live bodies who can reach first base in 2012. Burrell, in his career, has walked in 14.3% of his plate appearances; that number was 15.1% in 2011. His wOBA was .338 which, while not fantastic, is fine for a non-middle-of-the-order hitter.

If the Twins find their solution in right field and need a designated hitter and backup first baseman, Burrell should be available on a one-year deal worth less than $2 million. To hit on that Moneyball theme, maybe Burrell could be to Smith what David Justice was to Billy Beane. Milk the last ounce of baseball out of that guy.

More after the jump.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Wilson Betemit 97 323 40 92 22 4 8 46 31 105 4 1 .285 .343 .452

Through 2009, Betemit wasn't anything outstanding. He hit .258/.324/.432 in 1275 plate appearances, which is more or less what you expect from a light hitting infielder. But in the last two years he's hit .290/.359/.479 in 674 plate appearances, which is pretty good no matter which position it comes from.

Betemit is versatile, recording time at first, second, and third base this season. Earlier in his career he played some shortstop. None of these positions saw him as anything resembling a defensive wizard, but his versatility made him a valuable piece. Over the last two years so has his bat, as a higher batting average was able to compliment his already decent walk rates.

Part of Betemit's recent success has been his manager's understanding that he's a much better hitter versus right-handed pitchers (.817 OPS vs righties career, .684 vs lefties; .865 OPS vs righties in 2011, .607 vs lefties). If the Twins chose to pick up the soon-to-be 30-year old infielder, they'll need to understand exactly how to maximize his value. Understanding he's probably a 100-games-per-year player, a two-year deal worth $3 to $4 million should be fair.

And I know that "Betemit" comes before "Burrell" alphabetically, but seeing Burrell as the first example is a lot more fun than seeing Betemit. So, some creative license taken. I hope we're still friends.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Jamey Carroll 146 452 52 131 14 6 0 17 47 58 10 0 .290 .359 .347

Carroll has been a guy I've been a fan of for a couple of seasons. He's another guy who knows how to get on base and can play second, third and short. Strong walk rates are again a theme, but his BABIP is high every year because Carroll also regularly hits a lot of line drives: 23.8% for his career, 23.5% in 2011.

Questions on a player's production will always come up when he heads into his late-30s, and that's bound to be the case here as Carroll turns 38 in February. But his skill set is strong: good contact hitter, very few swinging strikes (just 2.6% last season and 3.7% in his career), excellent plate discipline.

Any team looking for a middle infielder will take a look at Carroll at some juncture this winter, but he's not worth over paying for. One year and less than $2 million would likely lock him up.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Michael Cuddyer 139 529 70 2 29 2 20 70 1 0 11 1 .284 .346 .459

Of course this guy is going to be on our list. We don't need to go into what he does well and what he doesn't, because we know perfectly well. The interesting part of the Cuddyer equation will be how much money he expects, how badly he'd like to stay in Minnesota, whether or not the Twins try to compete with the offers he'll receive on the free agent market, and what happens in arbitration.

I imagine he'll get something in the neighborhood of three years and $35 million. But if I'm the Twins, I'm probably offering two years for $20 million. That's a huge gap to cross.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Ryan Doumit 77 218 17 66 12 1 8 30 16 35 0 1 .303 .353 .477

Doumit is going to be a popular option in the coming weeks, in spite of the fact that he lost playing time at catcher this season. But because he could backup both catcher and first base he immediately strikes a chord with our needs.

Over the last two seasons he combined for .251/.318/.410. His playing time was cut back a bit in May (thanks to another weak April) before he hit the disabled list. His .774 OPS when he hit the DL was okay but certainly not good, and when he returned and played through August it actually dipped to .750.

Then he hit .404/.443/.614 in September.

Somebody is going to see his overall line, see that he can catch, see that he switch hits, and see that he'll be just 31 in April. That's younger than most catching options on the market this year, and somebody might overpay for it. If the Twins are interested, and they should be, hopefully they recognize that his solid triple slash was the product of a single, stellar month, and pay him something realistic: two years, $5 million is fair.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Vladimir Guerrero 145 562 60 163 30 1 13 63 17 56 2 2 .290 .317 .416

In spite of his obviously declining skills, Guerrero still managed to hit .290 this season. Unfortunately that .733 OPS probably tells a more accurate tale.

There's a lot to be wary of here. His isolated power came in at just .126, 70 points off his 2010 mark and 109 points off his career average. His already poor walk rates also hit a career low, as he walked in just 2.9% of his plate appearances (Delmon Young, by comparison, walked in 4.6% of his plate appearances this year). He's swinging at more pitches outside of the strikezone than ever.

The only way signing Guerrero makes any sense is if A) the Twins don't have an option for designated hitter because both Kubel and Cuddyer walked, and Justin Morneau is healthy enough to play first baes everyday, and B) they believe he has one year of baseball left in him and can buy low.

When Guerrero had a down year in 2009, it was his first off year (and he was hurt), and so I thought he'd bounce back. He did just that with the Rangers in 2010. But this marks his second down year in three, he'll be 37 in February, and there are a lot more red flags with his peripherals than there were after '09.

