AVAILABLE FOR A PRICE
Free-agent signings can energize a fan base, because they provide an influx of talent without giving up anything but money. But even if the Twins suddenly became uncharacteristically aggressive in the free-agent market, they would find it difficult to fill their shopping list. Which might be why General Manager Terry Ryan said last week that "if we're going to do anything … it's probably not going to be in free agency." A look at some of the free-agent talent available this winter to address their most pressing needs:
Age and injuries make the choices risky for the Twins, who figure to have several prospects arriving in the next two to three years. Among the possibilities (statistics through Friday):
Shin-Soo Choo. Little chance the Reds will let the Korean slugger get away after hitting 21 home runs and putting up a .426 on-base percentage.
David DeJesus. His $6.5 million option may be too pricey for the Rays, and at 33, he's no longer a leadoff hitter. But 33 extra-base hits in 400 plate appearances, and the ability to play all three positions, could make him a good option for a year or two.
David Murphy. His 2012 season, with an .859 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, was All-Star level for the Rangers. His 2013, when both percentages fell by 100 points, makes him expendable. But he's only 31.
Virtually every free agent is 35 or older, making them poor risks. Among them: Placido Polanco, Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis, Eric Chavez, Juan Uribe. There is one exception: 30-year-old Mark Reynolds, cut by Cleveland in August and picked up by the Yankees. But he owns one of the highest strikeout rates in history, a bad fit on a Twins team that already makes too little contact.
No position is riskier or more expensive, but there is some talent in this pool, including a couple of former Cy Young Award winners in Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum. The latter is intriguing, since he's only 29, but he earned $22 million this year and posted a 4.40 ERA. Perhaps more realistically:
Scott Feldman. He's only 30 and owns a 4.13 ERA over the past three seasons with fewer than one homer per nine innings, despite playing in home-run bandboxes for the Rangers, Cubs and Orioles.
Phil Hughes. The Twins discussed acquiring him during the Johan Santana talks six years ago, but he never lived up to his first-round promise with the Yankees, posting ERAs above 5.00 two of the past three years. Still, he is only 27, and a significantly better pitcher (a 4.10 career ERA) away from Yankee Stadium.
Joba Chamberlain. Another Yankees disappointment, he is only 28; the Nebraska native might fare better outside New York. It's a risk, since Yankees stuck him in the bullpen, where he has averaged only 40 innings for four years. But his ERA was 4.18 as a starter, with a high strikeout rate (and walk rate, too).
Ervin Santana. Still only 30, he posted a 3.16 ERA for the Royals in almost 200 innings, a high point in an up-and-down career. He's homer-prone, but Target Field would help with that. He earned $13 million this season, and will be looking for a raise, so it would require a non-Twins-like commitment.