Minnesota Twins Start Offseason With the Right Choices

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The Minnesota Twins are faced with loads of tough decisions this offseason.

Is Carl Pavano coming back for the steep price he’ll command?  Is the entire playoff bullpen (minus Jose Mijares and arbitration eligible Matt Capps) leaving?  Last season’s veteran signees Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome will be expensive to keep, can the Twins afford them?

With such a successful 2009 offseason, 2010 is more of a reality check for the Twins, with expendible income running a bit low and some clear holes to be filled.

But the Twins started the 2010 offseason the right way, with two important decisions made correctly by Bill Smith and Co. 

The first was the team declining the $5 million option on seven-year Twin Nick Punto, instead paying him a $500,000 buyout. 

Punto gave the Twins a great glove and one great season, 2006, in which he hit .290, but aside from that offensive outburst, Punto did not crack .250 in a full season.

Nick Punto Jason Kubel

His frantic defensive style coupled with his lack of offensive ability would fit well on a Pittsburgh Pirates or Washington Nationals, but Punto will never be a contributor on a legitimate contender. 

It is not clear whether Bill Smith plans to bring Punto back at a reduced price, but with J.J. Hardy locked in at short, Danny Valencia having emerged as the team’s third baseman, and Alexi Casilla still sitting at AAA Rochester waiting for another chance at second, bringing back Punto at anything but bottom-of-the-barrel pay to be a utility man would be a mistake.

The second move the Twins made was to pick up the option of 28-year old DH/comically immobile right fielder Jason Kubel.

Kubel when in right field is the American League’s version of Carlos Lee; slow, unathletic, and only out there because his bat needs to be in the lineup.

But from an offensive standpoint, Kubel did show in 2009 that his bat is dangerous and warrants a lineup spot regardless of where he needs to play.

Jason Kubel

Although his 2010 was rather disappointing, with the batting average dipping to .249, and his career postseason average now at .069, Kubel has earned another go as the Twins DH, especially with the likely departure of Jim Thome. 

At $5.25 million next year, Kubel may come at a cheaper price than Thome as well, with Thome’s outrageous power surge to lead the Twins in home runs in just 340 plate appearances. Couple that with the years of wear on Thome’s tires compared to Kubel being in the prime of his career, the decision has to be easy for Smith.

Kubel’s numbers, despite the dip in batting average, were by no means bad, and for a team that is not gifted with great power hitters or run producers, Kubel’s 21 homers and 92 RBI should be of great value to this Twins team.  If 2010 was a bad year for him, then the Twins have an absolute bargain at the price they’re paying.

With more tough decisions to come, it’s nice to see the Twins making sensible choices and, not surprisingly, fiscally responsible ones. 

The organization has made good move after good move over the last year, and they will need to continue to do the same the rest of the offseason. 

If they don’t, it would seem tough to field a team that can compete up to the level they did this year, and even that level wasn’t good enough to get to the upper echelon of the MLB.

-Mike Gallagher

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