Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
The Reds have definite interest in center fielder Denard Span, a Twins official confirmed today, while hinting strongly that Span won't be going anywhere before today's 3 p.m., non-waiver trade deadline.
"They are one of many who like him, but so do we!!!" the Twins official texted. "No pressure to trade. Very valuable in a lot of ways!"
Scott Miller, of CBSSportsline.com, reported earlier that a source thought the Reds had a 50-50 chance of trading for Span. It's worth noting, however, that the Reds are thin on pitching prospects, which is something the Twins would almost surely require in a deal for Span, who is under contract through 2014.
Eleven days from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, Francisco Liriano and Denard Span remain the Twins most likely trade candidates. Josh Willingham is on that list, too, but he’s under contract through 2014 at $7 million per, and as soon as the Twins moved him, they’d be hunting for another righthanded power hitter.
As for Justin Morneau -- even with the recent injuries to Joey Votto, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz -- I just don't see it. Here's a piece about Morneau's trade value from earlier this month.
If the Twins traded Span, they could move Ben Revere to center and promote Chris Parmelee from Class AAA Rochester to play right field. Aaron Hicks, their 2008 first-round draft pick, is another center fielder who looks like he’s turned a corner at Class AA New Britain.
The Twins had deep discussions with the Nationals about Span last July but wound up keeping him. The leadoff man is batting .282 with a .348 on-base percentage and nine stolen bases. From the No. 2 spot, Revere is batting .313 with a .342 OBP and 20 stolen bases.
The Reds, Nationals and Orioles are all teams looking for a leadoff hitter who gets on base. The Yankees could look to Span to play left field, with Brett Gardner likely done for the season.
Span, 28, is playoff tested and making just $3 million this year. He’ll make $4.75 million next year, $6.5 million in 2014 and has a $9 million option for 2015 with a $500,000 buyout.
Liriano, 28, is a pending free agent, making $5.5 million. His next start is scheduled for Monday in Chicago.
Scouting the scouts
Vern Followell, the Twins pro scouting coordinator, was at Fenway Park this week for Red Sox/White Sox.
Teams with scouts at Target Field on Wednesday for Liriano's outing included: the Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Pirates. The Mets and Reds had scouts here this week and were probably there Wednesday, too. (The Marlins and Padres were also here, but I don’t think they’re looking for the same things. There have been Blue Jays scouts crawling around all season, but they are everywhere.)
For what it’s worth, I was told that scouts for the Angels and Yankees both got up and left Wednesday’s game after Liriano exited after six innings and 10 strikeouts. So let your imaginations run wild.
Braves scout Jim Fregosi was here for two Liriano starts on the previous homestand, but at the time, there were indications Atlanta didn’t view Liriano as enough of an upgrade. It’s possible that has changed. As Ken Rosenthal notes today on FoxSports.com, the starting pitching market appears to be shifting, with the possibility of Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke getting moved shrinking. The Twins could benefit from this.
Liriano's future uncertain
Here’s what we know: Liriano went 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA in his first six starts and got demoted to the bullpen. Since returning to the rotation on May 30, the lefty is 3-4 with a 2.84 ERA in 10 starts, a stretch that includes 77 K, 28 BB in 63.1 IP. Liriano has 25 strikeouts in his past two starts, but gave up a big home run in each, and lost 4-3 to the A’s and 2-1 to the O’s.
It’s possible the Twins won’t get an offer they like and will keep Liriano, offering him a one-year, $12.5 million deal in hopes of getting a compensation pick if he leaves. We've been told he's looking for a three-year deal and that the team has yet to approach him about a contract extension.
Asked Thursday if Liriano's trade value is going up, Twins GM Terry Ryan said, “You know I’m not going to get into that. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, don’t you think? There are certain people that are going to like [Liriano], certain people that aren’t going to like [him], and certain people that will be right in the middle. So, you don’t need me to respond to that. You’ve already got your answer. You’re watching the same thing I am."
Programming note: La Velle has our coverage from Kansas City, so check his blog later for tonight's starting lineups.
There is growing hope within the Twins organization that they might be able to re-sign Michael Cuddyer, despite already signing free agent outfielder Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million deal.
"I would not rule out anything at this point, including Cuddyer," one Twins official said this morning in a text message.
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan has kept an open dialogue going with Cuddyer's agent, Casey Close. To my knowledge, the Twins still haven't pulled their three-year, $24 million offer off the table.
