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Updated: December 7th, 2010 10:45pm
Mackey: Twins committed to same OF for 2011; is that good or bad?

Mackey: Twins committed to same OF for 2011; is that good or bad?

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While the Minnesota Twins continue to negotiate with Tsuyoshi Nishioka, search for bullpen help, and possibly even look to re-sign Carl Pavano, one of the club's glaring flaws from 2010 will likely remain unfixed.

Outfield defense.

At the winter meetings on Monday, Twins general manager Bill Smith said he's "pretty safe in assuming that Mauer and Morneau and Valencia, Young, Span, Cuddyer, Kubel are our primary corners and outfielders."

On Tuesday, assistant general manager Rob Antony told 1500 ESPN the team is "very committed" to an outfield of Delmon Young, Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and possibly Jason Repko.

Not that there was ever any serious speculation to the contrary...

Smith later added, when talking about possible tweaks to the lineup, "What that leaves is second base and shortstop. So if we can upgrade our speed -- and I know Gardy has talked about playing Alexi Casilla some more. I think we need to try and find out if he's ready to be an every-day player. If we can find some speed at those positions, that would help us."

The middle infield situation will continue to mold itself as the Nishioka negotiations progress, and as J.J. Hardy's role becomes more clear.

Meanwhile, it seems that the outfield will remain status quo.

There are pros and cons to this.

Offensively, Twins outfielders have shown plenty of upside over the last two years; Jason Kubel hit .300/.369/.539 with 28 home runs in 2009, Michael Cuddyer hit .276/.342/.520 with 32 home runs in 2009, Span hit a combined .305/.390/.422 in 2008-2009, and Young hit .298/.333/.493 with 21 home runs and 112 RBI last year while also hitting .355 with runners in scoring position and driving in 20% of the baserunners in front of him (3rd in MLB).

But in 2010, Kubel went missing in action for the first two months of the season before finishing with an underwhelming .249/.323/.427 batting line. Span (.264/.331/.348) and Cuddyer (.271/.336/.417, 14 HR) also had sub-par seasons by their standards as well.

The outfield defense was also an issue in 2010.

As a whole, Twins outfielders ranked 26th in "out-of-range" plays last season with 202. The Dodgers ranked last with 179 and the Tigers led all outfields with 290.

Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson actually made 109 out-of-range plays by himself. Span led Twins outfielders with 75. Delmon Young had 48, and Jason Kubel had 32.

On the surface, the difference between Detroit and Minnesota -- or Span and Jackson, for that matter -- may not seem like a huge gap over 162 games, but each of those out-of-range plays could easily have led to key late-inning runs, or a doubles that should have been outs.

The Twins -- who for a period prior to 2010 were graced with speedsters like Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and Carlos Gomez, and Span in one of the corners -- are aware of the defensive deficiencies, but they point optimistically to the offensive upside.

"With anybody, it's positive and negative," Smith said. "We'd all like Gold Glovers at each position and guys who drive in 100 runs. That'd be great. But in many cases you trade off a little bit of offense for defense, or you trade off the defense for the offense."

Young is a perfect example.

After shedding nearly 30 pounds prior to the season, Young seemed to cover more ground in the outfield. At least, at the beginning of the year.

"Certainly in the first half, he made catches he wouldn't have made the year before, he beat out balls he wouldn't have beat out the year before," Smith said. "But I think he wore down, slowed down a little bit as the season went on. But he swung the bat."

Young finished the season with an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of -9.7, which is only moderately better than his -14.3 and -19.7 marks from the two seasons prior. In fact, over the last three seasons, only one outfielder has a lower UZR than Young (-43.5), and that's Brad Hawpe (-59.8).

Jason Kubel (-26.3 UZR over last three years) and Michael Cuddyer (-20.8) -- despite his strong throwing arm -- haven't rated very well either.

Smith points out that "anything (Kubel) gets to he catches. He made a couple spectacular catches (last year)."

And that's true, for the most. But Kubel -- along with Young and Cuddyer -- don't get to nearly as many balls in the spacious Target Field that some of their predecessors tracked down.

Smith and company are hoping it doesn't matter.

"Yeah, you'd love to have that speed. (But) I like having 112 RBIs in left field, day in, day out."

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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