Left field has finally become a position of strength again for the Minnesota Twins.
My favorite left fielder for the Twins before Josh Willingham was Shannon Stewart. That was way back in 2003 when Stewart was traded (with Dave Gassner) for Bobby Kielty. That year Stewart was 4th in the American League MVP voting and batted .307/.364/.459. He was about a 3.0 WAR player, splitting time between the Twins and the Blue Jays. Stewart was the left fielder until 2006 when he spent time on the disabled list and later became a free agent.
The Twins used Jason Kubel to replace Stewart in 2006 and 2007 when he saw a lot of time as a left fielder. Kubel was a great player for the Twins but he was not the answer in left field because he was transitioned to a DH role and a utility outfielder, when he did play in the field he spent most of his time as a right fielder.
The Twins thought the answer in left field would be Rondell White who they signed in December of 2005. White played 411 innings in left field in ’06-’07 while getting only 474 plate appearances and batting .229/.266/.354. White spent a lot of time on the disabled list and didn’t work out quite how the Twins wanted him to.
Bill Smith tried to make left field a strength for the Twins when he aquired Delmon Young in a 6-player trade with the newly named Tampa Bay Rays. This trade has become notorious as the Twins traded assests Matt Garza, and Jason Bartlett, as well as Eduardo Morlan to the Rays for Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie.
Delmon Young was the primary left fielder for the Twins from 2008 until August 2011 when he was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Lester Oliveros, just as the teams started a series against each other. His batting line as a Twin was .287/.324/.429. He hit 47 home runs and was paid $10,567,000 to basically be a replacement level left fielder.
Young’s best season was 2010 when he was a 1.5 WAR player as a .298/.333/.493 hitter with 21 home runs and 112 RBI. During this season he finished 10th in the American League MVP voting.
The team signed Josh Willingham to a 3-year $21 million contract in December 2011 and he has become the every day left fielder. He has already been a 2.0+ WAR player since the start of the season. Willingham’s hitting line is a very solid .290/.405/.575 in 247 plate appearances and he currently leads the team in both home runs (13) and RBI (44). He also fits nicely into the left-sided lineup of the M&M boys, Mauer and Morneau.
Rumors about trading Willingham should be premature because although the Twins are rebuilding they still want to maintain a competitive product and a player like Willingham will put fans in the Target Field seats. It has been a long time since left field was a position of strength for the team. I, for one, would rather see the team keep Willingham next year and not consider trading him until at least the final year of his three-year contract. Hopefully Terry Ryan agrees with that assessment and is enjoying the fact that he signed a quality left fielder.
On the other side of the discussion is the fact that Ben Revere has been busy trying to prove that he is an every day outfielder for the Twins, batting .342/.371/.423 so far this season in only 120 PA. Until now he has been a plus fielder and carries a .277/.317/.324 batting line in 631 total PA. The lurking question in the Twins front office is how good the Twins really think Revere is? Another question is if any other teams are excited about Revere or Span, and would trade significant upside starting pitching to acquire either one of them?