Still, there was a similarity in the way that the Twins lost this year. From the play-in game, to almost getting swept by KC in the final series, to any number of close games where Nick Punto or Brian Boucher were unable to pinch hit because they were in the starting lineup.
The Twins have not had a reliable, power-hitting 3B since, well... here's anyone who has started at least 20 games at 3B for the Twins for the past 15 years: Brian Buscher, Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Luis Rodriguez, Terry Tiffee, Mike Lamb, Tony Batista, Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Koskie, Denny Hocking, Casey Blake, Ron Coomer, Brent Gates, Todd Walker, Dave Hollins, Jeff Reboulet (that was fun to write), Scott Leius, Scott Stahoviak, Brian Raabe, Chip Hale, Mike Pagliarulo, and Terry Jorgensen. And that's not including such memorable fill ins as Jon Shave and Augie Ojeda.
It's unfair to lump Coskie in with the rest of that dreck as he faithfully manned the hot corner for six years between 1999-2004 averaging 130+ games per year and going approximately .280/18HR/71 RBI per year over that time. Solid? Sure. Better than Scott Leius? Absolutely. Market value over a replacement player? Meh.
It's crucial that the Twins shore up the 3B position if they expect to contend again in the AL Central. Beltre and Blake have been the names getting thrown around due to their free agent status but Atkins has to be the #1 choice if you can get him. According to the Denver Post:
The American League Central should be the epicenter for interest in Atkins, with the Twins and Indians trying to fill needs at third base and each possessing a bushel of young pitchers. It's not too hard to see conversations starting around the Twins' Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn or Cleveland's Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers.
Since posting career numbers in 2006, Atkins has declined in average, HRs, RBIs, .OPS, .SLG, .OPS+.SLG (duh), BB, hits, and total bases over each of the past two years. He's been below average on the road and feasts on LHP and Coors home cooking. Even so, he played 155 games last year, hit .286/21 HR/99 RBI.
He's an ideal candidate to hit between Mauer and Morneau to set up the LH, RH, LH, RH situation that Gardenhire has sought for years. If Cuddyer can have a minor comeback, a lineup that starts RF Spann, C Mauer, 3B Atkins, 1B Morneau, DH Cuddyer/Kubel, LF Young (with 2B, SS, and CF speed guys rounding out the bottom three) is pretty imposing.
Atkins is under contract for two more years at a pretty reasonable $6.5M per. A trade now would allow him to play for a year, extend him if he's a good fit, or deal him if he doesn't pan out or the Twins don't contend.
Blackburn and a prospect? I'd do it in a heartbeat. I think Rockies fans and management are down on Atkins. And seriously, anything is better than what we have now.