This week, I've stepped away from baseball for a bit, but I left behind the latest edition of the Twins Inbox to keep you company. Thanks for sending along your questions and keep them coming!Who do you think will be the Twins' No. 2 hitter next season? To me it's a toss-up between Joe Mauer, Alexi Casilla or J.J. Hardy. -- Hardt B., Grant, Minn.
If Casilla gets another opportunity at a starting job in the middle infield, which right now is expected to happen, then he seems to be the ideal candidate for the second spot in the batting order. It's a spot where Casilla has batted previously in his career, and he had success as the No. 2 hitter while filling it for an injured Orlando Hudson at one point last season.
Twins general manager Bill Smith has expressed that the Twins would like to add more speed to their lineup and Casilla could help provide that as well. Last year, the club added more veteran hitters to their lineup and, as a result, the team didn't run as well as it had in the past. It's something the team will try to change for next season, and with Casilla near the top of the order, along with leadoff man Denard Span, it could give the Twins a little more opportunity to run. So I think that if Casilla starts at either second base or shortstop next season, he'll be the one in the No. 2 spot.
When Justin Morneau returns, will he be wearing the Rawlings S100 helmet designed to help prevent concussions? I can't help thinking the extra protection could have prevented the concussion that ended his season had he been wearing one in the first place. The benefit would far outweigh the bulky look players dislike. What is the timetable for requiring all players at the Major League level to wear them? -- Dan M., Inver Grove, Minn.
When we spoke to Morneau after he suffered his concussion last year, he indicated that whenever he did return to the field, he would wear the oversized helmet. The new helmets have additional padding and are designed to withstand the impact of a 100-mph fastball in order to decrease the likelihood of head injuries.
Last season, it was mandated that Minor League players wear the new helmets. This past year, at the All-Star Game in Anaheim, a redesigned version of the helmets that came on the market in 2009 was offered to the players to try out. A large number of players wore them, including Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols and David Ortiz. So far, nothing has been done in regard to requiring players to wear them in the Majors, but it seems that as more is known about concussions, the likelihood of other players wearing the helmets could increase. Morneau certainly seems to understand the importance, and he'll be one of the players who could become a trendsetter by wearing the new helmet.
What are the chances of Bert Blyleven finally getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this year? I saw his vote total last year and saw that he was five votes short. Will it finally work out for him this time? -- Cameron S., Minnetonka, Minn.
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The general consensus of the Hall of Fame writers who I've spoken with since last year's vote is that this will be the year the Blyleven finally gets elected. Of course, nothing is certain until all the votes are tallied. Blyleven is on the ballot for the 14th time. If he doesn't make it this year, then his final shot will come in the 2011 vote. Blyleven's HOF candidacy has been debated quite a bit throughout the years, but it seems that more writers are coming to the opinion that Blyleven's numbers warrant election into Cooperstown. I don't have a Hall of Fame vote (writers must belong to the Baseball Writers' Association of America for 10 years to earn that), but it's been my belief that Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame. And this year, the time certainly appears like it's coming for him to get there.
When the Twins traded for Hardy last offseason, I remember reading that he would potentially be the shortstop of the future. So why would they non-tender him? -- Michael A., Fort Worth, Texas
The Twins had high hopes when they traded for Hardy a year ago, but unfortunately, injuries hampered Hardy throughout the 2010 season. He was limited to just 101 games and batted .268 with six home runs and 38 RBIs. Hardy made $5.1 million last season and is expected to get a raise through arbitration. So Hardy's limited production in his first year in Minnesota, along with the fact that his salary is expected to go up, could make him a non-tender candidate this winter. The Twins must decide Hardy's fate by Dec. 2.
Hardy provided the club with a solid fit at shortstop when he was healthy and able to stay on the field. But the Twins will have to decide whether they can get the same production from a cheaper player. With the Twins expected to fill their hole at second base from within, the club could very well decide to keep Hardy to give them some stability in the middle infield. We'll just have to wait and see what the Twins decide to do with Hardy.
What's the outlook for Span? Are the Twins looking at keeping him for a while? -- Matt B., Plainview, Minn.
The Twins signed Span to a five-year, $16.5 million contract last year during Spring Training, and the deal also includes a $9 million club option for the 2015 season. It is one of a few long-term contracts that the Twins have handed out to a younger player in recent springs. Span didn't duplicate the success this past season that he did in his first two years in Minnesota. But while the '10 season was a disappointment for Span, the club is confident that the outfielder will bounce back and learn from the season. At the end of last year, Span seemed determined to work hard on his swing this offseason and make some slight tweaks to his approach at the plate.
Is there a realistic possibility that the Twins will keep Nick Punto as their utility player? He has much greater versatility than Matt Tolbert or any of the other Minor League prospects, and he has experience, the most important quality in a utility player. -- Don F., St. Cloud, Minn.
So far, it's been unclear if the Twins are going to make a push to try to re-sign Punto at a lower price, since they declined his $5 million option for the 2011 season. Punto has spent seven years moving around the Twins' infield and giving the club one of its best defensive options at nearly every spot he played, but he is now a free agent and eligible to talk to the other 29 teams. Two years ago, when Punto was a free agent, he received interest from a few other teams, including the Phillies and the Yankees, before signing a two-year deal to stay in Minnesota. So it's possible that even if the Twins are interested in bringing Punto back for a utility role, that he could sign elsewhere. There are people within the Twins organization that believe Tolbert is ready to step into the utility infield role, and if the club doesn't end up working out a deal with Punto, then Tolbert could wind up in that spot in 2011.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.