Three Moves Guaranteed to Bolster the Twins

First, a bit of an introduction before we get down to brass tacks. If you’re reading Twinkie Town, there’s a decent chance you’ve read me at any number of my other outlets. I’ve written pieces or excerpts that have appeared at Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, Fangraphs, Twins MVB, and a handful of other places. I’ve done play-by-play and color commentary work for the Minnesota Sports Broadcast Network. I’ve also done a little television work for GameOn!, which is a show that is broadcast on Sunday mornings on a local Fox affiliate. In short -- or rather long -- I’m attempting to be a bit of a mover and a shaker in the sportswriting world. My goal is to do something media-related as a full-time job; it’s an ambitious goal, but I won’t let hard work get in the way of that.

Nonetheless, my debut column is on three realistic free agent moves I think could really round out the Twins offseason. I've been all over the map in my reactions to each of the Twins signings thus far, but I don't think it's by any means a lost cause to fix this team up into a contender as soon as next season. I'm serious.

As I began penning this column, I pondered including reliever Frank Francisco, whom the Mets then deftly nabbed on a two-year pact for $12 million total. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of options for the Twins, whom I think can get back into contention if the club plays its cards just right.

C Kelly Shoppach

One glance at Shoppach’s .176/.268/.338 triple-slash from 2011 may induce peristaltic reactions, but hear this one one. First of all, Shoppach’s a catch-and-throw guy (three seasons > 35% CS rate) who was widely lauded for his defense when he was a young man gracing the pages of SoxProspects.com. Now, after seven big league seasons, Shoppach is a free man after his 2012 option was declined by the Rays. Shoppach’s hit a relatively well .224/.315/.417 over just under 1500 plate appearances (96 OPS+/.322 wOBA), and provides plenty of pop (.193 iso) to go with surprisingly good plate discipline (.091 isolated OBP) despite such poor contact rates (63.7 percent versus a typical league average of about 80.5 percent). He also absolutely pounds lefties (career .274/.373/.536), which would be a welcome addition on a team that combined to hit port-siders at a collective .249/.309/.361 mark. For a million bucks or so, Shoppach could render Drew Butera even more irrelevant, start against lefties at either catcher or maybe even first base, or even at the very least, pop a few homers as a power bench bat that the Twins will sorely need come opening day.

OF Josh Willingham

I’ve advocated Willingham to the Twins since the beginning of free agency for a few key reasons. For one, he’s got a comparable bat to the man whose spot he’d likely take in the lineup, Michael Cuddyer (wOBAs of .348 and .345 - advantage: Willingham), no discernible platoon splits (.862/.827 RHP/LHP OPS vs. .760/.869 for Cuddyer), and should possibly come more cheaply than the proud father of twin babies born on Tuesday. In fact, for even money I’d still take Willingham. I don’t put too much stock in ‘new blood’ in the clubhouse, but it’d be nice to see a shakeup to the country club at Target Field. Above that, however, is that the club would pocket two draft picks when Cuddyer signs elsewhere, which is a must for a farm system that could use quality or quantity as it pertains to stocking its farm system. Finally, Willingham poked 15 of his 29 home runs at O.co Coliseum, which proved nearly as cavernous as Target Field with its 97 park factor according to Baseball Reference. Do yourself a favor Terry Ryan, and serve yourself a side of agreeable pork.

Yes, that Rich Harden. But with a twist: make him a power reliever. I openly bandied about this notion in a recent FanGraphs column I wrote, and I think Harden would really make a good power reliever. Think about it: a fireballer with great K rates (9.2 career K/9), good fly ball rates (40.8 percent would play up at Target Field), and durability issues. Why not let him let loose for an inning or two at a time? I’m no doubt oversimplifying here, but the Twins need to be creative given the budgetary issues. Matt Capps wasn’t very imaginative; the Twins value predictability -- good or bad, to be sure -- but with Harden, the Twins can take a stab that could pay off huge dividends for only a small investment. Think about it: every team that has went deep in the playoffs the past few seasons has had an investment go really, really well. Lance Berkman of the Cardinals comes to mind immediately, as do about half of the Rangers. The Twins don’t need to blow the budget on a risky player, but a cheap one-year deal on Harden would neither kill the budget, nor have much of a bust factor.

I’ll readily admit that none of these three players are likely to don Twinstripes in 2012, but they’re all reasonable acquisitions that could be made based on a general idea of how much money Ryan has to work with. Let’s hear some of your ideas!
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