With most of the Twins’ offseason attention focused on trading Johan Santana, it’s understandable that Twins fans were apprehensive. Today, the Twins gave their fans reason for optimism by signing Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to longterm contracts. According to the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal, Justin Morneau signed a 6 year, $80 million contract while Michael Cuddyer signed a 3 year, $24 million contract with a team option for a 4th year at $10.5 million.

The best news of the weekend is that Twins GM Bill Smith says that today’s deals won’t stand in the way of them negotiating with Johan Santana in the hopes of keeping him with the Twins. While I think keeping Johan is improbable at best, the thought of keeping him here the next 4+ years excites me.

Signing Johan would give the Twins a rotation of Santana, Lirano, Baker, Perkins & either Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn or Boof Bonser. Their bullpen would be solid, too, with Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, Jesse Crain and Dennis Reyes setting up Joe Nathan.

The biggest news this offseason that nobody’s talking about is that the Twins lineup is much improved. If the Twins don’t trade Johan for a starting centerfielder, they’ll sign either Corey Patterson or Kenny Lofton. Personally, I hope it’s Lofton because (a) he isn’t aging, (b) he’s still productive & (c) he’s got a great veteran presence in the lineup.

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that the Twins keep Johan & sign Lofton. Here’s what their batting order would look like:
Leadoff- K. Lofton, CF
2nd- J. Kubel, DH
3rd- J. Mauer, C
4th- M. Cuddyer, RF
5th- J. Morneau, 1B
6th- D. Young, LF
7th- M. Lamb, 3B
8th- A. Everett, SS
9th- B. Harris, 2B

They’ll likely be a bit weak at the bottom of the lineup but they’ll more than make up for it with the top & middle of the lineup. When the Twins traded for Delmon Young, I loved the move because he has the potential of being a superstar. He’s got one of the strongest, most accurate arms in baseball. He’s a power hitter. He’s got pretty good range defensively, too. He’s got the tools to become the Twins best hitter by 2009.

Having a middle of the lineup inhabited by Mauer, Cuddy, Justin & Young would be imposing at minimum.

Something that people haven’t thought much about is how good the Twins will be defensively. On any other team, losing Torii would be devastating defensively. If they sign Lofton, he’ll be solid defensively in terms of range, though he doesn’t have Torii’s throwing arm. Whatever they lack in center, they’ll more than make up for on the corners. Teams won’t take extra bases on Cuddyer & Young because they’ve got the two best throwing arms of all the corner outfielders in baseball. PERIOD.

The infield defense should be pretty solid, too, especially with the addition of Adam Everett at shortstop. While Everett’s bat isn’t a plus, everything I’ve read said his defense will be a positive. The reports I’ve read say that he’s got above average range, a strong arm & picks everything hit in his direction. Justin Morneau hasn’t made people forget about Doug Mientkiewicz or Kent Hrbek defensively but he’s improved defensively each year. The scouting reports on Brendan Harris & Mike Lamb are solid, too.

I’m not convinced that this is going to be a major rebuilding year. It might turn out that way but I won’t think that until I know Johan’s status. Until that’s settled, I’ll just be thankful that they’ve locked up 2 important players like Cuddy & Morneau for the foreseeable future.

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