Pitchers and catchers report. It's happening now all over Florida and Arizona. Another season begins. Hope springs eternal. Even 100 seasons removed from their last glory, the Cubs believe this could be the year. What's not to like.
Well, the accompanying picture isn't so great. It's an unfortunate part of baseball economics that great players for smaller market teams rarely stay with their team for an entire career. Once in a while it does -- George Brett in Kansas City, Robin Yount for my beloved Brewers, Kirby Puckett here -- but the scenario that recently played out here in Minnesota is far more typical. Johan Santana has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for most of this decade and is still young enough that he should continue to be a star for a long time to come. As Minnesotans, we were fortunate to watch him blossom into a dominating lefthander who regularly baffled American League hitters with his assortment of power pitches and a devastating changeup. No more, though -- now he's off to New York and the tender mercies of the back pages of the tabloids. Good luck to him. So what is left here?
It's an excellent question. The Twins went through a pretty substantial transformation this offseason, although they did it fairly quietly, in a series of deals that leave a team that may have as many as five new position players in their starting lineup. Out are Torii Hunter, Jason Bartlett, Luis Castillo, with Jason Kubel and Nick Punto likely slated for the bench. In are Delmon Young, Adam Everett, Mike Lamb, Brendan Harris and a mystery guest in center field.
It will be a very different team with different strengths. Young has a chance to be special, a fleet outfielder with a cannon for an arm and the potential to be a 35-40 home run threat soon. He comes with some definite concerns, but he's as talented a guy as the Twins have had in a long time; at a comparable age, Hunter was still in AA ball. Thing is, he doesn't appear to be a center fielder, so that causes issues. Figure Young for left field, with Kubel moving to DH. Everett is probably a push compared to Bartlett. Everett is an outstanding defensive player but doesn't hit much, while Bartlett was an improving defensive player who didn't hit as much as some people hoped that he would. Lamb is a good hitting third baseman who generally couldn't crack the Houston lineup, but should have a chance to flourish here. He could be a poor man's Corey Koskie, I guess. Harris has excellent power for a second baseman, but isn't as accomplished defensively as Castillo. Center field is the question. Carlos Gomez is apparently a talented guy and has tremendous speed, but it's not clear that he's ready to be an everyday center fielder. Denard Span, the longtime heir apparent for Hunter, hasn't shown he is ready either. The other candidates are Jason Pridie, another Tampa refugee who has some skills but has not played at the major league level yet, or perhaps Craig Monroe, the former Tiger who hit a rough patch last year. Monroe is likely the fourth outfielder, but he may be needed in center for now, with the longshot possibility that Michael Cuddyer will move to center with Young and Monroe as his wingmen.
We'll talk about pitching soon. And we'll also discuss the prospects for my beloved Brewers, who had what might be called a curious offseason after their near miss in 2007.