With Willingham in the fold -- and no Cuddyer or Jason Kubel -- the Twins projected Opening Day payroll is about $96 million, and Ryan has said he doesn't want to spend more than $100 million. But Ryan also has made it known that he'd be willing to talk to ownership about going beyond $100 million under the right circumstances.
Well, picture this lineup:
1. CF -- Denard Span (bats L)
2. SS -- Jamey Carroll (R)
3. C -- Joe Mauer (L)
4. LF -- Josh Willingham (R)
5. 1B -- Justin Morneau (L)
6. RF -- Michael Cuddyer (R)
7. DH -- Ryan Doumit (S)
8. 3B -- Danny Valencia (R)
9. 2B -- Alexi Casilla (S)
Now that looks like an American League lineup.
The Twins would miss Ben Revere's range in left field, but Cuddyer's bat certainly makes up for it. The question is, would Cuddyer be willing to come back to Minnesota at a price that might be less than he hoped?
The Twins also have drawn a line with their offer to Cuddyer, insisting this is as far as they want to go. If another team is willing to sign him to a three-year, $30 million deal, maybe he'll move on, but so far, there have been no rumors that such an offer is out there.
The Rockies and Mariners have been mentioned as teams hoping to land Cuddyer this week. At one point, the Phillies were being aggressive, but it doesn't sound like they made anything close to a three-year, $30 million offer. The Red Sox have not pursued Cuddyer to the extent some people thought they would.
Cuddyer's camp has been extremely quiet all week. Close has ignored repeated interview requests throughout the process.
This could get interesting again. Stay tuned.
The Twins have made a three-year, $24 million offer to Michael Cuddyer, but they can't wait forever.
One of their top alternatives if Cuddyer signs elsewhere is Josh Willingham, and Willingham's agent, Matt Sosnick, told The Star Tribune today that his client is nearing a decision.
"Josh has three viable options," Sosnick said. "He and his wife, Ginger, are going to make a decision in the next 48 hours. It may come as early as today."
Sosnick said one of those options is the Twins but declined to name the other teams. The Rockies and Indians are two teams that have been linked to Willingham and Cuddyer this offseason.
Willingham, 32, batted .246 with 29 homers and 98 RBI for Oakland last season. He's a righthanded hitter who would fit the Twins' lineup much like Cuddyer, who turns 33 in March. Last season, Willingham had an .810 OPS, and Cuddyer's was .805.
Could speed Cuddyer's timetable
Earlier today, a person close to Cuddyer said that Cuddyer would make his decision in the next three or four days. This news with Willingham could speed up that timetable.
Also, Twins officials have described their latest overture to Cuddyer as a final offer without specifically using those words, suggesting this is as far as they're willing to go.
There have some reports that it's a three-year, $25 million offer, which could suggest that there's a 2015 option with a $1 million buyout. But Last week, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Star Tribune it was a three-year, $24 million offer.
Twins officials have repeatedly said that Jason Kubel is high on their list, too, even though he's a lefthanded hitter and the lineup currently leans heavily to the left. Plan A for the Twins is Cuddyer, but Willingham and Kubel, in some order, are Plans B and C.
The Twins will only sign one of the three. Keep in mind, they would gain two draft picks -- a first rounder and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds -- if Cuddyer signs elsewhere.
Comparing Willingham and Cuddyer
The Twins have very good scouting reports on Willingham. His power is evident from his numbers, but they also like his make-up and work ethic, viewing him as a consummate professional. His strikeout rate was a career-high 26.6 percent last season, but the Twins believe that was because Oakland looked to him as their primary home run threat.
Though he played shortstop in college, Willingham has played left field almost exclusively in the majors. Still, Sosnick said Willingham would have no problem moving to right field.
Willingham does not throw as well as Cuddyer and isn't as versatile defensively. Neither has tremendous range, but with Denard Span in center field and Ben Revere penciled in left, the Twins primary need for right field is finding a run-producing bat.
The Jim Hoey era has come to an end for the Twins.
Toronto claimed Hoey on waivers, Twins GM Terry Ryan said today in an interview on 1500ESPN. Hoey, 28, one of two pitchers the Twins received from Baltimore for shortstop J.J. Hardy last year went 1-2 with a 5.47 ERA in 26 appearances for the Twins.
The hard-throwing righthander had 14 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 2/3 innings.
