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Jason’s Blog: Twins reload

Posted By: Jason Iacovino

The Minnesota Twins sent a message to their fans last weekend that they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2014 while losing 2 of 3 at home to the worst team in the American League.

The team announced before Sunday’s game with the Houston Astros that it reached a deal with veteran free agent Kendrys Morales.  The team subsequently went on to drop a 14-5 decision to the Astros after starting pitcher Samuel Deduno couldn’t throw a strike and the bullpen couldn’t keep the ball from leaving the yard.

The Astros had two grand slams in the game and the loss dropped the Twins to 29-32, five games behind first place Detroit.  Still, general manager Terry Ryan, making a rare appearance since rehabing from cancer treatment earlier this spring, was busy making the media rounds to pitch the Morales signing as evidence the team will make a push for winning this year.  Morales’ deal is for one-year, $12 million, pro-rated, meaning he’ll make about $7 million this season.

The timing of the deal is interesting on a number of fronts.  For one, Morales is a DH, first baseman, and corner outfielder, so the first slumping victim was Jason Kubel, who was designated for assignment on Sunday.  Next up would likely be Chris Parmelee, who is hanging by a thread in his latest of multiple chances with the team and was the only option on the roster to back up first base before Morales joined the team.

Which brings us back to Joe Mauer.  Lost in the Morales hoopla and the Homerun Derby exhibition by the visitors on Sunday was the fact that Mauer’s slump has finally reached a point where he was benched by manager Ron Gardenhire.  I’m sure Gardy and the Twins want you to believe “it’s a day off,” which it is (Clearly, Mauer will return to the lineup sooner than later), but you don’t get days off when things are going well offensively if you’re a 1B or DH.

I praise Gardy for making the move–even for a home game–if nothing else than to send a subtle message that Mauer’s hitting woes are being noticed and are hurting the team.  Mauer was 0-for-4 on Saturday, leaving five runners on base in the process, but it didn’t matter as the Twins spanked the Astros, 8-0.  Mauer’s average now stands at .264 and he’s hitting an atrocious .143 with runners in scoring position in 65 plate appearances.

I personally believe Mauer’s nose dive in 2014 is quickly becoming the biggest Minnesota sports story of the year, but we can put that on the back-burner for now.  What’s more immediately pressing is the fact that the Twins failed to draw over 30,000 fans for any of the June weekend games against the Astros–and this team is much improved from the nonsense we witnessed from 2011-2013.

Morales adds credibility to this push.  He had 38 HRs and drove in 108 for the Angels in 2009.  His season was cut short in 2010 due to a freak leg injury during a walk-off homerun celebration.  He had 45 HR with 153 RBIs while batting around .275 in the last two seasons for Los Angeles and Seattle.  He will need time to get back into MLB shape, but once he does, you can envision Parmelee heading back to where he’s most comfortable, Triple-A.

And if the Twins are truly serious about going for it in 2014, other changes will likely follow.  Starting pitching prospects Trevor May and Alex Meyer continue to dominate the International League and Kevin Correia seems to be lobbying to be replaced in the rotation, much like Mike Pelfrey earlier.  Danny Santana is making a great case to remain the permanent center fielder, and with Sam Fuld close to ready to return from a concussion, Aaron Hicks’ days could be numbered as well.

But the point is this lineup already looks better than it ever has with Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia healthy and mashing.  Brian Dozier continues to be consistent and Eduardo Escobar continues to make the Twins look silly for thinking that Pedro Florimon was the right man for the shortstop job.  Trevor Plouffe isn’t as hot as he was earlier in the season, but he’s been holding his own at third base.

So where does Morales fit in? He will likely share time in right field and DH with Arcia and Josmil Pinto and he will back up Mauer at first base.  It will be interesting to see how much time it takes Morales to get acclaimated–and my guess is the Twins didn’t pay him $7 million to be a backup for long, so there’s a short window for Pinto and Parmelee to get hot.

For me the overall picture is the Twins should be commended for making a move which makes them better right now.  I’m sure the fast start on the field and slow start in attendance provided some motivation to do just that.  Morales is only 30, so it’s possible he could end up spending several years in Minnesota, but it is just a one year deal.

Then again, when you have prospects who have been slowed by injuries like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, one good year is sort of what the doctor ordered at the moment for Twins fans. Let’s hope Ryan hit on something with Morales.

Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at jjiacovino@stthomas.edu. Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.

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