Jim Souhan: When all options are explored, best is moving Cuddyer to third

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2009 - 12:10 AM

The Twins have a hole on the infield and too many outfielders. But there seems to be an obvious solution.

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The last season in which Michael Cuddyer played the bulk of his innings at third was 2005 (above). He’s been mostly a right fielder since, but now the Twins need a third baseman and can spare an outfielder.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Baseball held its winter meetings this year in Las Vegas, where your Minnesota Twins set a record sure to be listed in next year's "Baseball Encyclopedia." They became the first major league organization ever to visit Sin City and get outspent by the writer assigned to cover them.

Profligate spending built Vegas' opulent towers. If the Twins were the city's only clientele, the place would look a lot like Brainerd. As Twins General Manager Bill Smith put it on Friday, ''We have had a very busy winter ... and the result is almost nothing.''

Smith earned the nickname ''Mr. No'' for his thrifty ways. This winter, he's been more like ''Dr. Don't Even Think About It.''

The Twins started the winter with an extra outfielder, no sure-fire setup man and a mess on the left side of the infield. They wrap up TwinsFest today with an extra outfielder, no sure-fire setup man and a mess on the left side of the infield.

They re-signed Nick Punto to play shortstop. Punto is a wonderful fielder wherever you put him, but he's played his best when he had to win a job during the season (in 2006 and 2008) and his worst when he was handed one before spring training (in 2007).

While they're looking into free-agent third baseman Joe Crede, the Twins plan to platoon Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris at third. Punto, Buscher and Harris on the left side of the infield -- a Twins fan might imagine it working out somehow, but if the Indians, Tigers or White Sox were trying this, Minnesotans would be pointing and laughing.

Crede would provide the righthanded pop and fielding excellence that would fit perfectly into this lineup, and the Twins would obsess over his low on-base percentage less than many franchises, but there is a catch. Crede has a bad back, and he just started working out. So he'd be fine at third base, as long as he never had to bend over and pick anything up.

What the Twins need on the left side of the infield is a righthanded hitter with pop. What they can afford on the left side of the infield is a fielder with limited range, because Punto and second baseman Alexi Casilla cover so much ground.

What the Twins need in their outfield is one less everyday player. What they can afford is an outfield featuring Carlos Gomez and Denard Span at two of the three positions, because their range creates so many extra outs.

Add up all those factors, and the Twins have two choices, other than sticking with Harris and Buscher:

1. Trade left fielder Delmon Young for a third baseman. Young is young and talented enough to attract the eye of an ambitious general manager, and the Twins have concerns about his work ethic and plate approach.

2. Move the righthanded-hitting outfielder who grew up as a shortstop and transitioned to third base back to third base.

Would Twins manager Ron Gardenhire give any consideration to moving Michael Cuddyer to third at any point this season?

''No, none,'' Gardenhire said sternly. ''Absolutely none.''

Then he got that mischievous look on his face and said, ''That's as of today!''

Last he was heard from, Cuddyer didn't want to move to third base. My guess is if you wrote down his name at that position, he wouldn't go on strike.

Think of this lineup for a team trying to improve its hitting depth and righthanded pop: LF Span, 2B Alexi Casilla, C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau, 3B Cuddyer, DH Jason Kubel, RF Young, CF Gomez, SS Punto.

Bench: C Mike Redmond, IF Harris, IF Buscher, IF-OF Matt Tolbert. If the Twins carried 14 position players, they could add a pinch hitter who, along with Kubel, could sub in the outfield.

Move Cuddyer to third base, and the Twins get better without having to spend any more money or trade any prospects.

It's so logical, it has no chance of happening. That's as of today.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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