Friday, July 23, 2004


Something occured to me while I was reading BP's two-part interview with Twins GM Terry Ryan.

Reading Ryan go on about how .274 MjEqA Justin Morneau is "still a work in progress", I started to wonder why Ryan thought Joe Mauer was ready.

Mauer had an outstanding year in '03, and no-doubt deserved his top-prospect mantle to start the year. But personally, I'd be more tempted to call a 20-year-old catcher hitting .341/.400/.453 in the AA "a work in progess". Yet Ryan traded one of the better offensive catchers in the league, A.J. Pierzynski, to clear room for Mauer. Turns out Ryan was right. Aside from a gruesome injury that hardly was his fault (albeit puts his future in question), Mauer's been outstanding at the plate. He's hitting .308/.369/.570 in just over 100 AB so far this year.

Of course, Morneau's also been pretty damn good for the Twins this year when he's gotten the call. Morneau's currently pounding pitchers to the tune of .280/.333/.580 in 50 AB.

So why was Pierzynski traded while Mientkiewicz was resigned?

It's now so clear.

Same reason Luis Rivas continues to play everyday at 2B while Michael Cuddyer struggles for AB. Same reason Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones, and Shannon Stewart were all resigned to somewhat generous contracts despite the presence of Lew Ford, Mike Ryan, Michael Restovich, and Dustin Mohr in the high minors. Heck, it's the same reason the Twins traded for Stewart in the first place. It even provides a more fundamental reason behind the (at the time) justifiable decision to let Cookie Monster walk.

You see, the Twins really like defense. I know that's not a secret. Ryan even says as much. But they REALLY like defense. And they like to have players who are good defenders--or at least who they think are good defenders (I'm looking at you, Rivas). Seeing them dick around with Morneau and Cuddyer in particular this year while Mientkiewicz and Rivas continue to get their near-replacement level at bats just made it so stunningly obvious that I can't believe it never occured to me before. Because Justin Morneau ain't much with the glove. Neither is Cuddyer. And Ford and the three Mikes are all only considered average defenders.

Joe Mauer, on the other hand, had a great rep as a great defensive catcher. And the numbers seem to back it up. And compared to Pierzynski, who was always considered more of backstop than a catcher, he was a definite step up. And while Hunter's not nearly as good as his rep, he's clearly a glove man. Jones too. Even Stewart has that rep.

The sad part (at least for Twins fans) is that despite putting so much value in D, the Twins are currently 23rd overall in defensive efficiency. The sad part (at least for the rest of baseball) is that they're still in first place. They don't score a lot of runs, and give up too many. Look at the adjusted standings and the Twins should be closer to a mere game over .500 and well back of Chicago. Instead, they've defied logic and are somehow neck and neck with the White Sox. (Is this what Thom Yorke meant when he sang, "2+2=5?")

The morale? If you're a prospect in the Twins system and you hope to get some regular playing in the big leagues, you'd better be able to catch the ball. Listen up, Kubel. .349/.387/.533 in AAA? That aint getting you anywhere. Skip bp and work on making some of those Hunteresque over the wall catches instead.

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