Rebuilding the Twins: First Base
Part 2 of my in-depth look at the 2011 Minnesota Twins takes a look at first base.
First base is another position that has been ravaged by injuries this season. Former MVP Justin Morneau has been dealing with concussion symptoms since the middle of last season, and has not been the same player he was when he is on the field. Morneau has only been able to play 69 of 141 games and is hitting .227. On days that he hasn’t been able to play, the Twins have used a combination of Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Luke Hughes to fill his shoes. One possible solution is to move Morneau to DH to allow him to hit every day but not have to worry about the rigors of playing in the field. But if that were to happen, a replacement at first base will be needed. Here are possible candidates:
Morneau: Morneau’s issues recovering from a concussion sustained last year have left serious doubt as to if he will be able to handle the rigors of playing every day. When healthy, Morneau is a dangerous hitter and a great fielding first baseman. But while Mauer, Cuddyer and Hughes have filled in admirably, they cannot replace the production Morneau brings to the lineup. Morneau brings 30 homerun, 100 RBI production to a team that lacks serious power hitters. He needs to be put in a spot where his offensive production can be maximized and also somewhere where concussions won’t continue to plague him.
Joe Mauer: Due to health concerns of his own, the Twins have played Mauer at first on a handful of occasions this season. The wear and tear on his body prevents Mauer from playing in the lineup on an everyday basis, so giving him multiple positions to play increases the times his bat is in the lineup. Mauer has played great defense in his limited action at first and if Morneau is shifted to DH, Mauer might be looked at as a potential replacement. But Mauer also does a great job behind the plate so if he moved a replacement would be needed at catcher.
Michael Cuddyer: Cuddyer is another player that has seen extended action at first in Morneau’s absence. Cuddyer has been with the Twins his entire career and has moved from position to position based on where the team needs him to play. He has however seemed most comfortable in the outfield. Cuddyer has easily been the team’s best hitter over the course of the season, and they will make every effort to resign him this offseason. My view though is that Cuddyer is better suited to play the outfield rather than first base, and his move there would also create a hole in the outfield.
Luke Hughes: Hughes is the last portion of the first base platoon. He has been used mostly on days where Cuddyer and Mauer either rest or play their primary positions. I view Hughes as a candidate to start at second base, but he could be used at first when a day off is needed for whoever starts there. Hughes had a slow start to the season, but has heated his bat up recently, and now has 7 home runs. At this point however, consider Hughes an option in the middle of the infield.
Prospects: Most of the Twins top prospects are pitchers, and the system itself is not very deep. Any of the first base prospects currently in the minor league system are also far from being major league ready, so if a replacement is needed at first, it will not be coming from the minor leagues.
Free Agents: The free agent market is heavily stocked with some of the premiere first baseman in the game today. Unfortunately Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are going to command a contract exceeding the contract Joe Mauer got last offseason. There are several potential free agents who would be affordable options if Morneau becomes DH. Lance Berkman, Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee are the three candidates that would be most appealing. Berkman is having a career revival in St. Louis and will most likely resign there. Lee and Pena are having down years but are still serviceable players that could be signed for cheap.
Gut Feeling: I believe, as with Mauer, that Morneau will be playing first base next year. He will however, be given as many off days as needed and I think he will see plenty of time at DH. But until we see him play again on a regular basis, it will be hard to predict where Morneau will play next year.