The Minnesota Twins had a great offseason.
Mike Lowell did not.
The Minnesota Twins revamped a previously punchless middle infield, added a big bat to an otherwise lackluster bench, retained an innings-eater for the rotation, and brought in a solid groundball specialist for the bullpen.
Mike Lowell watched the Red Sox sign another third baseman, was reportedly traded to the Texas Rangers (with Boston paying the bulk of his salary), was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his thumb, saw the proposed trade called off, and underwent thumb surgery.
It was clearly a tale of two very different winters for the Twins and Lowell, but the two sides could ultimately have a lot in common by the end of Spring Training.
The current favorite to win the third base job in Minnesota is defensive stalwart Nick Punto.
Although Punto is the real deal with the leather, he doesn’t bring much at the plate and would be best-served in a super utility role.
Right behind Punto on the depth chart is Brendan Harris who—despite signing a two-year, $3.2 million extension—offers no real upside on defense or with this bat.
The club has high hopes for prospect Danny Valencia to serve as the eventual successor at the hot corner, but few expect the 25-year-old to win the job out of Spring Training.
Enter Mike Lowell.
Lowell has no place in the Red Sox future plans.
He is currently being touted by the club as a potential backup at both corner infield positions and as a right-handed compliment to David Ortiz at designated hitter.
In reality, the Red Sox are likely doing their best to appear as though they aren’t desperate to trade the 2007 World Series Most Valuable Player.
Lowell will make $12 million this season and has a no-trade clause.
As such, we won’t be easy to trade and the Sox certainly don’t want to pay him $12 million to ride the pine all season.
The Sox were reportedly willing to pay $9 million of Lowell’s salary in the aborted trade with Texas. Obviously the club will have to eat a big portion of Lowell’s salary in any trade, but first things first, Lowell needs to prove he’s healthy.
Lowell took batting practice Monday for the first time since undergoing the aforementioned thumb surgery and reportedly felt great afterward.
His hitting, however, isn’t what has kept teams from beating down the door to acquire the 36-year-old. In fact, Lowell proved last season that he can still be a major offensive contributor.
Lowell posted a solid .290/.337/.474 line with 17 home runs and 73 RBI in 419 at-bats last season, despite lingering pain in his hip from surgery the previous offseason.
If inserted into a lineup that can get runners on in front of him consistently, Lowell could still be a big-time run producer.
He did much of his damage in 2009 with runners in scoring position, posting an outstanding .313/.359/.516 line with seven home runs and 57 RBI coming in those situations.
His offense figures to play well anywhere, but would prove especially valuable if inserted into a Twins lineup that figures to be very lefty-heavy in the power department.
Michael Cuddyer is the only right-handed hitter on the team who showed significant power last season by hitting 32 home runs. Cuddyer, however, is anything but a sure thing in the power department as his previous career highs were 24 in 2006 and 16 in 2007.
Delmon Young and J.J. Hardy both have significant power potential, but both have obstacles that could keep them from producing at the level at which they are capable.
Hardy is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 and figures to be more focused on getting on base rather than swinging for the fences.
Young is simply hoping to hit well enough to stave off the all-too-popular plan of moving designated hitter Jason Kubel to left field and giving Jim Thome the everyday job at DH.
Lowell would provide another reliable right-handed bat with some serious punch and a penchant for getting on base at a good clip.
Mike Lowell can still hit, period.
As I said, hitting isn’t what has kept teams from kicking the tires on the third-sacker.
The real questions surround his defense, or more accurately, his range. Lowell’s glove is still as slick as ever, but he struggled last season ranging after balls hit in the hole and up the line.
As a result, he posted the worst UZR/150 of his career, largely as a result of the aforementioned lingering effects of hip surgery.
Lowell is now more than a full year removed from that surgery and—barring an unforeseen injury—figures to leave Spring Training healthier than he has been in two seasons.
The Twins will see a lot of the Red Sox and, more specifically, Lowell in Florida this spring as both clubs make Fort Myers their home for Spring Training.
The two clubs square off seven times in March, giving Minnesota a front-row seat to see if Lowell has what it takes to play third base on an everyday basis in 2010.
If Lowell is healthy and has regained some of his range, he’d be a huge addition for Minnesota.
For the deal to work the Twins would need to be open to taking on more salary, something that wouldn’t initially seem likely.
The Twins’ projected Opening Day payroll has already reached an all-time high of $96 million, an increase from $65 million a year ago.
That figure includes just base salaries for the projected 25-man roster and does not account for any incentives or bonuses.
The Twins probably don’t want to push that figure any higher, but—to add an impact bat like Lowell—it could be worth the investment; especially if that additional investment is largely subsidized by Boston.
Minnesota is currently favored by many to win the American League Central and is considered by many experts to be a dark horse candidate to win the World Series.
Adding a player of Lowell’s caliber could be what it takes to put the Twins over the top.
Lowell has plenty of postseason experience (and success) and is well-renowned as a positive presence in the clubhouse.
Ideally, Lowell would spend most of his time at third base, allowing Punto to shift to the aforementioned super utility role.
Additionally, he could get some starts at DH against tough lefties as he’s a career .288/.355/.494 hitter against southpaws, drastically better than both Thome and Kubel.
With the Twins expected to field arguably the best roster in decades, it only makes sense to go all-in and add what figures to be the missing component for a legitimate World Series run.