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When Is It Easier to Replace the Whole Than Replace the Parts?

And, when can it be done by a financially conscious club?

Answer:  When there are no entrenched players with big contracts.  Which is exactly the position the Twins find themselves in this year,

Almost two years ago to the day I talked about how this club would go about replacing Torii Hunter.  It wasn't realistic to think that the organization would be able to replace everything Torii brought to the table with one guy, but it was possible that the Twins would be able to replace at least parts of his production through different players.  This time around it's a little bit different, because A) there's more than one position open, B) the positions are open in spite of guys you could dub "incumbants" and C) we're not asking anyone to replace an All-Star.

If anyone is still wondering what position(s) I'm talking about, it's second base, third base and shortstop.  Naturally.

With Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera possibly not returning to the Twins as free agents, both Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher are legitimate non-tender candidates this year.  Brendan's versatility is only a plus when it doesn't cost a lot of money, which he's going to get now that he's about to enter arbitration for the first time; Brian's penchant for handling right-handed pitching gives him value in a platoon situation, but his defense and lack of power make him a one-trick pony if you give him extra credit for being able to backup first base.  Being able to play multiple positions and having backup options has been part of Minnesota's MO over the last few years, but with Harris and Buscher in particular the Twins have some decisions to make as they weight their cost versus benefits ratios this winter.

This leaves Alexi Casilla (plausible trade fodder), Matt Tolbert (the new, younger and cheaper Harris) and Nick Punto (hello, contract!) as the only infielders who I would rate as likely candidates to remain entering 2010.

Let's get onto the fun part--what a player coming in would have to replace.

On-Base Skills
Casilla (.280), Crede (.289) Tolbert (.303), Harris (.310), Cabrera (.313), Punto (.337), Buscher (.360)

This should be one of the more essential attributes that any incoming infielder should possess.  The two-hole, and the bottom of the batting order in general, had trouble producing base runners on any sort of a consistent basis.  As a result the lineup, which was constructed around a handful of very competent and talented players, didn't score nearly as many runs as it could have.

Being able to hit, whether that's for power or average or both, is a secondary value as far as I'm concerned.  Any player who can come in and simly prolong the inning by avoiding outs is an upgrade, and it's a necessity to find someone who can hit between Denard Span and Joe Mauer.

Plate Discipline

Getting on-base is priority number one, I don't care how anyone does it.  But in the (most likely) event that the Twins don't get their hands on a premier middle infielder who is a natural hitter, they need to find a guy who can step in and just work it out.  A guy who can be smart, identify the strike zone, identify pitches and be selective in his approach will find his way on.









































BB% = Percentage of plate appearances that end in a walk  (9.1% average)
O-Swing% = Percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone which were swung at  (25.1% average)
Swing% = Overall percentage of pitches swung at  (45.2% average)
P/PA  = Pitches per plate appearance  (3.87 team avearge)

The only two players consistently coming out on the better side of average are Punto and Buscher.  We'll get more into Punto and his positives when we get around to our Season In Review series, but it's hard to look at what Brian did this year in very limited action (just 164 plate appearances) in one breath while saying he's a legitimate non-tender candidate in another.  That's the difference between the microcosm and The Big Picture.

After our first two categories you should already have a pretty clear picture of how things look with our "incumbents", and how difficult it would be (or not be) to improve upon their 2009 performances.  Punto's peripherals don't look horrible, while Buscher (as encouraging as his numbers are) were accumulated in very limited time.  And it was limited time for a reason.


Slg  Iso  HR/FB  XBH%









































Power is an issue.  We know this.  We also know that as far as shortstop and second base are concerned, it's just a bonus.  A big, fat bonus.


Not a bonus.  Punto rated a plus at second base (5.2 UZR/150, while Crede (15.9) and Tolbert (8.0) each came out ahead at third base.  Anyone and everyone else who played any sort of time at any of those three positions were, at best, below average.  "Butcher" might be a more accurate term in some cases.


Cabrera is agile, Punto is quick, but only Casilla is someone I would dub as truly fast.  He was 11 for 11 in stolen bases this season, confirming not just his raw speed but also his ability to read pitchers and get the jumps he needs.  FanGraphs rates his speed component as 6.9 (compared to 5.0 average).  That speed still hasn't translated to consistent success in the field however, resulting in flashes of prowess in his range mitigated with any number of mistakes.

Punto was 16-for-19 this season in stolen bases, but this is more a case of a guy who knows how to use his quickness than an example of a player whose raw speed gets him his numbers.

You can teach reaction, hone instincts and train for an explosive first step, but speed itself can't be taught.  Finding a player who knows how to maximize his speed is more important than trying to bring in the fastest guy you can find, but as far as this tool is concerned it's one area where the Twins don't actually require improvement.

What good solutions are out there?

Dan Uggla is still toward the top of my list.  He was second among all second basemen in walk rates in 2009, walking in 14 percent of his plate appearances.  His OBP was solid (.354) and he complimented it with good power (.216 ISO, 31 home runs).  He also knows his strike zone (18.7 O-Swing%, also second best in baseball among second basemen).  Uggla's biggest detractor is his defense, which would roughly equate to Tolbert's season at second base:  not pathetic, but definitely not good.  He's right-handed and arbitration eligible.

On the free agent market is one Jamey Carroll, who is about as versatile as it gets while still being an effective hitter; in 2009 he played second, third and both corner outfield positions.  For his career he's been extraordinarily selective as a hitter, swinging at just 16.5% of balls outside of the strike zone and just 33.6% of all pitches this past season.  Career walk rates?  Right around ten percent.  On-base percentage?  Just over .350 for his career, although hitting between Span and Mauer I could see him doing even better.  The downside is that he'll be 36 next season and has only been a full-time player once in his career, usually appearing in roughly 100 games.

Felipe Lopez is also on the market, but projects as a Type-B free agent (not a big deal) and is also a Scott Boraas client (a bigger deal, literally).  He's a switch-hitter, 30 in 2010, a good bet to post a .340+ OBP, and is a versatile defender although second and third might be his better positions.  Lopez is also good for 25-35 doubles as a full-time player.  As an option I really haven't considered much in recent weeks, he's definitely somebody to keep tabs on.

Finally there's fan-favorite J.J. Hardy, who is coming off of his worst professional season and a demotion to triple-A in Milwaukee.  He's a gamble, but one that could pay off and likely shouldn't cost as much as Uggla, and he's also consistently been a good defensive shortstp.

Who else gets your vote as a favorite this off-season?  How do they stack up as far as the essential peripherals?

As for the question which serves as the title for this post, the answer is as easy as the one I mentioned earlier, but it's probably also a bit more cruel.  It's easier to replace the whole when the parts you have just aren't that good.  There are bright spots, which includes Buscher's affinity for right-handed pitchers, Casilla's speed and some of Punto's peripherals, but none of them are complete packages and more importantly, none of them are good, star players who are capable of helping give the Twins an additional boost in 2010.  They are who they are, with perhaps the exception of Casilla, and if the organization wants to give the club a little extra juice next summer they'll be hard pressed to expect anymore out of those three players than they got in 2009.