Jim Souhan: Twins' biggest need is a third baseman who can hit

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2007 - 8:07 AM

One productive player could help the team's offense and bolster its other weakness: a lack of depth.

Sunday afternoon, Justin Morneau saved the game that salvaged the homestand, helping obscure just how mediocre the Twins have been since the beginning of May.

After 67 games, a Twins team top-heavy with stars is one game above .500 and entering perhaps the toughest stretch of the season -- 21 games in 21 days, 17 of them on the road, including four in Yankee Stadium, three in Shea and three in Detroit.

These could be three weeks the Twins prove themselves contenders, or bury themselves behind two good teams. And Sunday's victory did nothing to change the fact that this is a flawed team in need of depth and run production.

Though the Twins are only 5½ games out of first, they are 7-8 in their past 15 games and went a disappointing 5-4 on a homestand in which they missed the best pitchers the Nationals, Braves and Brewers have to offer.

One player could immediately improve the Twins -- a run-producing third baseman who can hold down the sixth spot in what is currently a shallow batting order.

Whether it's Tampa Bay's Ty Wigginton or Boston's Mike Lowell or someone who has yet to reach the trade rumor mill, the right third baseman would improve the Twins immediately and perhaps dramatically.

The Twins have only three proven run-producers on the roster. If Michael Cuddyer, Morneau and Torii Hunter have a bad day, the Twins become vulnerable to even mediocre pitching. Even with their No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters threatening to have career-best power years, the Twins rank 10th in a 14-team league in runs scored.

Manager Ron Gardenhire has tried Mike Redmond and Jason Kubel in the No. 6 hole. Redmond puts together good at-bats, but his career-high in RBI is 28. This isn't going to work for the long haul.

Kubel is talented enough to become the Twins' No. 6 hitter, but he needs to earn the faith of the staff that he can handle the responsibility, and that hasn't come close to happening.

A Wigginton or Lowell would deepen the lineup and make the Twins less reliant on Kubel and the still-convalescing Rondell White, who can't be counted on to return.

With a good-hitting everyday third baseman in the fold, the Twins could fix another flaw -- their weak bench. As a starter, Nick Punto has become an offensive liability. As a reserve, he would become a strength, a player capable of playing third, short, second and center field, pinch running, and pinch hitting from either side of the plate.

With Punto as a reserve, the Twins would have a replacement if Luis Castillo got hurt or Jason Bartlett continued to under-perform. With a traditional third baseman in place, the Twins could better afford to seek half-measures at DH and left field.

When Joe Mauer doesn't catch, he needs to be the DH. If the Twins aren't going to trade for a left fielder -- and that's what I've been told -- they need to force-feed Kubel at-bats until he regains his once-promising swing. If White returns, he can help at DH and left field.

The Twins are 27-8 when they score four runs or more and 7-25 when they don't. One more bat would make four runs a more frequent occurrence.

This is meant as reasonable trade talk -- a proposal to send a middle-level pitching prospect to a team for a reasonably-priced third baseman. The Twins aren't going to trade a king's ransom for a high-priced player like Adam Dunn or Miguel Cabrera, and, no, they won't be able to trade Lew Ford and Scott Baker for Ryan Zimmerman. Or A-Rod.

Wigginton is making $2.7 million this year, meaning the Twins would have to pay roughly half that for the season, and he could hold down third next year while the Twins' third-base prospects develop.

Lowell is making $9 million this year, but the Red Sox are thought to be willing to pick up some of his salary.

Wigginton is the best fit. Indications from the Twins' organization are that potential trade suitors are asking prohibitive prices for their players, prices likely to drop as the July 31 trading deadline approaches.

But if the Twins are going to deal for help, they might want that player to join them on this road trip, as they begin a dangerous stretch of schedule.

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