The Twins went into the offseason with double-digit free agents and double-digit arbitration-eligible players. They updated their 40 man roster. They have added a lot of minor league veterans to bolster the Twins Triple-A affiliate in Rochester and their entire system. They had six players that were either Type A or Type B free agents and they offered arbitration to three of them (Carl Pavano, Jesse Crain and Orlando Hudson), and they all declined. They reached agreements with Pat Neshek and Jason Repko and tendered contracts to each of the other players on their roster including all of the arbitration-eligible players. They bid on Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, but they did not win that bid. On Thanksgiving, we learned that the Twins were successful in their bid (of $5+ million) to negotiate with Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
On Sunday, the Twins front office arrived in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and had a ton of meetings and were very active. There were several meetings with Tom O'Connell, the agent of Carl Pavano. There were several meetings with the agent of Nishioka. Bill Smith spent time talking to the local media and the contingent of media from Japan. The Twins were rumored to be interested in many free agents such as Rich Harden, Brandon Webb, Octavio Dotel and many others. They were also believed to still be actively pursuing Zach Greinke. They added left-handed pitcher Scott Diamond from the Atlanta Braves in the Rule 5 draft, and he is certainly intriguing. They did not lose any players in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft, but they lost three pitchers (Michael Allen, Jean Mijares and Eliecer Cardenas) in the AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft. And following the Rule 5 draft, the Twins and Orioles finalized their trade. The Twins sent JJ Hardy, Brendan Harris and $500,000 to Baltimore in exchange for two relievers, James Hoey (who could contribute in 2011 and beyond) and Brett Jacobson who could help the Twins as early as 2012.
So there you have to, a quick two-paragraph summary of some of what the Twins have done this offseason. These are things that have been reported somewhere. It is likely only a fraction of the work that the Twins front office has done since so many meetings with teams, agents, GMs and others are discussions that may lead to an actual transaction, but generally only attempt to lead toward a transaction and usually don't.
The Winter Meetings are over, but there is still work to be done. Major League Baseball moved many of its important offseason dates forward a week to try to help teams and players get signed sooner. In my opinion, it has been successful as I believe that more players signed during the meetings this year than I can remember in previous years. Usually the Winter Meetings are a bunch of rumors and meetings to set up moves that happen later. It is important to rememeber that spring training does not start for over two more months and a lot can and will still happen. So, where are the Twins at the completion of the Winter Meetings? What is left to be done? Let's look around the diamond and see where we are (in admittedly rambling, stream-of-conscious tone):
- Catcher - I'd say that the Twins are set with their starting catcher (That Mauer guy is pretty good!), and if Carl Pavano comes back, Drew Butera will certainly be the backup again, right? What happens to Jose Morales?
- First Base - Although we can't be certain, we assume that Justin Morneau is the guy. Should the Twins add a right-handed batter that could play some 1B if Morneau is hurt, or is Michael Cuddyer adequate for the role again?
- Second Base/Shortstop - With JJ Hardy gone, the Twins are relying on Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Both have question marks. Both have upsides. Like it or not, we will find out what each has. Matt Tolbert would appear to be the backup utility infielder, which is not a positive in my mind, but he is adequate with limited playing time. If there was an injury Trevor Plouffe can contribute adequately, and Steve Singleton and Luke Hughes could contribute if needed.The question has to be asked, though, could the question marks in the middle infield lead to a... re-signing of Nick Punto? Hey, as a utility infielder, he is worth $1-1.5 million for the year. I think we all would like to move on, but frankly, he's a much better option than Matt Tolbert
- Third Base - Danny Valencia took over in July of 2010 and ran with it, finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Will he hit .330 again? Probably not, but he has done enough to make third base a position that the Twins can call set.
- Outfield/DH - The front office has acknowledged its confidence in an outfield of Delmon Young (LF), Denard Span (CF), and Michael Cuddyer (RF) with Jason Kubel at DH and Jason Repko as the one of the five that can actually play very good defense. Ben Revere hasn't spent a day in AAA, so he is not ready. In fact, there would be no harm in letting him spend another half-season in AA in 2011. Young will need to show that his 2010 offensive production was not a fluke. Denard Span will need to get his on-base back to the .390 range it was his first two years after it was down to about .330 in 2010. Michael Cuddyer's batting average and on-base percentage were fairly similar between 2009 and 2010, but the move to Target Field cut his home run total in half, and dropped his SLG% by .100 points. Is it a perfect outfield? No, but it definitely is one that you can win with. Jason Kubel will also be best served as the team's primary DH. Jim Thome could come back which would be fun since he's such a good guy, still a solid player, and could hit his 600th home run in a Twins uniform. But frankly, the team could use a right-handed bat to give Kubel a day off against left-handed pitching!
