The Case For Kevin Mench
While reviewing the 2007 season’s numbers and trying to draw a conclusion on what went wrong, as I am wont to do after the season ends, a fan can clearly identify the problem spots and conjure up numerous solutions. The local media has blamed a multitude of problems such as a downgrade of performance from the previous season (Punto), key injuries (Reyes, Crain, Mauer) or under performance (White). One glaring deficiency that plague the 2007 season was the inability to hit left-handed pitching. Outside of the anemic (but powerful) Chicago White Sox line up, Minnesota had the worst offensive production against left-handers in the Central.
* Runs/At Bats.
The problem for 2008 is the possible loss of Torii Hunter who was one of the few in the lineup that had a successful split against left-handed pitching.
Reports suggest that Hunter is requesting a 5-year, $75 million a year contract and judging from his 2007 numbers vs. left-handed pitching, he is likely to command that salary on an open market (but not to overlook his ability to hit right-handed pitching and gold glove defense). It seems apparent that the organization lacks viable in-house candidates to replace the loss of production. A franchise on a tight budget that needs to increase production against left-handed pitching (at a fraction of the total cost it would take to retain other free agents) might look into acquiring Kevin Mench.
According to a recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article (“2007 Review: The Brewers jumped off to a great start in 2007 but in the end, their season came tumbling down” October 2nd, 2007), the Brewers are rumored to be considering releasing Mench due to their overstocked outfield of prospects. Past rumors indicate that the Twins had interest in Mench while as a Ranger and at the trade deadline last year while with Milwaukee.
Mench’s numbers in 2007 are indicative of a bat that has power and can hit for average against lefties. What’s more is that his number prior to 2007 (2004 – 2006) indicate that Mench is consistent as well:
While a pessimist might suggest that Hunter’s 2007 numbers are an anomaly compared to the prior three seasons thereby taking that into consideration when approaching long-term contract negotiations, Mench’s 2007 numbers are slightly below what he has previously recorded between 2004 and 2006 (which would also seem to be good leverage in contract negotiations). In fact the numbers indicate that any organization would be hard pressed to find anyone in the past four seasons that has had as much success as Mench has had versus lefties and could be obtained below “market value”. (With the exception of Jonny Gomes who might be acquired from the Devil Rays for a prospect but is prone to striking out highlighted by his 30.3% strikeout percentage). Highlighted by a high home run percentage (hitting a home run in 5.16% of his at-bats in 2007 against lefties) but also by the ability to not strike out, the remarkable thing is that Mench is a power-hitter that has a solid contact rate. While Hunter struck out in 24 of his 165 at-bats against lefties in 2007, Mench was fooled in only 10 in 155.
Compared to other right-handed power-hitters that will be available either by free agency or a potential trade target, Mench also stands out as someone who hit for power, average, contact, and will most likely commanded the least amount of salary and has a history of avoiding the DL.
It goes without saying that Mench’s bat does not replace the gold-glove caliber defense that Torii can bring to an outfield or his ticket sales significance as a fan favorite. Signing/acquiring Mench would still require either a stop-gap centerfielder free agent (see: Lofton, Patterson, Erstad) or a costly tier one centerfielder (see: Cameron and Rowand) to replace Hunter. However, even if Hunter is retained (against all odds), as a powerful right-handed bat that could possibly be signed for the price of a Rondell White ($3 to $5 million) Mench would certainly be a useful weapon in the arsenal for Gardenhire to pencil in as a DH, a platoon partner with Jason Kubel in left field or a late-inning pitch-hitter against the league’s formidable left-handers (see: Sabathia, Lee, Jenks, Danks, Buerhle).