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Looking for Answers, Part II

Losing the first two games of the series by an average score of 11-4, the Indians are slapping around the Twins like Rick James slapped Charlie Murphy.

Looking at what's available for position players in Rochester, it's evident that there aren't any sure shots to help improve the depth of the bench, much less upgrade an every day player.  This leaves us with two options, one unappealing and one unlikely:  Ride It Out & Make A Trade.

Much of the conversation surrounding trades has had to do with acquiring a player who will be penciled into the lineup every day, primarily at third base and designated hitter since it seems Kubel will continue to have his shots in left field.  Since Terry Ryan is unwilling (or is posing as though he doesn't want) to make this kind of trade, what about picking up some beef for the bench?  These acquisitions would require less expediture on behalf of the Twins, and once Mauer and White return to the lineup it could mean real, life offensive depth.  After all, if a team intends to contend, you shouldn't have to go to the bench for your primary pinch hitter and draw names like Rodriguez and Redmond.

Before exploring the possibilities of bench depth, here's a reminder of yesterday's replaceable parts, plus the line for the designated hitters.  Remember that in the 453 at-bats below, there have been two home runs.

Name           Pos   AB  XBH    Avg    Obp    Slg

Rodriguez    2B/IF   48    2   .208   .283   .292
Punto        3B/UT  129    7   .233   .322   .302
Left Field      LF  141    7   .227   .272   .291
Desig Hitter    DH  135   14   .274   .353   .378

External Candidates for Acquisition

When scourging the ranks of the major leagues, I tried to select players who met the following criteria:  Affordable (cha-ching), buyable (what we have to give up), role on their current team (borderline starter or backups only) and being better than who they might be asked to replace.  A couple of players will not quite meet every guideline, but it's just a benchmark.

Endy Chavez, OF, New York Mets
Age:  29    Salary:  $1.73 MM
 Experience, versatility, speed
Drawbacks:  Feasibility, left-handed hitter, no power, timing

Split    AB    H   2B  HR  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg
2007     47   16    4   0   0  .340  .385  .468
Career 1703  462   85  15  67  .271  .312  .377

Basically, Chavez is Jason Tyner plus 60 career points in slugging and 600 extra at-bats.  He can run, hits right-handers okay but not well (he's slightly worse versus southpaws) and has logged time at all three outfield positions.  He's a more natural backup to Hunter in center than Tyner or Ford.  The only way this makes sense is if he's the fourth outfielder once Rondell White comes back, meaning both Tyner and Ford wouldn't be on the 25-man roster.  This will never happen.

While Chavez wouldn't require much to get in most cases, the Mets may be more hesitant to dish him off when they're having a great start to the season and Endy is doing a good job backing up Carlos Beltran, Shawn Green and a nicked up Moises Alou.  If the Twins really do want to find a backup outfielder who has a more reliable offensive history than Ford or Tyner, Chavez fits the bill.  Realistically, I don't see it going down.

Mark Loretta, IF, Houston Astros
Age:  35   Salary:  $2.50 MM
 Experience, versatility, right-handed/good hitter
Drawbacks:  Who he's backing up, age, timing

Split    AB    H   2B  HR  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg
2007     66   23    3   0   1  .348  .403  .394
Career 4976 1489  266  68  46  .299  .363  .402

Apparently Loretta is backing up every infield position except catcher, which he could probably do if the Astros asked him very nicely.  Even at 35 and playing part time, Loretta is still strong when he steps into the box.  He hits right-handers well, but he hits lefties even better with a career OPS over .800.  On a team like the Twins, Loretta could bring a very reliable bench bat (maybe even start at third?) and veteran leadership/experience.

Loretta won't come to Minnesota because he's playing in Houston.  They're currently the NL Central's second place team, chasing the juggernaut known as the Brewers, meaning that taking their own primary bench option would require the Twins to rip it from their cold, dead hands.  Again, on first glance it may not be a bad idea, but in reality I'm shooting myself down.

