Maximizing Roster Assets: Assembling Depth

Al Messerschmidt

I look at some possible free agent targets to help improve the Twins' bench for 2014.

This offseason, common talking points about the Twins have involved improving the starting rotation and finding a first baseman. Now that Joe Mauer has moved away from catcher, it looks like the latter has now been replaced with bringing in a new guy to don the tools of ignorance.

However, there is one part of the team that I feel has been basically ignored for the past few years and that is the bench. If anything, it's unusual for your team to not be decimated by injuries throughout the season, and having exceptional depth can be the difference between staying in contention and falling behind.

If you overlook the Jim Thome signing (which has an asterisk anyway because he was eventually promoted to full-time DH), the Twins have regularly employed replacement-level fielders on their bench. Of course, since WAR is a counting stat, some of these poor numbers are due to lack of playing time rather than actual ability, but in 2013 the Twins still managed to give out 100 plate appearances or more to Chris Herrmann, Chris Colabello, Jamey Carroll, and Eduardo Escobar, and none of them had more than 0.2 WAR. If you lower the plate appearance threshold to 60, you can then add Doug Bernier, Darin Mastroianni, and Wilkin Ramirez, and although Bernier did get 0.5 WAR in his limited time, most of that came from his absurd defensive ratings and we are aware of how fluky those can be in small samples.

Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, it's a given that multiple players will get promoted from the bench to fill a starting role. I do think Chris Colabello and Darin Mastroianni are better players than what we saw last season, but the Twins could still find some free agents that are capable both offensively and defensively. The following is a short list of players that I think could be brought in so the team is not required to rely on the Escobars and Ramirezes from the past season.

Ryan Roberts, 2B/3B

Career: .245/.321/.392

Roberts has had a few starting roles in his career, notably 2011 with the Diamondbacks and then 2012 with the D-Backs and Rays. Last year though, he was mainly platooned against lefthanded pitchers in limited duty. He is more than capable defensively at both 2nd and 3rd base and thus could fill in whenever Trevor Plouffe or Brian Dozier need an off day. Plus, he's made 35 appearances in left field, giving the Twins a little more defensively flexibility that they love in their backup role players.

Chad Tracy, 1B/3B

Career: .274/.333/.439

We look at another former Diamondback in Chad Tracy, who was given a starting role for the first three seasons of his career. However, after the 2006 season he has never seen 300 plate appearances again. Being lefthanded, he doesn't exactly pair well with Joe Mauer at 1st base, but remember, this exercise is more for when he gets pressed into starting duty, not if he's just giving one of the regulars a day off. Tracy struggled a lot last year, as he batted .202/.243/.326 as a pinch-hitter for the Nationals, but hit .269/.343/.441 in the very same role the year prior, so we could chalk up the significant differences in those two lines to random variation. He is about average defensively at the infield corners, which may actually be a downgrade from Mauer at 1st base, but would definitely be an improvement over Trevor Plouffe at 3rd.

David Murphy, OF

Career: .275/.337/.441

Murphy has usually been the 4th outfielder for the Texas Rangers over the past 6 seasons, but he's always reached 400 plate appearances since 2008 due to injuries or his starting-caliber play. He's not really a center fielder, but he can definitely cover the corners. The only issue with Murphy though is that he's certainly deserving of a starting role, so I wouldn't be surprised if he actually receives a contract from a team that can offer him that job. Of course, you may be wary of him leaving the bandbox in Arlington, however.

Luke Scott, DH

Career: .258/.340/.481

How about a dose of crazy to round off this list? Scott's personality would likely clash with the clubhouse culture the Twins have built, but they've been linked to A.J. Pierzynski this offseason too, so maybe it wouldn't be THAT big of a problem. Scott provides the most power out of anyone on this list, but he's also the oldest and the most limited defensively. Sure, he can play 1st base and left field, but that doesn't mean that he's good at them. Scott could be a Jim Thome Lite, though he's failed to hit over .241 for the past 3 seasons.

What do you think of this list? Are there any other potential bench bats out there that would look like good fits for the Twins?

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