Thursday, July 15, 2004

Second Half Preview

I realize the following speculation has been done to death in various places (the DTFC, the Geek’s comment boards, etc.) but for today I’m going to condense all the speculation and postulation into one post. As you are all fully aware, the Twins are currently a half game out of first and seven games over .500 as the second half begins tonight in KC. While that is not overly impressive considering the relative weakness of the division, it’s still a whole helluva lot better than last year (the Twins were 44-49 at the break, 7.5 games out).

The first half is over, and I took a long, hard look back at the events that transpired during the season’s first 87 games the other day. Now, it is time to look forward. Obviously, looking forward is much more difficult than looking backward (the whole not-knowing-the-future thing gets in the way) but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be fun!

As the July 31st trading deadline approaches, everyone wants to know: “Will the Twins make a trade?” Now, I don’t have any special insider knowledge (yet), but in my heart of hearts, I believe the answer to that question is “yes”. Despite the fact that Terry Ryan’s brilliance has recently come under scrutiny, I honestly think he’s more than capable of pulling off another potential impact trade. The Twins have one of the strongest farm systems in the major leagues, and good prospects are the most valuable trade bait in baseball today. Lack of prospects is the reason why the Yankees will be unable to land Randy Johnson, and in a perfect world (one without such financial disparity among teams) the Twins would be the ones with the ammunition to land the flame-throwing lefty. But alas, we don’t live in a perfect world and Randy will never be a Twin. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Twins won’t land a starting pitcher. If Pirates GM Dave Littlefield comes back down to earth and lowers his demands for starter Kris Benson (he currently wants a top-level prospect), I think TR will pull the trigger on that trade. I’ve read from numerous sources that the Twins are the most likely destination for the righthander.

Now I know you’re all saying “The Twins don’t need a pitcher, they need a hitter (or hitters)!” And you would be correct in saying that. Yesterday, Seth tossed out there a couple of potential trades that I believe make some sense, but neither is likely to happen. The Twins won’t take on Carlos Delgado’s unbelievable salary; they probably won’t land Montreal SS Orlando Cabrera. In fact, I haven’t heard much at all about any impact bats being on the trade market. If TR pulls a deal for a hitter, it will probably be someone we would never have expected (like with Rick Reed in 2001). And hopefully it will involve Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Another hot topic of discussion as the second half gets underway pertains to Shannon Stewart’s recent activation from the disabled list. What will his role be, now and later on? What will happen to Sweet Lew? Can he ignite this offense a second time?

As of right now, I believe the plan calls for Stewart to DH (at least for a while) while Lew stays in left. If I were the Twins, this is what I would do for the rest of the season (or at the very least until Jones is traded). Lew is much better outfielder right now than Shannon ever was, and with his recovering foot Stewart would become the Twins slowest outfielder as well as the one with the weakest arm. Stewart at DH and Lew in left gives the Twins the best chance to win: its as simple as that. Matty LeCroy simply hasn’t shown enough this season to warrant regular at-bats in the designated hitter role. His average is now below .270, and he still has just the six homers in 153 at-bats. That works out to less than 20 in 500 at-bats, which isn’t good enough for a guy that can’t run (at all) and has no real position. I’ve always been a big Matthew LeCroy guy, but let’s face it: he’s a backup catcher and power threat off the bench, not an everyday player. Let Stewart DH.

So if TR doesn’t swing a deal and Stewart isn’t the Twins’ 2004 offensive “miracle cure”, then what else needs to happen in order for the Twins to score some runs in the second half? First of all, Justin Morneau needs to be in the major leagues. Now. He needs to be worked into the regular rotation at first base and DH (spelling Stewart). That is a certainty. Also, Corey Koskie needs to start hitting the ball. Koskie might not be a .300 hitter anymore, but he is not a .240 hitter either. I firmly believe that if he’s healthy his numbers will begin to approach his career averages (.280 average, .380 OBP, 20+ HRs). The same will probably happen with Jacque Jones, whether or not he’s with the team (I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Matt Lawton-type midseason trade involving Jacque). Dougie Baseball, on the other hand, might be a different story. He has looked so incredibly bad for most the season that I’m doubtful he’ll snap out of it in the second half. At least JJ and Koskie have shown flashes; Dougie has shown almost no signs of life. Mark my words: his performance over the next few weeks will go a long way in determining what direction the Twins go as an organization.

There you have it. A few assorted prognostications about the second half of the season as we get started again. As always, feel free to e-mail me at or post a comment below. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know one thing: buckle your safety belts, Twins fans, because it’s gonna be a wild ride.