The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 24, 2013

Thoma column: Trade season a time to set up the future


The Mankato Free Press

---- — July is, in baseball terms, the month of rumors, trade talks and decisions.

The Twins’ decisions — not just during the next five weeks but next offseason as well — ought to be based on this reality: The major-league roster is about to undergo a significant transition. By the end of the 2014 season, the lineup will be built around Joe Mauer and a collection of youngsters, most of whom are now in the minors.

The current lineup is built around Mauer and a collection of 30-somethings: Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit.

The first wave of that transition — outfielder Oswaldo Arcia — is already making a place for himself in the major-league lineup. Starting pitcher Kyle Gibson may come soon. The next wave — third baseman Miguel Sano, second baseman Eddie Rosario, starter Alex Meyer, possibly center fielder Byron Buxton — figure to show up sometime in 2014.

This is some high-level talent marinating in the minors, and the challenge for the organization is to have the flexibility to give those players the opportunities when they’re deemed ready — and to have the right role players around them.

Here are three questions the Twins might do well to answer for themselves before they make July moves:

Who’s on first? Morneau, who has just three home runs on the season, is a free agent at season’s end. Chris Parmelee, his putative in-house successor, hasn’t hit enough to be a first baseman (or right fielder, where he’s spent most of the season).

Answer: I’m not convinced either will be the first baseman on the new-look Twins. I also doubt there will be much return for either in a trade next month. I think the Twins will keep both this month.

Which way with Plouffe? Trevor Plouffe is not good enough to keep Sano from taking the third-base job.

But remember: Early last year, the Twins were talking Plouffe as a corner outfielder. If there’s a market for Willingham — hardly certain, given Willingham’s leg issues, his defensive issues and his limp bat so far — the Twins could open third for Sano by moving Plouffe to the outfield.

My take: Plouffe ought to have more trade value than Willingham, and if there’s a contender looking to add a bat at third base, the Twins should give a Plouffe deal strong consideration.

Can Hicks tick? Ultimately, Buxton will be the center fielder. Aaron Hicks could fill whichever outfield corner Arcia doesn’t — but that’s going to require a lot more offense than Hicks has shown so far in his rookie season.

To be fair to Hicks, it now appears obvious that he was brought to the majors prematurely.

My take: I think the Twins would love to have a 2015 outfield of Hicks-Buxton-Arcia (or Arcia-Buxton-Hicks), and they’ll give it a chance to happen.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.