Russ Branyan, CIF/COF, San Diego Padres
Age:  31   Salary:  $1.00 MM
 Salary, cost, versatility
Drawbacks:  Timing, left-handed hitter

Split    AB    H   2B  HR  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg
2007     40   10    3   3   0  .250  .400  .550
Career 1745  405   86 114   9  .232  .329  .484

On the Brewer depth chart, Branyan is penciled in as the primary backup to 1B, 3B, LF and RF.  Talk about being able to kill two birds with one stone; Branyan could end up being a 5th outfielder and providing the corner infield insurance Cirillo hasn't been healthy enough to do.  Against RHP, his notched an .894 OPS from 2004-2006.  If used properly, Branyan won't give you an impressive batting average, but will reward you with plus power and a good on-base percentage.

During the same period he posted the .894 OPS versus right-handers, he managed only a .571 OPS against the other side.  Perhaps if the Twins aren't ready to give up on Cirillo they could platoon him with Branyan, even though this would cause some reduncancy and clog up the basebaths just a bit.  Playing against the Twins is the fact that the Padres are trying to remain in contention, meaning they'd ask the Twins for more than Branyan would normally be worth all things being equal.

Ty Wigginton, IF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Age:  29   Salary:  $2.70 MM
 Versatility, cost
Drawbacks:  Salary-for-talent

Split    AB    H   2B  HR  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg
2007    155   39    7   6   1  .252  .283  .413
Career 1937  511  115  71  26  .264  .322  .443

While Wigginton has played a little RF and LF in his career, most of his time has been split between 3B, 2B and 1B (in decending order).  Historically he hits each hand of the hurler similarly, with an .805 OPS versus LHP and a .785 versus RHP from '04-'06.  He will display moderate power which, at the least, is more than anyone bar Morneau and Hunter have displayed for the Twins.

In Tampa Bay, Wigginton is much like Ron Coomer was for the Twins in the late 90's; he's a solid role player who performs well on an overall poor team, but he isn't a complete enough package to be getting the same number of at-bats on a contending team.  If he played every day, he's more likely to turn out like his 2003 self (.255/.318/.396) than he is to turn out like he did in 444 at-bats with the Rays last season (.275/.330/.498).  But for what he has to offer he's an unquestionable upgrade from what the Twins can draw from currently, and even though $2.5 million is a lot to pay for the role he'd play with the Twins, what Tampa Bay could get in return wouldn't draw much blood from the Minnesota farm system.

Josh Phelps, 1B/DH, New York Yankees
Age:  29   Salary:  $600 K
 Salary, cost, mashes LHP
Drawbacks:  Versatility, redundancy

Split    AB    H   2B  HR  SB   Avg   Obp   Slg
2007     43   11    1   2   0  .256  .333  .419
Career 1246  334   68  59   2  .268  .336  .471

Apart from the fact that the Yankees don't really need another first baseman to clog up their bench and their basepaths, Phelps' .894 OPS versus southpaws and .852 OPS on turf make him a very attractive platoon candidate.  Between '04 and '07, he's crushed 13 homers in just 226 at-bats against lefties.  Defensively he won't provide much help at all, even at the one position he does play, but then again it is bench offense we're looking for.

Although he's a less buffet-crazy version of Matty LeCroy, his lack of a true defensive position makes him less appealing than anyone on this list except Endy Chavez.  Phelps has his niche and probably shouldn't cost the Twins too much, but if he found a way to collect 160 at-bats with Minnesota I'd be very surprised.  From my perspective of the Twins maintaining their "contender" status throughout the season, Phelps probably isn't a good fit.

Part III tomorrow...

There are another handful of players I'd like to run by you tomorrow and get your thoughts on.  From the players listed above, which players could truly give the Twins some help, bolster the bench and give us a nudge in the right direction?  Does this list even contain such a player?