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Three offseason predictions

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: October 19, 2010 - 11:15 PM
Based on things I've seen, things I've heard, or sheer intuition.
 
1) Kevin Slowey will be traded. 
 
This is not a move I'd endorse. I've liked Slowey since he was a star prospect obliterating minor-league hitters, and while he hasn't shown us a ton over the past two seasons I think he's going to turn the corner one of these years when he's able to stay healthy. He gave us a glimpse of his potential in 2008, when he posted a 3.99 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 160 innings, and he's still only 26 years old.
 
Yet, from talking to folks with a behind-the-scenes perspective, I've never gotten the sense that Slowey is particularly well liked by the Twins. That he was left off the postseason roster this year after winning 13 games during the regular season does nothing to dissuade that notion. It's not that he's a bad guy, just that his personality doesn't seem to fit with this organization. And historically, they tend to get rid of guys like that.
 
Despite his underwhelming results in the past two seasons, I think Slowey has plenty of trade value. He's a young pitcher with elite command and a dazzling minor-league track record who's entering his first year of arbitration eligibility.
 
My guess is that the Twins will roll with a rotation consisting of Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing and a veteran starter signed from the free agent pool. Top prospect Kyle Gibson would be waiting in the wings should that veteran addition (or any of the other starters) fail, similar to what the Twins did in 2007 when they signed Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson with Slowey and Matt Garza opening the season in Triple-A -- though hopefully they would bring in a more competent veteran this time around.
 
I hope Slowey's back next year. Unfortunately, I have a hard time envisioning it. But it's just a hunch.
 
2) Among the team's relief pitchers eligible for free agency, Matt Capps and Jesse Crain will be back. Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay will not.
 
The Twins have six relievers with contracts expiring this winter and not nearly enough money available to bring them all back, so some decisions will need to be made.
 
It pains me to predict that Capps will be back, for reasons I explained on Monday. But Bill Smith said when he made the trade that he wouldn't have done it if the reliever was not under team control for 2011, so there's little doubt that the Twins will offer him arbitration and overpay for his services next season.
 
It's tougher to predict how the rest of the bullpen picture will be sorted out. My guess is that Crain is the only one who stays. Mahay will probably retire while Fuentes and Rauch will likely price themselves out of the Twins' range of interest. Letting Guerrier go would be tough, but the Twins have gotten their use out of him, running him out a league-leading 302 times over the past four years. It's not a good idea to invest much money in a 32-year-old arm with that much wear.
 
Crain is the only player among the group that was drafted and raised by the Twins, so they likely feel a greater sense of allegiance to him. In addition, he's been a success story for the coaching staff. Last year, when Crain was struggling mid-June, he was sent to the minors to work things out and was a much different pitcher after returning a month later, posting a 2.91 ERA the rest of the way. This year, Crain was again battling through early-season struggles, but some adjustments were made and over the final four months he was one of the league's most reliable relievers.
 
I think the Twins feel they have a good handle on how to straighten Crain out when he gets out of wack. That, combined with his relative youth, might prompt them to bring him back on a two-year deal.
 
3) Jim Thome will be back.
 
I've gone back and forth on this one. Thome is probably going to command a significant raise, as his services will be in much higher demand this winter after an outstanding 2010 campaign. And, while he didn't show his age much this season, he will turn 41 next year and skills can deteriorate quickly at this stage.
 
But, with all the questions surrounding Morneau, the Twins can hardly afford to lose Thome's power. As popular as he was with the coaches, players and fans, I think the front office will see the risk involved with signing him for $3-4 million as worthwhile. Ideally, Morneau will be back next year and Thome will be able to fill the role he was expected to fill this season -- bench bat and occasional starter. If Morneau can't go, I doubt they'd want Thome to be a full-time DH, but his bat would certainly be nice to have around in that scenario.

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