Tuesday

2-24-09: Joe Crede

Hello again everybody...

Today marks the traditional mid-point of the work week. Except for yours truly this week, when it means I only have one more day to go! All right. I'll quit bragging. It's not very gentlemanly, I know.

But I have to focus on the positive since it sounds like we're going to get a good shot of snow tomorrow. Winter's not done yet! Mother Nature teased us with some Spring-like temperatures and some of us forgot it was still February. Tomorrow sounds like a lamentable reminder. Oh well, Spring Training is under way, and that means Spring isn't far off.

And speaking of Spring Training, that leads me to today's column topic: Joe Crede. That's right, the Twins finally got the third baseman signed and into camp. Speculation over his signing is dead, let the speculation over his regular season performance begin! I'll discuss.

Off we go!

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They did it.

After an off-season devoid of much in the way of action, the Twins finally made a splash near the opening of full-squad Spring Training workouts by signing 3B Joe Crede to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with incentives that could earn Crede a total of $7 million.

So now what?

I've spent so much time wondering if the Twins were going to actually pull the trigger, I really haven't sat and thought about how this affects the club's chances. So allow me to speculate!

The first thing I love about this deal is the price. For those of you who haven't heard about Crede's background, he's had two back surgeries over the past two years. Hence the $2.5 million base salary after Crede earned $5.1 million with the White Sox last year. Considering the fact that the Twins had talked about dropping $3 million on Eric Gagne (a guy who's obviously cooked), $2.5 million is a pittance to spend on a guy who was in the All-Star game just last year.

And if he hits all of his incentives and the price escalates to $7 million? Well that's all the better because it means his back is fine and he's been a regular part of the Twins line-up.

The second thing I like about this deal is the depth it creates for the Twins. Prior to Crede's signing the Twins had been set to go with a platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris at third base. Now, if Crede's your everyday third baseman, Harris can become your utility infielder and Buscher can give Crede and first baseman Justin Morneau the occasional off-day.

The guys most adversely affected by the signing are Matt Macri and Matt Tolbert. Tolbert might have a chance to stick as an extra infielder, but Macri now most likely opens the year at Rochester. On the upside, that means the Twins have one or two guys at AAA who they were prepared to put on the major league roster. So if somebody gets hurt, you've got some flexibility.

Obviously, I'm a fan of the deal. But as I posited earlier, the question now becomes, "what can Twins fans really expect to get from Crede?"

Well, he'll be entering his 10th season in the big leagues, so you'll be getting a veteran presence.

He's a career .257 hitter. But you have to factor in the last two seasons of back troubles. Go back 3 years and the guy won the Silver Slugger award for third basemen. So while he probably won't give Joe Mauer a run for the batting title, he's no slouch in that regard either.

He's hit 125 home runs in his career. His highest single-season total was 30, also in 2006. Last year he hit 17 in the 97 games he played before his back acted up on him again. And it's that power-hitting ability that has Twins fans so excited. If he can even provide 20-25 big flys from the third base spot, that will be a significant improvement over anything they've had there since Cory Koskie signed with the Blue Jays.

He's also a plus-fielder with a career fielding percentage of .963. Last year Brian Buscher fielded at a .934 clip for the Twins, and in Brendan Harris' 18 games, he had a .971 fielding percentage. So if anything, you're gaining a little with the glove at the hot corner.

As for where he fits into the line-up? That's anyone's guess. I've seen it speculated anywhere from 3rd to 7th. And, of course, Gardy isn't talking about it. Not yet anyway.

Presuming he's healthy, here's how I think the Twins line-up shakes out: 1. LF Denard Span, 2. 2B Alexi Casilla, 3. C Joe Mauer, 4. 1B Justin Morneau, 5. LF Michael Cuddyer, 6. DH Jason Kubel, 7. 3B Joe Crede, 8. SS Nick Punto and 9. CF Carlos Gomez.

Why 7th? Mostly because after the lefty bats of Mauer and Morneau, it gives you a nice right-left-right-switch-right break down. That becomes important later in ballgames because it prevents an opposing manager from being able to bring in just a righty, or just a lefty to get an advantage for an inning.

We should also remember that no matter what line-up the Twins run out for Opening Day, it's subject to all sorts of changes. Delmon Young's going to get his fair share of at-bats be they as a left fielder or the designated hitter. Plus, RF Michael Cuddyer is coming back from an injury-plagued year. So if he starts off slow and Crede starts off strong, you could easily swap them in the 5 and 7 spots.

In the end, nobody knows exactly how this will shake out. Crede may return to his All-Star form, or his back may blow out on him a week into the season. We're not going to know anything until he gets some games under his belt. What's got me pumped about the signing is that there's very little down-side to the deal and a tremendous amount of upside.

If he gets hurt and it doesn't work out, then the Twins are out $2.5 million and are back to the Buscher/Harris platoon. If it does work out, then you've got a solid fielder who can add some significant pop to a line-up that could use it. As well as another bat that can help protect Justin Morneau and make sure he gets his fair share of hittable pitches to look at.

I haven't worked out my final predictions for the AL Central, but presuming that Crede looks healthy after the better part of Spring Training, I can assure you that his presence in the line-up will have an effect on where I pick the Twins to finish.

He's not the "final piece" per se, but he fills several needs and puts the Twins in a solid position to make another playoff run.

So welcome Joe Crede! We Twins fans wish you nothing but the best! Oh, and if you wouldn't mind kicking 10 different types of dog crap out of the White Sox 19 times this year, we'd appreciate it.

That's all for today folks. I'm back on Friday with the wonder of the DFTU for you. Until then, thanks for reading!

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