- Starting Pitching - As of today, the rotation would be Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn. The Twins are said to still be in on Carl Pavano, and if he is brought back, he fits into the middle of the rotation. That is a huge decision, but Pavano would be wise to wait for Cliff Lee to sign before he signs. Once Lee signs, the losing teams in that race will likely be in contact with Pavano's agent. Zach Greinke would certainly be a good #2 starter ,but the Royals are asking way too much and the Twins should not give up the farm for him. In fact, last night it came out that the Twins are out of the Greinke sweepstakes. But who else might be out there for the Twins to consider. Brandon Webb and Jarrod Washburn's names show up from time to time. The important thing to remember is that when Carl Pavano signed with Cleveland two years ago, no one could have anticipated 420+ innings over the next two years. If the Twins sign a veteran, maybe he is the next Pavano. But again, that's why the Twins have to be very careful about negotiating with Pavano. In all likelihood, Pavano will not duplicate his 2010 season. He will most likely post an ERA closer to 5.00 than to the 3.60 he posted in 2010. And, if Slowey is brought back, could the Twins trade one of their other starters? Kevin Slowey's name has come up. Teams might have interest in his upside, but after two injury-filled seasons, his value may not be real high. Finally, how far away are David Bromberg and Kyle Gibson? Gibson could be ready by July to fill a middle-of-the-rotation spot. And can Jeff Manship or Anthony Swarzak, or even Erik Hacker, make a run at a starting gig?
- The Bullpen - Alright, here is where there are many question marks. It starts with Joe Nathan. Will he be 100% by Opening Day? What will his role be? Matt Capps is a solid pitcher and good insurance if Nathan isn't ready. Jose Mijares can be an enigma, but a left-handed enigma with really good stuff. After that, who knows? Pat Neshek. Glen Perkins. Jeff Manship. Anthony Slama. Kyle Waldrop. Alex Burnett. Rob Delaney. James Hoey. I can't imagine Ron Gardenhire being comfortable with counting on more than two, possibly three, of these guys in his bullpen. So, would the Twins have interest in bullpen arms like Hideki Okajima, Jose Veras, Octavio Dotel, Rich Harden, or one fo the many free agent bullpen arms. Could another trade bring in more bullpen help? Is it possible that Matt Guerrier or Jon Rauch or Ron Mahay could resign with the Twins? We have to assume that Jesse Crain and Brian Fuentes will not be back. There will be good bullpen arms available in January, guys whose expectations have come down and into the appropriate price range. We have seen just how important having a strong bullpen can be to a team. We have also seen that few relievers can be counted on year in and year out. Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier are two guys that have been fairly consistent the last five years. Jesse Crain has the best upside, but we have seen the good, the bad, the really, really bad, the injured and every aspect. That's likely the more normal tendency for a reliever. So, this appears to be a fairly inexact science.
- The Bench - Just to note, the current Twins bench would be Drew Butera, Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko and one more spot. Would that spot go to Jim Thome again? Maybe Jose Morales or Luke Hughes? Could the Twins bring in another bat. With the question marks in the bullpen, I have to assume the Twins will use 12 pitchers most of the year again, so there will only be four bench spots.
So there you have it. You hopefully better understand where the Twins are now, and should see that they are not in a bad position, by any means. This is a solid team. But it is a solid team with several things to take care of yet. Here is a look at the things that the Twins still need to answer during the offseason.
- What is going to happen with Carl Pavano? (and then what subsequent moves, if any, need to be made)
- When will Tsuyoshi Nishioka officially sign? (this really seems as though it's just a formality)
- Who is going to fill out the Twins bullpen? (there are several open spots right now, and there are many more questions with all of the candidates.
- Does the team bring back Jim Thome? (There are a lot of really good reasons to bring him back, but...)
- Doesn't this team need a right-handed bat on the bench who can give a day off to left-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers? (this seems pretty important to me. If healthy, maybe Luke Hughes can be that guy.)
There are my top 5. What would your top 5 be, and in what priority? The Twins have been incredibly busy throughout the Winter Meetings with a lot of things going on all at once. The whole offseason will be busy and full of difficult decisions. Whether the Twins have a budget of $70 million for payroll or $120 million for payroll, there will always be some tough choices. So, if you were Bill Smith, what would be your plan for the Twins for the rest of the offseason?
Thank you to the StarTribune.com for linking to the Winter Meetings Podcasts and Live Chats throughout the week. Seth has been hosting the show each night from Sunday through Thursday with the following guests:
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