Monday, January 24, 2011

Who Gets the At Bats for the Twins?

Jim Thome's season in 2010 was remarkable. And now he is back for the 2011 season with a slightly larger paycheck. But how many at bats will he accumulate? The thing forgotten in the post-Thome-re-signing euphoria is that Thome would not have had that remarkable season if Justin Morneau hadn't missed half the season with concussion syndrome. All indications are that Morneau will be back at first base for the Twins.

Putting Morneau back at first pushes Michael Cuddyer back to the outfield. Cuddyer back to the outfield pushes Kubel out of the line up or back to the DH where he was in 2009. But Kubel is a left-hand hitting slugger, which is what Thome is, right? So who gets the at bats at DH, Kubel or Thome?

Kubel didn't have a good year in 2010. He finished at league average in OPS+ and was terrible in the outfield. But Kubel was a good slugger for the Twins in 2008 and 2009. He finished with a higher OPS+ than Thome did in both of those years. Kubel is also 28 compared to Thome's 40. So again, who gets the at bats?

It will probably depend on who starts out better. Thome had a dream season in 2010. But he was somewhat pedestrian in 2008 and 2009, which is why the White Sox gave up on him in the first place. That's no knock on Thome. He's a sure-fire Hall of Fame player who has graced the game with his class and his love of the game. It just doesn't seem likely that he will repeat his success from last year. And it's hard to get past how Thome looked in the post season. The Yankees had no trouble with him and made him look easy to get out.

Ron Gardenhire is a loyalty guy. Why else would he stick with a guy like Nick Punto for so long? Kubel is his guy, raised in his system. Kubel will get the job to lose at DH. That's the prediction from this end anyway. There is no way, barring injury, that Thome will get 340 plate appearances this year: 200 seems more likely. The Fan loves Thome and hopes he gets to 600 homers, but this Fan can't see him taking Kubel's job, not with the age difference and Kubel's history. There is no where else for Cuddyer to go because Young has won left and Span is your center fielder. Kubel's defense in right is too suspect. The Fan would take a combo of Kubel and Thome over Cuddyer, but it just doesn't work out defensively.

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