With Alexi Casilla's banishment to Upstate New York, the Twins are faced with a tough decision.
We all thought Casilla was the second baseman of the future until he caught Luis Rivas disease and Gardy, who suffered through years of Rivas, has no patience left for lackadaisical play. Add to that the last things Casilla said to Gardy on his way out the door. It's not published, but you can read something like this between the lines.
Gardy: You go down there and learn to play with more consistent focus and awareness. When the scouts say you're ready, I'll bring you back up.
Casiila: I don't need more tine in the minors Man. I'n ready right now to be the guy.
Gardy: No you're not.
Casilla: I'n the best second baseman in this system.
Gardy: Not right now you're not.
Casilla: You don't know jack.
Gardy: Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of my office.
So Casilla might never be back with this team as long as Gardy is manager. What do the Twins do in the post-Casilla era?
Nick Punto: Punto is the guy of the present. But he is no long-term solution. He's brutally inconsistent with the bat. One week he'll be right on the ball, taking pitchers pitches, hitting hitters pitches on a line. Then he'll get Nicked up and spend a week on the non-DL. When he returns, he's back to the strike-out prone, pop-up machine he's been through the majority of his career. And that's just with the bat. On the bases, he's a train wreck. In the field, he's nothing if his range is limited because his freewheeling ways make him very error prone. But his UZR/150 numbers this year (and in past years at second) are horrible (-17.4). The sooner this guy lands on the bench everyday, the better off the Twins will be. He might be going on the DL anyway with a back injury after Jose Guillen's dirty slide spilled him yesterday.
Matt Tolbert: I don't want to waste keystorkes on this guy.187/.279/.236/.514 -27.7 UZR/150.
Michael Cuddyer: Don't laugh. Gardy has actually brought his name up as a possibility. That indicates how desperate he is for a solution at second. Cuddyer at second would solve the outfield log jam. And he hits like a competent second baseman. But judging from his three errors in just four games at first base and -47.7 UZR/150 in the infield this year, he's not a serious option for second. At first, at least he has the line to constrain his range. At second, he'd be range challenged in two directions.
Luke Hughes: Scouts and numbers say his bat is ready now. But his defense is nowhere near ready. Second base is his best position by the numbers (just using errors by position in the minors). Still, the Twins have been trying to convert him to third base because of organizational need. With Danny Valencia passing him on the depth chart at third, he could move back to second, but he would need a half season of reps over there before he might be ready. The Twins don't have a half season.
Steven Tolleson: Tolleson is the best hitting second base prosect the Twins have had since Todd Walker. He's hitting .320/.385/.443/.828 for Rochester, splitting time between second base and left field. If he was anywhere near Knoblauch in the field, he'd be up here. He's always had high error totals throughout the minors. And his range is said to be average. Still, he's worth a 15-day tryout whle Punto rests his back and bruised ribs. If he shows promise in the field, he could be the guy.
The problem is, the Twins are reluctant to trust the position to a rookie during a pennant race. They might be forced to do it if Punto needs to go on the DL. But my sense is Punto will keep telling Gardy he's ready and Gardy will keep running him out there. And Punto will continue to go 0-fer with Ks, DPs and pop-ups. That would be a shame because, at 25, Tolleson deserves a shot sooner rather than later.
Freddy Sanchez: A career .302/.338/.424/.762 hitter in eight seasons at the majors, mostly for Pittsburgh, Sanchez is the kind of player the Twins need if they're to make a run for a pennant. The Twins are great at the top of the order and horrible at the bottom. Second base is the chief cause of the suckitude. Casilla (.467 OPS), Tolbert (.514), and Punto (.543) have combined to be the worst hitting second base position in the league.
If you upgrade to Sanchez, you could drop Brendan Harris down to the bottom of the order where he belongs. Harry's a good hitter, but he's not top-of-the-order material in a perfect world. Sanchez, on the other hand, is an ideal number two hitter. He has excellent contact skills and an inside-out approach that tends to confound defenses and move runners along.
In the field, Sanchez has average range by the numbers with an excellent arm and good footwork around the bag. He'd be an upgrade defensively over any of the players in the system.
What it would take to get him is an open question. The Pirates are rebuilding around speed, so it seems Casilla is one piece in a two- or three-piece move. If a two-piece move, I could see a pitcher such as Anthony Swarzak or Kevin Mulvey being the other piece. If a three-piece move, it could include a couple of fringe prospects such as Philip Humber and Jason Pridie. The contract is not really an issue for a team that is well under budget this year. He's set to make $6.1 million this year, $3 million prorated. And this is no one-year rental. There is an $8 million club option with a $600,000 buyout. Even if the Twins decided to buy him out, he's a likely Type A free agent.
Felipe Lopez: Lopez is another good contact hitter who could fit in nicely in the number 2 hole and at second base. He's currently hitting .304/.358/.413/.771 for Arizona. Those are career year numbers for him, so I wouldn't expect him to keep up this clip for the whole season. In the field, he would be an upgrade over every other bat in the system (4.4 UZR 150). From a contract perspective, He's strictly a one-year rental at about $1.75 million for the rest of the year, whereupon he should become a Type B free agent.
I think Lopez should be Plan B in case they can't work out a deal for Sanchez. He's having a career year, which indicates regression, especially at his age (29). For this reason, acquiring him would be easier than Sanchez. Perhaps Casilla and a fringe pitcher would do.