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Updated: July 31st, 2011 11:40pm
Mackey: Twins committed to finishing climb, but must unclog outfield

Mackey: Twins committed to finishing climb, but must unclog outfield

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

By not pulling the trigger on any deals prior to Sunday's non-waiver trade deadline, the Minnesota Twins' front office A.) saved itself from making a mistake, in one case, and B.) thumbed its nose at math and logic and turned its back on contenders reportedly interested in acquiring free-agents-to-be Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome and possibly others.

Eight games under .500 and seven games back of the Tigers with only 54 games remaining, the Twins have committed themselves to finishing the climb from 20 games under and 16.5 games back.

If the Chicago White Sox team marketing slogan this season is "All In," the Twins' motto for the final two months of the year might as well be, "So, We're Sure About This, Right?"

Well, there's really no looking back now. And general manager Bill Smith, along with other front office decision-makers, has gone out on a long, narrow limb by declining to take advantage of an opportunity to sell pieces in exchange for talent that may help in 2012 and beyond.

To make matters more difficult, the Tigers bolstered their starting rotation by trading for Doug Fister, the Indians one-upped Detroit by dealing for Ubaldo Jimenez, and the Twins are set to play a bunch of solid teams -- Angels, White Sox, Red Sox, Indians, Tigers, Yankees -- over the next three weeks.

To help push the rock up the mountain, the Twins will upgrade their leadoff on-base percentage by nearly 70 points on Tuesday when Denard Span -- the subject of several trade discussions -- returns to the lineup, and it's possible the team might add a healthy Justin Morneau sometime soon as well.

Longshot might be an understatement, as BaseballProspectus lists the Twins' playoff odds at 4.5%.

But one delusional 1500ESPN.com scribe who covers the team on a daily basis has maintained all along that if healthy in the final third of the season, which might actually happen now, the Twins will play meaningful games in September.

Call it a hunch.

How to unclog the outfield logjam

Delmon Young has been on the disabled list twice. Kubel missed two months with a broken foot. And Ben Revere didn't start playing regularly until right around the time Span hit the shelf for two months.

Starting on Tuesday, the Twins will have six outfielders -- Cuddyer and Jason Repko included -- for four slots, assuming Thome shares the DH duties.

Cuddyer can be used at first base temporarily to help unclog the jam, but with Morneau apparently close to going on a rehab assignment, someone is destined to lose playing time.

That might push Cuddyer to second base more often, like on Sunday, until Alexi Casilla returns from a pulled hamstring.

Here's where things get murky:

Young hasn't played any position other than left field since 2007.

And manager Ron Gardenhire said in an interview Sunday with 1500 ESPN that Revere's arm strength "is not really good enough to play right field."

Not to mention, Span has expressed a desire to remain in center field -- a position he's held regularly since outperforming Carlos Gomez in 2009.

Something's got to give. And somebody's going to have to be flexible here, including Gardenhire, who said Sunday he has talked with Span about moving to one of the corner outfield spots -- at least every once in a while.

Gardenhire recommended that Span mix in at the other positions during his rehab assignment, but Span didn't love the idea.

"He didn't balk," Gardenhire said. "We talked about it. I said that's something, if it happens up here, with the situation we're in, and you want to move over there, I asked him. I said, 'That might be something you want to do.' He's not fond of it. He told me he likes center field, he feels comfortable there. But I said if we go down there (on a rehab assignment) and you want to play only over in right or left, that might not be a bad thing.

"Because if he comes up here and it's a situation where that's going to help us win, I might move you over there for a game or an inning or two. I just don't want you to be uncomfortable that you get stuck out there all of the sudden without having done anything ... He said he'll do whatever it takes to win baseball games."

Throughout his career, Span rates as an above-average defensive center fielder, but that rating soars even higher for Span in the corner spots, which comes as no surprise.

"Probably as good as you'll see," Gardenhire said about Span in the corners, "covering ground and the whole package."

If Gardenhire elects to put Span back in center field, Revere would likely have to either sit on the bench or play left field, bumping Young to the bench.

If Young was putting up the same offensive numbers this year as he did last year -- .298/.333/.493, 21 homers, 46 doubles, 112 RBIs -- it would be almost impossible to sit him, despite his track record as one of the worst-ranging outfielders in baseball.

Kubel rates as similarly slow-footed in the outfield, but he's been one of the Twins' best hitters this season. Meanwhile, Young hasn't homered in nearly two months and carried a .264/.296/.344 batting line into Monday with only 27 RBIs in 287 plate appearances.

Revere's offensive numbers (.252/.300/.292) aren't good either, but he leads the team with 18 stolen bases and might cover more ground than almost any outfielder in the American League.

Gardenhire will likely mix and match heavily over the next two months, but the dispersion of outfielders and designated hitters should probably look like this beginning Tuesday:

Against right-handed pitching:

LF Ben Revere
CF Denard Span
RF Jason Kubel
1B Michael Cuddyer
DH Jim Thome
Bench: Delmon Young, Jason Repko

Against left-handed pitching:

LF Ben Revere
CF Denard Span
RF Jason Kubel
1B Michael Cuddyer
DH Delmon Young
Bench: Jim Thome, Jason Repko

It's possible Revere should sit against lefties, with Young playing left field and Thome or somebody else penciled in at DH, but it's just too hard to pass up the defensive tag team of Revere and Span tracking down fly balls in Target Field.

When Morneau comes back, the Twins may just want to think about petitioning for MLB to add a 10th position.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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