While Terry Ryan continues to preach that the Minnesota Twins need pitching, he has focused on bringing in a 39-year old right fielder whose contributions are a better bet off the field than on it. The implication behind the annual search for pitching is that the Twins need to get better at run prevention. One of the least expensive and easiest ways to achieve run prevention is through improving the defense, but that's a route that the front office has so far over-looked.
The Twins admit that pitching is their biggest weakness, yet don't address the easiest area to help their pitchers: defense.— Jesse Lund (@TwinkieTown) December 4, 2014
Aaron Hicks has been given the starting job in center field out of spring training for the last two years. If the Twins would rather hedge their bets on taking that gamble for a third year in a row, they could still do better in center than just letting Jordan Schafer run out there and throw his body around. It's like using a bullet to kill flies - it's really fast and it could get the job done, but it's not the best tool.
It's time we re-ignited the flames for Peter Bourjos.
Bourjos was eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2014, and took home a fair $1.2 million. After collecting 294 plate appearances as, essentially, a backup outfielder for the outfielder-happy Cardinals, Bourjos hit .231/.294/.348 with Double-Gold Glove standard defense. That puts him in line for an estimated $1.6 million salary in 2015.
Career in a nutshell
Drafted in the tenth round by the Angels in the 2005 draft, Bourjos hit like a mad man (he owns a minor league triple slash of .291/.345/.455) and eventually became Baseball America's #97 prospect in the game heading into 2010. Upon arrival in the Majors, Bourjos took over center field and Torii Hunter moved into right field (no, Kirby Puckett didn't do it for Torii). But his offense was inconsistent, and he was traded with Randal Grichuk to St. Louis for David Freese and Fernando Salas last November.
Bourjos' offense isn't pretty, but his defense was good enough to make him worth 1.6 fWAR in 2014. He was ten runs above average in the field, in spite of spending just 649 innings in center. (For reference, Danny Santana spend 535 innings there and cost the Twins a couple of runs.)
For additional reference, note that Inside Edge tracks how likely certain types of balls are to be caught. In the 40-60% range, Bourjos has made the out 82% of the time. In terms of defensive range, Bourjos is in the same discussion as Sam Fuld, Lorenzo Cain, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Anthony Gose. He's not fast enough to cover ground like Jarrod Dyson or Billy Hamilton, but that doesn't stop him from being outstanding.
If the Twins want to try to mitigate the number of runs their corner outfielders may cost them, having Bourjos covering center field - from gap to gap - would be a fantastic way to make that happen.
Bourjos isn't a complete player, and he's not a long-term option. With two years of team control remaining, he's a perfect "tool" player to plug in where a premium defender is desperately needed.
The Twins didn't suffer in scoring runs in 2014. They suffered by giving up too many. Bringing in new and better pitchers will help that cause, but the club can help themselves by giving them some help in the form of a fantastic defensive player. Leave Jordan Schafer on the bench, so that he can cover a corner spot late in the game if need be, and go get someone like Bourjos.
My only question is: what would Bourjos cost?