Monday, November 03, 2008

Could Garrett Atkins be the Third Heat?

By most early season expectations, the Twins overacheived in 2008, coming within one game of the playoffs in a year they dealt away Santana and Hunter. It's easy to find positives in the starting rotation and if you believe in Delmon Young (I'm nervous but I do), there are reasons to believe that the team should contend again next year.

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.

1 comment:

The Black Freighter said...

I'm going to have to say 'no' to Atkins. I was all on board this bandwagon 2 seasons ago, but he has continued a steady digression since. He's not a great defender and quite poor against righties. As you mentioned as well, he kills at Coors Field... that certainly should not be ignored. He also batted .225 with a .680 OPS with runners in scoring position last year. BLECH.

Buscher hit .386 with a .856 OPS and Harris hit .263 with a .682 OPS with runners in scoring position as a contrast. Now, I'm certainly not sold on Buscher or Harris and neither are wizards with the glove, but I think a platoon of those players would produce nearly the same as starting Atkins every game and you wouldn't have to lose Blackburn.

Despite what I just said, I would be for Atkins if they would not have to break up the starting rotation and instead get him for a mix of prospects... perhaps Kevin Mulvey/Brian Duensing and a Ryan Mullins/Jay Rainville type. And don't forget, we have Danny Valencia waiting in the wings... the best 3rd base prospect we've had since Corey Koskie.