The Twins so far this offseason have subtracted three outfielders while adding two catchers and a first baseman. It’s not exactly the ideal remake of the roster.
The challenge of fitting the pieces together into an effective offense next spring falls to manager Paul Molitor. And he sounds intrigued, if understandably uncertain 10 weeks before camp opens, about how he might do it.
“It’s going to be a little tricky,” Molitor said Wednesday. “We all know there are going to be some things that we are, at least in theory, going to attempt without knowing what the results will be.”
In fact, there might be more uncertainty about what next season’s Twins will look like, and who they can count on, than there has been in years. Not only do they face the normal unpredictability inherent in bringing up so many young, inexperienced players, but they are also gambling on the cross-your-fingers adjustment of Korean superstar Byung Ho Park to a higher level of baseball.
And then there’s the notion of whittling their crowd of corner infielders, four of them for two positions and a DH, by sending last year’s team MVP, 22-year-old third baseman Miguel Sano, to the outfield, a position he has never played in five seasons as a professional.
The Twins don’t even know which outfield spot he will occupy.
“Right now, we are very comfortable with [Trevor Plouffe] at third and moving Sano to right,” General Manager Terry Ryan said. That decision was made, Ryan added, before the Twins even placed a bid on Park, because they have no plans to displace Plouffe or first baseman Joe Mauer.
Molitor, however, said he is not sure right field is the best fit for Sano.
“Being an infielder on the left side of the diamond most of his playing days, there’s something about seeing the ball come off the bat from the same side of the field that might make a little bit easier transition. And you can throw in what’s more difficult to play in your home park, left or right,” Molitor said. “Left is probably a little bigger [in Target Field], but right has a few more tricks to it. I would say right now, left field is what I would be leaning toward.”
Can such a large man (260-plus pounds) with zero experience handle a new position? Coach Butch Davis worked with him in the outfield occasionally last season, Molitor said, “to help him get comfortable reading balls, taking angles. It’s a really small foundation that he has, but if the guy is as athletic as we think he is, you hope he can catch the routine fly ball.”
At least he’s willing to try. The Twins explained their plans to Sano shortly after the season ended, and he embraced the move. “He said, ‘Yes sir,’ ” assistant GM Rob Antony said. “ ‘I love third base, but you tell me where to play and I’ll prepare to play there.’ ”
Who might start alongside him? That’s another question with multiple-choice answers, even after the Twins cut Shane Robinson, traded Aaron Hicks and lost Torii Hunter to retirement.
Eddie Rosario, who can play all three positions, is an incumbent, but Danny Santana’s 2015 season shows the danger of projecting a player to repeat his rookie success. Byron Buxton is considered the future center fielder, but he might need some time at Class AAA Rochester first. Max Kepler had a breakout season at Class AA Chattanooga but has no at-bats at Rochester. Oswaldo Arcia has plenty of them, but they didn’t go well last year. (Ryan mentioned Arcia repeatedly Wednesday, an unmistakable message that the GM hasn’t given up on the 24-year-old power hitter.) Santana could reclaim a spot, but like Arcia, he took a step backward last year.
It’s a lot to sort out, but that’s the point, Ryan said. It’s clear he is concerned about the offense, eighth-best in the AL in scoring last year, which explains his insistence that he has no plans to trade Plouffe and install Sano at third base.
“I know people want to talk about the pitching, but we’ve got to score more runs. We had too many nights where we scored once or twice and didn’t do much else,” he said. “… I want to lengthen the lineup, not give up good hitters. We need to get some competition going here, get more guys hitting.”
That’s the most obvious, if the most difficult, solution, as Molitor admitted.
“We’ll try to piece it together. We do have some repetitive parts, as far as DH-type players, but we’re going to just do the best we can to make it work,” Molitor said. “If it produces offensively, I don’t think we’ll have any trouble making a lineup out every day.”