The free agent market opened for MLB players on Tuesday, and the Twins’ new management team is expected to at least talk to a few prospective additions. And while catcher, shortstop and pitching pitching pitching is their primary need, expect Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to consider another factor they consider important: Experience.
“It’s a tall task to ask the manager to do that job and also motivate every single player in the clubhouse,” Levine said of the need for players who understand the need for a positive atmosphere. “If you have some clubhouse ambassadors who are veteran leaders, you’re a step up on most teams.”
Falvey joined the Twins from Cleveland, where Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis (and later in the year, Coco Crisp) set the tone, while Levine comes from the Rangers, who have placed an emphasis on leadership for several years. Both testified to the need for such players on Monday, saying that while young athleticism is the most important factor in winning, employing a player or two to set an example can be important.
“Those guys helped transform the franchise” in Texas, Levine said. The Rangers reached the World Series in 2010 and 2011, and “the energy of our team was the young group of players who were in their prime, exceptionally talented. And we always married them with the right veterans who could get the most out of those players.”
Texas had more than most, Levine said, “and some of them were really extraordinary. Michael Young was where it started, but Colby Lewis was exceptional, Adrian Beltre was exceptional. Darren Oliver, Joe Nathan — we had leaders up and down the lineup and pitching staff.”
This year’s free agent class is full of veterans, of course, and some are nearing the end of their value on the field, so executives have to pick their spots to add veterans. The White Sox tried it with Jimmy Rollins last year, for instance, and discovered the 37-year-old former MVP wasn’t a big-league shortstop anymore. Beware the Carlos Beltrans and Matt Hollidays of this market, in other words. It remains to be seen whether Justin Morneau, a longtime Twins clubhouse presence whose last couple of seasons have been marred by injuries, is in this class as well at 35 years old.
But there are plenty of other viable options, albeit among limited players. The Twins’ logjam at first base, with Joe Mauer, Byung Ho Park and potentially Miguel Sano, Trevor Plouffe or Kennys Vargas, makes many of them an iffy fit. Colby Lewis, Josh Reddick, Kendrys Morales and Matt Weiters are all on the market at various prices.
The point is, don’t be surprised if the Twins sign someone with more than on-field production in mind.
The Twins were the second-youngest team in the American League last season, and manager Paul Molitor occasionally lamented the impact that Torii Hunter’s retirement had on his clubhouse. Levine said he understands that concern, and agrees with it. He and Falvey plan to address it.
“That’s a real investment this organization can make, wherever you can find it,” Levine said. “It can make a meaningful difference.”