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.
Logic said the Washington Nationals would rekindle their efforts to acquire Twins center fielder Denard Span this offseason, after those talks stalled at the July 31 trade deadline.
The Nationals finished 80-81, and excitement is building around the nation's capital. Think of how the lineup could look with Span in the fold, once uberprospect Bryce Harper gets his inevitable big league promotion:
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Danny Espinosa, 2B (switch-hitter smacked 21 HR this year)
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Bryce Harper, LF
5. Jayson Werth, RF
6. Michael Morse, 1B (had 31 HR and 95 RBI this year)
7. Ian Desmond, SS
8. Wilson Ramos, C
9. Stephen Strasburg, P
When healthy, Span is an elite leadoff hitter, and the Twins have Ben Revere to take his place. The Nationals pushed very hard for Span in July, offering closer Drew Storen, but the teams couldn't agree on the pieces to balance out the deal.
At this week's GM meetings in Milwaukee, Adam Kilgore, the Nationals beat writer for the Washington Post, asked Terry Ryan about the possibility of trading Span or Revere. Ryan didn't sound too enthused about trading either one.
“We’re a little lean” in the outfield, Ryan told Kilgore, knowing outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are being wooed on the free-agent market. "Span is a good player. We have plans for him to be our leadoff hitter and our center fielder. He had a tough year injury-wise as well. We are in the same need as most clubs. We’re looking for a good center fielder and a leadoff hitter. He can do both. Span is important to our ballclub.”
So maybe that's where these conversations should end. But there aren't many other players who fit Washington's plan quite like Span. Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton might be available in a trade, but he's not a quintessential leadoff hitter. And it doesn't sound like the Nationals are interested in Coco Crisp or Grady Sizemore.
In Milwaukee, I asked Nationals GM Mike Rizzo about his team's center field need.
"We're settled in most of our spots and center field is one of those spots that we’d like to get a long-term answer," he said. "We’re not going to do any short-term, quick fixes because we feel that we have people in the minor leagues who could handle that situation as an everyday player, but they’re a couple years away.
"So we’re looking for an answer that fits our timeline, and the package that we’re looking for -- young enough to grow with us and become another core part of our ballclub. It would be great if he could hit leadoff."
Bottom line: Span might have the best trade value of any Twins player. Ryan knows a starting outfield that includes both Span and Revere would be long on range but short on power. He might sound reluctant to trade one, but if he gets an offer that allows him to address multiple needs, he might have to reconsider. I wouldn't rule out a Span-to-Washington deal just yet.
MILWAUKEE -- I hesitate to make too much of this because it's common for teams to call agents at this time of year, but the Twins have made contact with Matt Sosnick, the agent for Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham, expressing interest in both players.
No offers were made. Doumit and Willingham probably won't sign anywhere until the winter meetings in early December, and much of the Twins' plans hinge on whether they re-sign Michael Cuddyer.
But if Cuddyer signs elsewhere, Doumit and Willingham -- not to mention Jason Kubel -- are among the players the Twins might pursue aggressively.
Willingham, 32, batted .246/.332/.477 with 29 home runs and 98 RBI last season for the Athletics. He played most of his 136 games in left field and is a righthanded hitter who would fit in well alongside Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
I continued checking on Doumit, 30, after writing today's earlier post. He's not the perfect option as a backup for Joe Mauer because Doumit is a sub-par defensive catcher, a bit like Jose Morales, with a good arm but suspect receiving skills. The Twins are interested because of Doumit's bat.
The switch-hitter batted .303/.353/.477 in 77 games for the Pirates last season. With Morales, the Twins were always frustrated that they couldn't move him to another position. Doumit has made 32 career starts at first base and 54 career starts in right field.
Now that Jim Thome has signed with the Philadelphia, the Twins figure to have more flexibility on their bench. If they signed Doumit, they might keep three catchers on the roster, keeping Drew Butera for his defense.
But if something should happen to Mauer, where they need someone else to catch 50 or more games, they could turn things over to Doumit. The defense might suffer, but he should be able to make up for it at the plate.
Again, the talks were very preliminary, but a lot of readers have been asking. Yes, the Twins definitely have Doumit and Willingham on their prospective signing list.
MILWAUKEE -- With the Twins searching for a backup catcher, I wrote in this story about two options from the free agent market -- Jason Varitek and Pudge Rodriguez.
