Stop me if you've heard this off-season story before...the Twins have an opening at second base.
When the Twins traded Luis Castillo at the 2007 trade deadline, it was seen as a curious but defendable action. Since then second base has been a carousel of mediocrity, with Minnesota starting Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla and Luis Rodriguez the rest of the way in just '07. '08 began with Brendan Harris and Matt Tolbert before Casilla and Punto and even Matt Macri saw starts. This past season saw the usual suspects cover the position once again, and while no new names were pulled from the hat it still means there were six guys getting starts over the last two-and-a-half seasons at second base.
It's difficult to be too hard on the front office for not bringing in an everyday second baseman last year. Punto had proven himself to be a versatile and valuable glove man over the years, even if 2009 wasn't as strong. Casilla has been, for the last two years, the guy that the organization has wanted to step into the role long-term. And as far as versatile swingmen are concerned, you could do worse than Harris. Additionally, as a position that typically doesn't provide a lot of offense, it kind of made sense that the vacancy at second base sort of fell to a secondary concern last winter.
Moving into 2010 it's impossible to not see second base as a primary concern. While the Devil You Know, or Devils, will still be around, their cumulative performance was one of the worse in baseball this season. Twins second basemen hit a combined .209/.302/.267 in 2009, with their .569 OPS by far the worse in the game. San Francisco's combined .611 OPS was good for a distant 29th.
The tricky bit, the part that sneaks into my brain and every other optimist's brain out there, is the bit that says Well, there's still some upside here. Casilla's still young, Punto finished strong at the plate and actually played strong defense down the stretch to end the year as the only Minnesota second baseman to finish the season with a UZR/150 not in the negative. Aye, that's the rub. THE RUB!
For the third consecutive season, the Minnesota Twins enter the off-season without an incumbant at any of the three infield positions to the left of first base. Each of the last two years I've said the exact same thing: as long as they fill two of those three spots with a quality player, I'll be happy. But even saying that I knew that second base wasn't the biggest concern. For the first time in these three years, I believe that it's just as important for the Twins to improve at second base as it is for them to solve their issues at third and short.
But with so many internal options available the organization will need to be creative if they aren't going to go the route that most of us expect them to take. If they want to think outside the box and go for a guy like Dan Uggla or Kelly Johnson, the trend of internal promotion that's plugged the gap in the middle infield over the last couple years will need to be bucked and some of those familiar faces, the Punto's and Casilla's and Harris's's's and Tolbert's, would likely find themselves donning new uniforms in 2010.
I'm hoping that the organization takes a few calculated gambles this off-season. I would like nothing more than to see this team make a move for a guy they believe can start 130 games at second base next year; not just start but own the position. He doesn't have to be an All-Star or a Gold Glove winner, but some value on at least one side of the ball would constitute an upgrade. That's what I want.