Despite the acknowledgement of Twins officials that the club has plenty of financial flexibility this offseason, many fans have understandably been reluctant to believe that truly aggressive measures are in the offing. A lack of early activity has only served to magnify that skepticism, but as we've often noted, this isn't at all unusual in the weeks prior to the Winter Meetings, especially in a shifting marketplace.
While we haven't seen any bold moves yet, there have been plenty of signs that the Twins are quite serious about taking uncharacteristically splashy steps in order to improve the club.
Through the rumor mill, we have seen the team connected to numerous starting pitchers that rank noticeably higher than the usual low-end targets. In a column for 1500 ESPN this week, Darren Wolfson suggested that based on what he's hearing, Ricky Nolasco is currently atop Terry Ryan's wish list, with Bronson Arroyo right behind him.
Neither Nolasco nor Arroyo could be considered one of the true top-tier free agents in this class, but they're both legitimate proven pitchers and they're both coming off very good seasons. Last year the Twins landed Kevin Correia, who was coming off a season in which he got booted from the Pirates rotation, and Mike Pelfrey, who was coming off Tommy John surgery. Needless to say, landing a pitcher or two whose stock is actually up would represent a stark change, and would leave much less room for criticism.
That the Twins are seemingly far more interested in wading into the deeper end of the free agent pitcher pool than they have been in the past isn't really surprising considering their continually horrendous results on the mound, but the rumors that continue to linger on the catching front are a bit more noteworthy.
The Twins have historically been far more apt to utilize free agency to acquire stopgaps and short-term plugs than impact players and long-term solutions, and in the case of the catcher position, that would really be perfectly understandable this time around. Joe Mauer's position swap does open up a hole at the position, but Josmil Pinto provides a not-too-distant potential internal replacement and Ryan Doumit is still presently in the mix.
Nevertheless, the whispers concerning Minnesota's interest in Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- who stands out as the top remaining catcher on the market after Brian McCann signed with the Yankees -- just won't die. Coming off a season in which he posted a career-high .804 OPS at age 28, Salty has the looks of a difference-maker, not a placeholder. The Twins have also been linked to Dioner Navarro, who won't be quite as pricey but is similarly coming off a career year and under the age of 30.
There are plenty of serviceable veterans available in free agency, and I fully expected Ryan to focus on acquiring one such player as a temporary fix behind the plate while keeping his attention largely trained on pitching, but the idea that he's actually motivated to bring in a catcher who can upgrade the lineup is both surprising and encouraging.
Of course, in the past we have often seen the Twins rumored to have interest in high-profile players early in the free agency period, only to scoff at high price tags and end up with uninspiring acquisitions. Heck, we saw it last year.
This has a different feel, though. Never before have the available funds been this copious, and never before has the owner been so vocal in his desire to see money spent on making meaningful improvements. In a recent interview with Adam Platt of Twin Cities Business Magazine, Jim Pohlad made the following comments, which echo some other things we've heard from him over the past few months:
"We have a lot of prospects, but most aren’t quite ready. We don’t have a lot of trading inventory. We have to go into the marketplace. Terry knows that. I’m not encouraging him to wait."
Empty rhetoric? Perhaps. It wouldn't be the first time. But there are numerous signals indicating that this organization is feeling a far greater sense of urgency than is typical, and that provides some real reason for hope. Around this time of year, that's something for which to be thankful.