Obviously, those aren’t the only two choices the Twins have. Aaron Gleeman highlighted several options here, including Ryan Doumit, who batted .303/.353/.477 last season for Pittsburgh. Besides catcher, Doumit has played first base and right field, which would seem to make him an even better fit for the Twins, considering the questions they uncertainty they currently have at all three positions.
But the Twins put a lot of value on defense at catcher, which is why Drew Butera continued to get chances despite his struggles at the plate. The pitchers love throwing to Butera, and that adds to his value. Doumit is not a good defensive catcher, so perhaps that’s why we haven’t heard more about the Twins being interested.
One name we heard late in the season was Miguel Olivo, who batted .224/.253/.388 with 19 homers in 130 games for the Mariners. But from what I’ve gathered, the Mariners aren’t eager to trade Olivo, who has one year and an option remaining on his contract. That could change if the Mariners acquired another catcher, but for now they have no obvious in-house replacement.
Another option fell off the board for the Twins last week when the Pirates signed Rod Barajas to a one-year, $4 million deal with an option for 2013.
Eventually, the Twins might wind up turning to Varitek or Rodriguez, two former All-Stars who have shifted into backup roles late in their careers.
MILWAUKEE -- Some quick Twins items to pass along while you're watching Monday Night Football:
A large group of Japanese reporters was waiting to interview Terry Ryan after he arrived at the Pfister Hotel in advance of the GM meetings. They wanted to know what Jamey Carroll’s signing will mean for infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Ryan said the Twins will “wipe the slate clean” with Nishioka, giving him a fresh start and a chance to win a starting job in spring training.
* Michael Cuddyer has been to Philadelphia to tour Citizens Bank Park and meet with manager Charlie Manuel, and the Red Sox have reportedly expressed interest in signing Cuddyer, too. But the word from Cuddyer’s camp is that no team is out of the running, including the Twins.
* Ryan said Justin Morneau should be ready to resume baseball activities in late December and expects him to be ready for the start of spring training. Morneau didn’t return after suffering a concussion Aug. 28, and also had surgery on his left wrist at season’s end, requiring six weeks in a cast.
MILWAUKEE -- Terry Ryan made a point of calling several Twins players after moving back into the GM role last week, and one of those phone calls went to free agent reliever Matt Capps.
"[Ryan] called me and expressed interest in Matt coming back," Capps' agent Paul Kinzer told a group of reporters today, on the eve of the GM meetings. "[Capps is] such a presence in the clubhouse and a good teammate, and the Twins really valued him."
The Twins also have interest in re-signing Joe Nathan, but there's a belief that they could turn their attention to Capps if the price for Nathan proves too high. Nathan turns 37 on Nov. 22; Capps is 28.
Capps went 4-7 with a 4.25 ERA in 69 appearances last season after signing a one-year, $7.15 million contract. Nathan replaced him as the team's closer in mid-July. But the Twins appreciated the way Capps kept taking the ball, even when he was dealing with some right wrist tendinitis.
He ended the year as a set-up man, but he's only one year removed from being an All-Star closer.
"I think he's going to be closing somewhere," Kinzer said. "I'll put it that way."
MILWAUKEE -- I'm at the Pfister Hotel for baseball's annual GM meetings. I'll check in here from time-to-time with updates.
It's quiet here so far, as Terry Ryan and most GMs aren't expected to arrive until this afternoon. Scott Boras and his assistants passed through the lobby this morning, and I did pick up one tidbit. Boras is advising Arizona State shortstop Devin Marrero, the multi-talented junior who has been projected to go in the Top 5 of next June's draft.
The Twins hold the No. 2 pick, of course, so you had to figure they'd run into a few potential Boras clients. He represents Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who commanded mega deals after the Nationals made them the No. 1 picks, respectively, in the 2009 and 2010 drafts.
Boras represents Prince Fielder, Ryan Madson, Edwin Jackson and Carlos Pena from this year's free agent class. I don't see the Twins matching up with them, but here's a name to keep in mind: Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez. He turns 40 in November and batted just .218/.281/.323 in 44 games for Washington this year, but the Twins probably could get him as a low-cost backup for Joe Mauer.
If you haven't yet, be sure to order your copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. It's 136 pages filled with information that guides you through all the big decisions Ryan is facing as he looks to retool a team coming off a 99-loss season. The e-book costs $9.99, but if you enter the promo code "JOEC," the price drops to $5.99. (Promise, I'm not getting a cut. I just think the great work Seth Stohs, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman and Nick Nelson do should go rewarded.)
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