Thursday, April 22, 2004

Who's in Center?

There has been much recent talk of who should play center when Torii Hunter returns from his injury. While no one has exactly given his job away, the general feeling seems to be shifting in Lew Ford's favor. Torii Hunter will start when he returns and Ford is going to have to find at-bats elsewhere. There will be many people who will argue with this and complain that he is better then Hunter. Mark this down: Torii Hunter belongs in center when he returns to the team.

Torii remains the Twins All-Star, arguably their most popular and recognizable face. His presence legitimizes the lineup. He has produced big numbers at the major league level and his defense is a huge asset in centerfield. That is why he is paid as much as he is. He gives the rest of the team confidence when he is out there. He is a veteran in a lineup who sets an example for the young kids.

Lew Ford has had an excellent couple of weeks. Despite the fact that he has hit at every level, there is no certainty that he will keep it up when pitchers adjust to him. His numbers have got to come down and he lacks the power potential of Hunter. His ceiling is not very high and he is more likely to be traded then given a starting job with the Twins. There is a reason he started the year at AAA. Yes the Twins wanted him to play everyday but he is also buried on the depth chart at every position except center. Given a full season, I think Michael Cuddyer can be expected to put up better overall numbers. With his short swing, Ford is an excellent pitch hitting option off the bench and his patience at the plate is refreshing. With a full time job there are too many unknowns. Will he continue to be patient when he hits a slump and how long will that slump last? His defense is above average but far below the level of Hunter.

Despite Ford's recent production he is not a valid option to hit in the middle of the order. While Hunter is sometimes erratic, he drove in 102 runs last year and has averaged 26 homeruns the last 3 years. He has proven that he can hit in the middle of the order and produce, something the Twins are in need of at this time. Ford is more of a bottom of the order guy at this time because of his lack of power. People have to respect Hunter's right-handed bat and his potential to take them deep when he is in the lineup. He is the best option to break up the rest of the lefties in the middle of the order.

Torii is paid like a star and has done nothing to warrant losing his job to a two-week phenom. Those who advocate trading him would be disappointed in the value the Twins would receive in return. They are unlikely to get fair market value trading away their star and the team would be worse off as a result. Everyone complains about last winter’s free agent losses and the team turnover. Many of the same people have encouraged a possible trade of Hunter. It makes no sense.

On a side note, people have suggested that Ford should platoon with Jacque Jones upon Hunter's return. If this risks upsetting Jones's hitting against right-handers it is not worth it. While it is true Jones struggles against lefties his hitting has taken off since becoming a full-time player, and to take that confidence away from him may cause more harm then good. This is an issue I don't believe many people have considered.

The Twins play Kansas City this weekend and Hunter is unlikely to return, due to the field conditions. It should be a telling series. If the Twins go out and play like they did last weekend they will further expose the Royals as a flawed team. If the Royals are able to come back and take 2 out of 3 or sweep, it could be 3-team race this year. After watching last weekend’s games, the Twins are not going to be able to play as well but Kansas City is not a playoff caliber team. They have no pitching. The Twins starting pitching is likely to improve at about the same time their hitting cools off. It should be a fun weekend for Twins baseball.

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First off, I want to tell everybody to check out John’s latest post below, a creative letter to Victory Sports and the cable companies from a recovering Twins “addict”- I think it’s hilarious! It’s also extremely relevant today because of the recent news about this alleged “progress” in the Victory Sports negotiations. Hopefully, the governor stepping in will help, but I seriously doubt it.

By the way, I was one of the approximately 5% of Minnesotans who were actually able to see yesterday’s disappointing 11-9 loss to the Tigers. I was one of the 15,158 people in attendance at the Metrodome, and it was a lot of fun (it always is). Twins baseball is still one of the best deals in town, as for $9 I was able to get a ticket (student discount night), two hot dogs (Dollar-a-Dog night), and a pop (ironically, my most expensive purchase!). Talk about a steal!

After watching the game, I have made a momentous decision in the history of this blog, one that will either solidify my place in history forever or doom me to eternal anonymity: “Sweet” Lew Ford is now the official player of Twins Chatter! I’m sure he is absolutely thrilled to receive this honor- closed circuit to Lew, I expect my complimentary season tickets to be delivered by Thursday.

Even though Brad Radke was horrific against these new-and-improved formula Tigers, Ford was once again “en fuego”. He went 3 for 5 with a 2-RBI triple. Boy, can he fly around the basepaths! He also made two nice plays in the outfield, including an impressive sliding catch. Ah, the wonders of Field Turf, as such a catch wouldn’t have even been possible in years past. I’ve been a Ford supporter for a while, but I have been utterly floored by his performance this season. Sure, no one can play this well forever, but if he can even play at a fraction of the level he’s at right now Lew Ford is going to be a solid major leaguer for a long time. I’m not advocating that he replace Hunter (yet), but I think this makes Jacque Jones even more expendable. Whether or not that is a good thing for Jacque’s trade value, I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, I’m actually not that sad to see that Torii suffered a mild setback today.

On another note, the enigma that is Brad Thomas was dealt to the Red Sox on Wednesday for the ever-available Player to Be Named Later or Cash. Thomas may have talent, it didn't look like he would ever put it together for the Twins. I’m glad Terry Ryan was able to get something in return. John reminded me of Ryan’s excellent track record when dealing with Boston, so hopefully this PTBNL will turn out to be the next Lew Ford! We here at Twins Chatter wish Brad the best of luck with his new organization

That’s all I’ve got for today. Again, be sure and check out John’s “letter” as it is well worth reading. It sums up my personal feelings as well. Thanks for checking out the site and keep spreading the word!

P.S. I just want to thank Seth for mentioning us in semi-regular feature “Blog Spotting” on Tuesday. It was our best day ever in terms of traffic and we appreciate it a lot!