Patrick Reusse: Twins need building blocks over Cuddyer

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 6, 2011 - 8:40 AM

He has been a major contributor to the franchise, but the time is right to let him, and others, walk.

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Joe Nathan is the Twins’ all-time saves leader, but he will be 37 in 10 days, and closers are not high priorities for rebuilding teams.

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There is a report out of Philadelphia that the Phillies are making a robust effort to sign Michael Cuddyer. This would be a favor to the Twins, for it would prevent a management with a great fondness for Cuddyer from spending limited resources on a sizable, multiyear contract for a 33-year-old outfielder.

The Twins' decision-makers are having a tough time making the adjustment from contenders to rebuilders. They are stuck in the memory of six division titles from 2002 through 2010, rather than the reality of 99 losses and the worst record in the American League in 2011.

A case can be made that injuries caused a share of those losses, but only a modest share. The manner in which the Twins pitched and fielded, and the way that key players failed to produce when they were in the lineup, tells us this still was a 90-loss team.

The Twins enter this offseason situated in the basement of the AL Central. The future is later, not now. And the way to hasten the arrival of that future is not to bring back an outfielder who turns 33 on March 27, or a closer who turns 37 in 10 days.

That's Joe Nathan, of course. Hopefully, General Manager Bill Smith was just being kind last month when he indicated the team would like to sign Nathan as a free agent.

Spending half of what figures to be $20 million available dollars for the 2012 payroll on Cuddyer is questionable. And what would make it foolish is that a three-year contract would be required.

Cuddyer is a Type A free agent. The current labor agreement calls for the team losing such a free agent to get a No. 1 draft choice (if the signing team had a top-15 record) and also a pick immediately after the first round.

The players association is trying to get that changed in the current negotiations. And there's a good chance it will succeed, since MLB negotiators are more interested in putting restrictions on signing bonuses for draft choices than protecting teams losing veteran players.

The probability remains that this winter's group of free agents will be grandfathered into the old Type A/Type B rules.

Philadelphia would be the perfect fit for Cuddyer and his desire to reach the World Series. And it wouldn't be bad for the Twins, either.

They have the second overall selection in 2012, which will be very expensive, no matter the new spending rules. A Phillies choice would come at the end of the first round -- where a team can get a good prospect and doesn't have to break the bank.

The other free agents are reliever Matt Capps and outfielder Jason Kubel. Capps won't be offered arbitration. Kubel sounds as if he wants out of Target Field, so a few more of his long flies become home runs.

See you around, fellas.

Capps was horrendous in 2011. Period. And the Twins are so lefthanded with potential DHs (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Chris Parmelee) that it would take an extra-reasonable price to bring back Kubel.

Yes, you create a problem by losing the righthanded Cuddyer, but it's down the list of the problems that must be addressed with the available dollars:

1. Starting pitching. There's a dearth in the free-agent market, so the Twins are going to have to make a deal for a couple of 28- to 30-year-olds making too much money elsewhere.

Also: Back in July, they were talking a trade with the Yankees -- Francisco Liriano for starter Ivan Nova and shortstop Eduardo Nunez. The Yanks decided that Liriano needed too much fixing to help in the 2011 stretch drive.

New York still wants starters, and maybe trade talks can be revived.

2. Middle infield. Brian Dozier, opening eyes in the Arizona Fall League, could be one of the starters in the middle. The Twins need to find another.

3. Catcher. The Twins can't count on Mauer as more than a part-timer behind the plate. They must find a guy who isn't an automatic out to catch 100 games. They need a Miguel Olivo-type.

And what do you do for a closer without Nathan?

Answer: Who cares?

The last item on the agenda for any rebuilding team is a closer.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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