On his Twitter account (@JHoey5), the reliever said, "I enjoyed everything Minnesota had to offer but it's time to be Canadian! At least I don't have to give up those bombs to Bautista."
This opens a spot on the 40-man roster for the Twins, leaving a spot to sign a right fielder. Ken Rosenthal, of FoxSports.com, has tweeted that the Rockies are making an "aggressive" push to sign Cuddyer.
If the Twins re-sign Michael Cuddyer, that will push their 2012 payroll commitments very close to the $100 million target that GM Terry Ryan announced after replacing Bill Smith three weeks ago.
Cuddyer made $10.5 million last year, and looking at the Twins projected 25-man Opening Day roster -- using all in-house candidates, excluding Cuddyer and the other free agents -- their projected payroll is $87.7 million.
We do this exercise from time to time because it's a good reminder how the roster is shaping up. As I've written, the Twins have sent mixed messages about their payroll budget, and I still believe it could land in the $110 million range when all is said and done.
We're getting indications that the Twins still hope to re-sign Cuddyer or Kubel, and Matt Capps remains the favorite to land the closing job. Also, there are continued indications that Kevin Slowey will be traded or non-tendered rather than paid about $2.8 million through arbitration. So the Twins could retain Cuddyer-or-Kubel and Capps and still land close to the $100 million mark.
But how much more will they spend? Will they add other relievers or a starting pitcher? I wouldn't expect much.
As I wrote in today's bullpen analysis, Brian Duensing likely is heading back to a relief role, so yes, the Twins will need a fifth starter. They'll search for bargains on the free agent market -- Chris Capuano and Rich Harden are among the names to watch -- and open a competition for in-house starting candidates including Anthony Swarzak, Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond and Matt Maloney.
Of course, Ryan might have a trade up his sleeve, too, so the roster can certainly change. But with the winter meetings starting next Monday, let's remind ourselves how it looks right now. If nothing else, It's interesting to see how the lineup could look with Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit in the fold.
Note: the new CBA raises the major league minimum salary to $480,000. To simply things, all players below with between 0-3 years of big league experience are listed at $520,000, as some will fall slightly above that mark and others will fall slightly below. We've also done arbitration estimates for Alexi Casilla, Francisco Liriano and the others, indicated below with an asterisk.
1. CF -- Denard Span: $3,000,000
2. SS -- Jamey Carroll: $2,750,000
3. C -- Joe Mauer: $23,000,000
4. 1B -- Justin Morneau: $15,000,000
5. 3B -- Danny Valencia: $520,000
6. DH -- Ryan Doumit: $3,000,000
7. RF -- Trevor Plouffe/Rene Tosoni: $520,000
8. 2B -- Alexi Casilla: *$1,500,000
9. LF -- Ben Revere: $520,000
Total (9 starters): $49,810,000
1. RH -- Carl Pavano: $8,500,000
2. RH -- Scott Baker: $6,500,000
3. LH -- Francisco Liriano: *$5,800,000
4. RH -- Nick Blackburn: $4,750,000
5. RH -- Kevin Slowey: *$2,800,000
Total (5 starters): $28,350,000
LH -- Glen Perkins: *$1,700,000
LH -- Brian Duensing: $520,000
RH -- Alex Burnett: $520,000
RH -- Lester Oliveros: $520,000
LH -- Jose Mijares: *$700,000
RH -- Esmerling Vasquez: $520,000
RH -- Jeff Gray: $520,000
Total (7 relievers): $5,000,000
SS -- Tsuyoshi Nishioka: $3,000,000
OF -- Plouffe/Tosoni: $520,000
INF -- Luke Hughes: $520,000
C -- Drew Butera: $520,000
Total (4 bench players): $4,560,000
25-MAN ESTIMATE: $87,720,000
With 2011 salaries
RF/1B -- Michael Cuddyer: $10,500,000
OF/DH -- Jason Kubel: $5,025,000
RH -- Matt Capps: $7,150,000
Each would make about $520,000
1B -- Chris Parmelee
OF -- Joe Benson
INF -- Brian Dozier
*C -- Chris Herrmann
RHP Anthony Swarzak
LHP Scott Diamond
RHP Liam Hendriks
LHP Matt Maloney
RHP Kyle Waldrop
RHP Jeff Manship
RHP Jim Hoey
RHP Carlos Gutierrez
*RHP Jason Bulger
*LHP Phil Dumatrait
* -- Non-roster player
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