Time for part 4 of my mini-series on the best team the Twins can field at this point. On to the bench...
Catcher - Mike Redmond
Between Redmond and Mauer, the Twins have had the best catching tandem in the majors over the past 3 seasons. How many teams can put in their backup and have him produce a .352 OBP, throw out a strong percentage of baserunners, and call a good game? He's getting on in years, so I'm not sure how much longer he can keep it up, but hopefully Mauer will stay healthy and give Redmond plenty of time to rest between his starts.
Outfielder - Craig Monroe
I mentioned him on Monday as a CF platoon-member. He's played all 3 outfield positions throughout his career, so he's an option to give Cuddyer or Young a rest here and there as well. Mostly, he'll be the first bat off the bench against lefties. If he's used almost exclusively against left-handed pitching, he has an opportunity to be reasonably successful. He's obviously overpaid for a bench player, but, then again, the Twins aren't exactly breaking the bank this year.
Infielder - Nick Punto
Speaking of overpaid bench players, here's $2.4 million man Nick Punto. He had a freakishly bad 2007 on the heels of his freakishly good 2006. His career numbers suggest that the reality is somewhere in the middle. He will certainly compete for the starting 2B job, but I think Harris' offensive potential should give him the edge. As someone who can play 2B, 3B and SS, as well as all 3 outfield positions, Punto is still a very valuable role player. And he's shown a pretty good ability to work counts and draw walks throughout his career, making him a decent choice to pinch-hit in a rally-starting situation (if he's pinch-hitting for Everett, for example). He needs to get back to basics and get every bunt down this year, a skill that failed him pretty badly in 2007. Returning to the utility role which suits him best, Punto can successfully carry on the tradition of Al Newman and Denny Hocking, and return to favor with the fans.
Infielder/Catcher - Jose Morales
This last spot is the hardest to call. Including Kubel, there are already 5 outfielders on the team, 2 catchers, and 5 infielders. Harris can play 3 IF positions. Punto can also do that, as well as fill in any outfield spot. Lamb can play 1B as well as 3B. There are 6 righties, 5 lefties, and 1 switch-hitter. I think the most versatile player they could add to the final bench spot would be Morales. He gives Gardy 3rd catcher insurance, so he won't have to be squeamish about using Mauer as the DH. He's a switch-hitter, and a good one, so he can be used to pinch-hit against whoever the other team sends out there. And he was drafted as an infielder, so he could be an option at first or third if needed. Plus, he has a career 1.000 BA in the majors! What's not to love?
So there's my roster. Now that it includes Livan Hernandez, the starting payroll will be about $63 million (including signing bonuses). I've allowed somewhat for the psychology of Mr. Gardenhire in my selections, but I also think that the guys on the cusp of the majors will benefit from a couple more months in Rochester. Tomorrow I'll talk about the contributions I expect them to make this season.