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Are They Done?

The Twins got started making off season moves early this year, swapping Carlos Gomez for JJ Hardy. Aside from that, the most significant moves they have made are actually non-moves. For instance, not offering Orlando Cabrera, Mike Redmond and Ron Mahay arbitration. They have lost the likes of Juan Morillo and Bobby Keppel to Japan, and they've brought in Clay Condrey to replace Keppel on the 40-man roster. Early indications are that Condrey will be given a legitimate chance to join an already crowded bullpen. Aside from maybe the final spot, the bullpen appears set. The same is true with the rotation. The outfield appears set with three starters returning from last year and Kubel providing an emergency option, though he's slotted for DH. It's clear the biggest areas of concern should be in the infield and potentially adding depth to the rotation. Justin Morneau is entrenched at first base and with the Gomez trade, Hardy seems a lock to be the starting shortstop. Second and third base are viewed publicly, as they should be, as holes in need of addressing prior to spring training. Are they done adding to the roster? Or does the front office have a sense of malcontentedness regarding in house options?

Here is the way I see the defensive lineup using the current roster as a platform:
C- Mauer
1B- Morneau
2B- x_available
SS- Hardy
3B- x_available
LF- Young
CF- Span
RF- Cuddyer
DH- Kubel

Rotation:
Pavano
Baker
Slowey
Blackburn
z_fifth spot

Bullpen:
Nathan- CL
Guerrier- SU
Rauch
Mijares- L
Crain
Condrey
Neshek

A 12-man pitching staff leaves room for four bench players. One must be a catcher for obvious reasons- Mauer will not catch 162 games. My guess is that they will keep two utility infielders around with the possibility of adding a fifth outfielder to provide depth. Which leaves you with a bench looking something like this:
C- Morales
INF- Harris
INF- Tolbert
OF- Pridie

z- Players believed to be in competition for the fifth spot in the rotation are Liriano/Duensing/Perkins/Swarzak/Manship. Probably one will make the club with the rest providing depth in Rochester or dangled as possible trade bait. This may get some fans excited but league officials don't seem to place very much value on any one of these guys. Injuries will occur throughout the course of a season, as will slumps, so you could see a lot of these guys at least once by September.

x- the two available spots on defense are second and third base. The Twins current organizational solutions at these positions are rather thin. Danny Valencia was the starting third basemen for the Rochester Red Wings last year, but there are questions as to his major league readiness. Alexi Casilla struggled last year in 80 games with the Twins hitting .202/.280/.259 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in 228 at bats. Additionally, Luke Hughes, Trevor Plouffe and Steve Tolleson are upper level prospects at infield positions but seem at least a year away from being capable of contributing to the Twins. With Nick Punto signed through next year at four million dollars, it's hard to envision him being a used as a utility infielder off the bench. I believe Punto will occupy on of these spots and the Twins will look to upgrade the other from outside the organization.

The options still available on the free agent market that should interest the Twins at second base are the 32 year old Orlando Hudson and the 30 year old Felipe Lopez. Both are switch-hitters, both are relatively young in comparison to guys like Placido Polanco and both should be reasonably priced this off-season as neither drew much interest at the trade deadline last July. Hudson is a Type A free agent while Lopez is a type B. If either player were offered arbitration, the Twins would be forced to give up draft picks to each player's former team (the top pick and a supplemental pick for Type A and just the supplemental round pick for Type B). However, neither player was offered arbitration and thus can be signed with no cost to the Twins beyond the player's salary. Signing either of these players would mean Punto would slide to third base where his solid glove combined with offense that is well below the league average for the position.


Another option would be to have Punto play second base where he also plays quality defense and where his offense is less of a positional detriment because second basemen across the league hit significantly less than third basemen across the league. The third basemen that have been mentioned in the same breath as the Twins this off-season and are still available through free agency or believed to be available via trades are Joe Crede, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Mike Lowell. Mora and Tejada have hit a decline in their respective careers as age continues to bring with it a regression of their skills. Joe Crede's back problems have been well documented in the last three years but could most likely be had for a similar one year, incentive-laden deal that he was given prior spring training last year. Mike Lowell is under contract next year for the Boston Red Sox for 12 million but the recent signing of Adrian Beltre and the presence of Kevin Youkilis in Boston might spell a massive decrease in playing time for the veteran. He had an .811 OPS last year and hit 17 HRs. It is clear that the Red Sox are willing to part with Lowell because they had previously agreed to a deal with the Texas Rangers that would send Lowell and about nine million in cash to the Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez. The deal fell through when Lowell failed a physical when his specialist said that he would require thumb surgery prior to competing in the 2010 season. Popular opinion is that the Red Sox remain willing to part with Lowell and would be willing to chip in some cash to help pay his 2010 salary.

Both Lowell and Crede are aging and like other aging players, could be reaching a decline or may simply fall apart during the season. However, the Twins' situation is interesting because they feel Danny Valencia will be ready next year if not sooner. Therefore, the Twins will not feel any pressure to sign either player to longer than a one year deal. If they're looking for a bat, Lowell is the obvious choice. If they're looking to solidify infield defense and don't mind taking a slight ribbing from fans that grew tired last year of Crede's aches and pains, then Joe would be my choice.

According to Joe Christensen of Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Twins payroll is nearing 90 million after projected raises to arbitration eligible players. I would venture to guess that even with revenues projected to increase thanks in large part to a move into Target Field, the Twins will still not be willing to approach the $100 million threshold. This is significant because any free agent or trade avenues that the Twins wish to pursue must be relatively inexpensive, something that is not news to long time Twins fans.

I've already layed out what I believe the starting rotation, bullpen and defensive arrangement come spring training. Here is my preference for batting order:

Span
Mauer
Morneau
Cuddyer
Kubel
Hardy
Crede
Young
Punto

OR

Span
Mauer
Morneau
Lowell
Kubel
Cuddyer
Hardy
Young
Punto

Like I said, if you're looking for defense, it's hard to match a healthy Crede. That infield allignment [Morneau, Punto, Hardy and Crede] assuming his health, would be stellar defensively and would greatly benefit ground ball heavy pitchers like Nick Blackburn.

That's all for now, stay tuned as I attempt to keep my finger on the pulse of the Twins' braintrust and follow their off-season moves. Only time will tell if, and how, they plan to bolster the roster for the opening of Target Field in 2010. May the Hot Stove keep you warm during this Minnesota winter.

2 comments:

  1. Apologies for the negligence; the previous post was written by Derek Wetmore of "Wet Socks" and can be found at http://dwetsocks.blogspot.com.

    ReplyDelete
  2. my line up...
    span cf
    hudson 2b
    mauer c
    morneau 1b
    cuddyer rf
    kubel dh
    young lf
    hardy ss
    punto 3b

    ReplyDelete