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Bring Back...Paul Molitor?

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It's been a long time since the Twins have had a full-time, legitimate designated hitter.  A recent TwinkieTown vote had DH as Minnesota's second-highest priority for positions in need of an upgrade.

Let's call this a compliment sandwich for our offense.  We'll start with something positive, go to some criticism, and then end with another compliment.  That way, we can all come away not feeling like complete asses.  At least I'll come away not feeling like a complete ass.

Something positive?  How about the top five hitters in the batting order:  Castillo, Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau and Hunter.  Every one of those except Castillo has an OPS of .844 or higher (coming into Wednesday's game), which is impressive.  Castillo's OPS isn't imposing by any means, but he's been seeing four pitches per plate appearance, is hitting .305 and has a .346 OBP.  The top of our order has been doing, as a whole, very well.

As you can probably guess, my criticism has to do with the designated hitter position, which probably isn't fair.  First, the DH hasn't even been playing the last three games.  Second, I'm ignoring the black holes in left field, third base and shortstop.  Tough bananas, today the DH gets ripped.  My opening question:  When is the last time the Twins had a legitimate designated hitter?  Was it Chili Davis?  Or would you count Dave Winfield?

Going back to Davis, here are the stats for the player who recieved the most at-bats as a DH for the Twins in each season.

Year  Name          AB   2B   HR  RBI   Avg   Obp   Slg
2006  R. White     337   17    7   38  .246  .276  .365
2005  M. LeCroy    304    5   17   50  .260  .354  .444
2004  J. Offerman  172   14    2   22  .256  .363  .395
2003  M. LeCroy    345   19   17   64  .287  .342  .490
2002  D. Ortiz     412   32   20   75  .272  .339  .500
2001  D. Ortiz     303   17   18   48  .234  .324  .475
2000  D. Ortiz     415   36   10   63  .282  .364  .446
1999  M. Cordova   425   28   14   70  .285  .365  .464
1998  P. Molitor   502   29    4   69  .281  .336  .382
1997  P. Molitor   538   32   10   89  .305  .351  .435
1996  P. Molitor   660   41    9  113  .341  .390  .468
1995  P. Munoz     376   17   18   58  .301  .338  .489
1994  D. Winfield  294   15   10   43  .252  .321  .425
1993  D. Winfield  547   27   21   76  .271  .325  .442
1992  C. Davis     444   27   12   66  .288  .386  .439
1991  C. Davis     534   34   29   93  .277  .385  .507

Chili Davis (ed. 1991) is definitely the cream of this crop.  Strangely enough though, it's not like there have been a multitude of really bad seasons to be had from our designated hitters, it's just that the decent performances were given by guys only playing part time.  Cordova's '99 isn't awful.  David Ortiz, particularly in '00 and '02, puts up pretty nice numbers.  Even in 2003 (the one year LeCroy actually hit right-handers), Mr. Donuts-N'-Cheesedip has a solid line while playing just over half the time of an every day guy.

The real reason behind the pessimism for the DH the last few years hasn't been necessarily because of the numbers on thist list, it's because of the options that have been available.  Nobody could have guessed exactly how miserable White's 2006 could have been, but there hasn't been a full time designated hitter for the Twins since 1998.  Why?  Injuries and platoon players, mostly.  LeCroy's 2005 isn't good, isn't bad...but he still had more at-bats against right-handed pitchers than against southpaws, who he mashed like so many potatoes in a LeCroy Cottage Pie Special.  Jose Offerman has no power, then you're back to LeCroy again, then to three years of David Ortiz who had problems with 1:  Tom Kelly and 2:  Staying healthy.

Nothing has changed this year.  Refusing the free agent market and making no trades of note for the current season, Minnesota put all their DH eggs in one basket with Rondell White.  Rondell White proceeded to go egg someone's house and then injure himself, although not necessarily in that order.

Now we're forced to give at-bats to Jason Tyner, Jason Kubel, Mike Redmond and Jeff Cirillo.  Luis Rodriguez and Josh Rabe have even seen starts as designated hitters.  Redmond has been solid but is the backup catcher, not the designated hitter (although if you're comfortable carrying three catchers, fair play to you).  Kubel could be better but has struggled, even with regular playing time.  Take a look at how our four primary options have done this season, as designated hitters.

Name      AB  XBH   Avg   Obp   Slg
Cirillo   50    2  .220  .322  .260
Redmond   45    3  .222  .271  .289
Tyner     44    2  .250  .327  .295
Kubel     40    5  .225  .326  .350

As a whole, Minnesota designated hitters have a line of .249/.330/.348.  This is the reason that the position is much maligned.  Only the Royals (.661) and the Angels (.656) have lower OPS scores at that position, and even those two teams have had more production in terms of runs scored, runs batted in and hits.

Conclusions

The latest I've read on Rondell is that he felt sore after his first rehab game, so he was kept out of what would have been his second.  They're still "taking it slow", and it sounds like they're going to let White decide how fast he can be pushed back based on how he feels.  I'm sympathetic toward Rondell White, I really am, but he can't be counted on in any capacity to come back and help this squad's offense.  If he does, then fantastic, but nobody seems to have any idea of when that will be.

So the Twins need to find a way to upgrade the position.  Internally the best options are Mike Redmond (by carrying a third catcher), Garrett Jones (in Rochester) and Jason Kubel (should he remember how he used to hit in the minors).  While there are certain upsides, long shot upsides, to each of these options, none of them provide the offensive support the Twins will need to make a push for the post-season.  What do you need to do?  Get Kevin Mench, get Adam Dunn, bring back Paul Molitor, just do something...because eventually the pitcher won't have to bat again, and it makes me cry when the pitcher hits as well as some of the true designated hitter options.

And no, I didn't forget...compliment sandwich.  Let's just think of it as an "open-faced" sandwich.  That way it isn't to "bready".