Maybe the Twins think he's a buy low candidate, for one more season. Or maybe they just need a place holder through what the front office may see as a rebuilding year. If so, a one-year, $3 million contract is fair. They could even add incentives enough to double the contract.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Ramon Hernandez 91 298 28 84 13 0 12 36 23 41 0 0 .282 .341 .446

Just over a month ago I presented a chart that outlined who I envisioned the best free agent options at catcher would be this winter. At 36 Hernandez isn't young, but not many of the players on that list are. And, at 35, he had the best season of any other catcher on that list. He played regularly, too.

Hernandez has gotten better, later in his career, at catching would-be base runners. He cut down 37% of them in 2011, and has averaged 35.5% over his last three years. As backup catchers go, Drew Butera caught 31% this season, but some of that also has to be put on Carl Pavano. Still, Hernandez offers something Butera can't: offense.

If the Twins trust Joe Mauer to be healthy, and I think I would, then Hernandez is a great option. He'll provide okay game calling skills with a decent bat for a backup catcher, which means if he has to give Mauer a break and catch for a week or two then he can do that without completely losing offensive production from the catcher position. That move alone would make this team better. He's a two-win player as a part time catcher, so a two-year, $8 million offer isn't out of the question.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Derrek Lee 113 435 55 116 17 2 19 59 33 110 2 1 .267 .325 .446

After an excrutiatingly slow start in Baltimore this year, Lee was dealt to the Pirates. He'd get hurt, and the Pirates were already on their way out, but in 28 games he hit .337/.398/.554 with seven homers. It was the second year in a row where his sluggish start was somewhat offset by his solid post-trade performance.

Overall the power still seems to be there. His ISO clocked in at a respectable .179, thanks to his stunning September, and his splits on balls in play aren't off from how they've looked in his career either. More worrying is his plate discipline. Here's an illustration.

Stat 2009 2010 2011 Career
BB % 12.4 11.7 6.9 11.0
K % 17.7 21.4 23.1 20.4
O-Swing % 21.5 23.1 26.4 19.1


That's a red flag if I've seen one. And we can argue that he was pressing this season, or that he struggled facing a bunch of new pitchers in the American League for the most part of the year, but it seems to be a pretty clear trend. Lee's discipline and strike zone judgement are slipping, and at 36 next season there isn't any guarantee for a "dead cat bounce" season.

But it's possible. He's shown, at times, that he can still hit. He can also backup Morneau at first and share time at DH. I'd probably rather have him than Guerrero, too. One year, $3 million plus incentives.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Aramis Ramirez 149 565 80 173 35 1 26 93 43 69 1 1 .306 .361 .510

Ramirez will turn 34 in late June of 2012. How long can he continue to be a good hitter? That's the money question here and he knows it too, as he'll opt out of a guaranteed contract this coming season in order to cash in big one final time in his career.

Whether or not the Twins can get involved will depend on how the market plays out a little bit, and in how the Twins see their team shaping up in the future. If the front office doesn't believe they'll compete this year, it's not worth spending the money on him when Danny Valencia and third base aren't this team's biggest concerns this winter. But if the front office's displeasure with Valencia matches Gardy's frustrations, and they feel like this is one big move that would be a good decision, they could decide to make a power play.

How signing Ramirez would shake down could be interesting. Would he play at third, or would he DH? Would he get some time at first base, or would they try to shuffle Valencia over?

I would consider offering Ramirez two years and $30 million, with an option for a third year to make it $45. It's more per year than he'll get on the market over the winter, and would give the Twins an out for Ramirez's age-36 season.

Of course, it's not likely to happen. Some team (or two) out there will give him a guaranteed three or four year contract, worth roughly $12 million per. It's not the money that's an issue, if I'm the Twins. It's the years.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Josh Willingham 136 488 69 120 26 0 29 98 56 150 4 1 .246 .332 .477

Willingham had himself a year, showcasing his talents in the offensively barren land that was Oakland. He can hit both righties and lefties, he has good command of the strike zone, and there's enough power there to make him attractive to any team in baseball.

Looking over this list, in terms of feasibility and power potential, Willingham is one of the best options here. He can play the outfield (he'd have to shift from left to right for the Twins), he can DH, and I'm sure the Twins could get him to backup first base once or twice too, if they needed it.

Willingham turns 33 in February, so he's not extactly young, but he has a few skills that look like they could age gracefully through his mid-30s: plate discipline and power. Contact, speed, and defense aren't as big of issues for Minnesota as finding guys who can get on base and occasionally put one over the fence. Willingham's walk rates are typically north of 10%, which is pretty good, and his isolated power has come in between .192 and .237 since 2006.

He's a lock for a multi-year deal, and he'll average somewhere between $8 and $10 million per. I'd offer three years and $25 million, with escalators to make it worth $30.

Conclusions

All of these guys can make the Twins better, one way or another, but some of them (Willingham, Doumit, Carroll for me) are better choices than others. Who on this list do you like, if anyone? Is there any right-handed bat you'd like to see the Twins target in free agency?

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