Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Friday, June 23, 2006

Roster Turnover Discussion

Torii Hunter often brings up in interviews the fact that he and Brad Radke are the last remaining members of the Twins 2001 team that began the Twins' resurgance. He then whistfully remembers the "glory days," and the article discussing his comments talks about how it must feel for Torii, the Gen-X guy in the Gen-Y clubhouse.

This leads me to ask two questions: 1.) Would the Twins have been better off keeping the 2001 team intact, and 2.) How fantastic is this rate of turnover at the Major League level?

I'm going to start by answering the first question definitively: NO!!!

According to Baseball Almanac, the players on the Twins with the most starts at every position were as follows (and I'm limiting myself to position players because working with pitchers would simply add to the length of this post, and I can make my point without going there):

C-A.J. Pierzynski
1B - Doug Mientkiewicz
2B - Luis Rivas
SS - Cristian Guzman
3B - Corey Koskie
LF - Jacque Jones
CF - Torii Hunter
RF - Matt Lawton
DH - David Ortiz

Lawton was gone by the trade deadline in 2001, when the Twins picked up Rick Reed from the Mets. Ortiz left after the 2002 season, and the Twins got nothing for him. Pierzynski was the next to go, and unless you've been hiding under a rock you know that the Twins acquired Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser in the trade that sent A.J. to the Giants. Then came the flood that followed 2004, when Douggie was traded to Boston for minor leaguer Justin Jones, Guzman went to the Nationals, and Koskie went to Toronto. Finally, Luis Rivas was kicked out the door following last season, and Jacque Jones went to Chicago to play for the Cubs.

Quite the exodus. But let's assume that the Twins still had all of these players. How would the team stack up today?

C - Joe Mauer (.375/5/31) v. A.J. Pierzynski (.322/4/22)
1B - Justin Morneau (.275/18/58) v. Doug Mientkiewicz (.262/2/25)
2B - Luis Castill0 (.277/2/25) v. Luis Rivas (injured)
SS - Jason Bartlett (.414/0/2) v. Cristian Guzman (injured)
3B - Nick Punto (.276/0/7) v. Corey Koskie (.268/9/26)
LF - Shannon Stewart (.298/2/17) v. Jacque Jones (.296/13/36)
CF - Torii Hunter
RF - Michael Cuddyer (.271/11/38) v. Matt Lawton (.259/0/1)
DH - Jason Kubel (.292/6/18) v. David Ortiz (.267/21/64)

So how do things stack up? Well, let's start with the DH position, because that's easy. As good as Kubel has been, Ortiz is a monster. He may not have a batting average as high as normal, but he's still mashing the ball, hitting homers and driving in runs. Advantage: OLD SCHOOL

Hands down, Joe Mauer. Not only is he establishing himself as the best hitting catcher in baseball, he is the best role-model in the game. He certainly doesn't cause the level of hatred amongst opposing teams (and his own team) that A.J. does. Throw in the fact that the Twins got tremendous value in the Pierzynski trade, and this is a no-brainer. Advantage: NEW TWINS

First Base
Last year, and maybe earlier this year, this would have been closer. Mientkiewicz hasn't hit for average at all since leaving Minnesota, but he did hit 11 homers for the Mets last year, and still flashes some of the best leather in baseball. Now that Morneau is starting to hit the Twins always believed he would, this too has become clearly a positive development for the Twins. Add to that the fact that Morneau costs less than Douggie, and is a much better overall player, and this is no contest. Advantage: NEW TWINS

Second Base

We're talking about Luis Rivas here. Is there really any question that the Twins are better off without him? They could be playing a rock at second base and be in better shape. This isn't even worth discussing. Advantage: NEW TWINS

If Guzman had done ANYTHING, and I mean ANYTHING AT ALL since signing with Washington, he probably could have won this position for the Old-School Twins. But the simple fact is he hasn't. He's followed up last seasons .219 batting average with an injury that has sidelined him all season. He was always overrated, but before he was a free-agent he was at least a somewhat affordable overrated player. The Twins got a steal just getting a draft pick from the Nationals for him, and were absolutely correct in letting him go even if Juan Castro was still the starting shortstop. Of course, Bartlett has taken over the job, and we don't know if he'll keep playing very well. Even if he doesn't, though, he can't be worse than Cristian. Advantage: NEW TWINS

Third Base

If we were comparing this to Tony Batista, the answer would be clear. But now we're comparing Corey Koskie with Nick Punto, and that is a closer call. Punto doesn't hit homeruns or drive in many runs, and the batting averages are pretty close. On the other hand, Punto is a better defensive player, and can change the character of the Twins batting order with his speed. Since Koskie is one of my favorite Twins from the relaunch era, I'm inclined to give him the nod, especially since we don't know if Punto is going to go the distance and actually function as an everyday third baseman. Nevertheless, the defensive bonus, the significantly cheaper cost of Punto, and the age and injury susceptibility of Koskie cause me to rate this a push. Advantage: NONE

Left Field

Yes, I know Jacque Jones was in right field for the last few years. I don't care. In 2001, he was a left fielder, and so I'm going to compare him to Shannon Stewart. I actually prefer Jones to Stewart here, and money isn't a significant differentiating factor. Stewart is injured quite a bit, and isn't really a much better player (except for the second half of 2003, when he was MVP caliber). Result? Advantage: OLD SCHOOL

Center Field
Uh...same player. Advantage: NONE

Right Field

Matt Lawton v. Michael Cuddyer, huh? Lawton had one good year after leaving the Twins, hitting .277 with 20 homers. But it seems quite possible he was on steroids at the time (after all, he had to start this season with a 10-game suspension for that offense). Lawton doesn't seem to have a present or future in baseball. If the Twins had kept him, they would have been paying a premium for moderate to good production, and there was no reason to do that. Advantage: NEW TWINS

So that's the deal. Two ties, two wins for the old-school Twins, and five wins for the New Twins. I don't think there's any question that Terry Ryan has, for the most part, made the right decisions with these players as their time has come up to enter free agency or face arbitration. The team Torii Hunter seems to pine for no longer exists, and if it did most of us would be pulling our hair out of our heads in frustration because we wouldn't be winning any baseball games, and we'd paying a lot of money for the privilege of watching a losing team. Hunter's reminiscences are harkening back to a great era in Twins baseball, but it should be no mystery why he is the only position player left from the relaunch Twins - better players came along, and Terry Ryan made the necessary moves to get them in the ballgame.

I'm going to save the second question, regarding turnover throughout the league, for another day. Also still to come: a discussion about Hunter's future in Minnesota.


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