Free agency and the trade market are both fun and tough for me to watch. On one hand, it’s exciting to see players switch uniforms, as guys that we sometimes rarely see will now be playing against the Twins more often during the season (or perhaps they’re playing with the Twins). On the other hand, it’s tough because there are so many available players that I would like to see play for the Twins, but there’s not an available roster or lineup spot for them, and/or I only want them to prevent a rival team from acquiring them (see: Adam Dunn last year).
Now that free agency is upon us, we get to see who will be leaving our team and who will join for the 2011 campaign. The following is my idea for what the Twins should do this offseason.
1. Remove SS Estarlin De Los Santos and P Anthony Swarzak, and add P David Bromberg and Kyle Waldrop, 1B Chris Parmelee, 2B Steve Singleton, and OF Joe Benson and Rene Tosoni to the 40-man roster.
I’m still a little baffled by De Los Santos’ addition to the 40-man roster last year, and him batting .171/.249/.245 with a strikeout rate in the mid-20s without much power didn’t help his cause. I went back-and-forth between removing Swarzak or Glen Perkins, so I don’t think you could go wrong with either pitcher.
All of these additions are because I believe they will help the major league squad at some point in 2011. You may notice that Kyle Gibson is missing, but I believe he’ll be added to the 40-man mid-season. These moves leave 38 players on the 40-man roster.
2. Reach arbitration agreements with P Pat Neshek ($700,000), Kevin Slowey ($2.75 million), SS J.J. Hardy ($6.25 million) OF Delmon Young ($5 million) and Jason Repko ($750,000).
Neshek barely pitched in the majors last season, and Repko’s major contributions were as a defensive-minded 4th outfielder, so both get minimal raises from 2010. Hardy is given a $1.15 million raise (from 2009 to 2010 he was given a $500,000 raise despite his terrible offensive numbers), and Young nearly doubles his salary from last year.
3. Non-tender P Clay Condrey and Matt Capps.
Condrey is arbitration-eligible, but the Twins could use someone like Pat Neshek in the same role, and Capps would be too expensive as a set-up man if he was offered arbitration (around $7 million). If you retained him, he could take over as closer in case Joe Nathan hasn’t fully recovered yet, but that doesn’t mean you need to pay your backup closer like he’s a full-time closer. This leaves the 40-man roster at 36.
4. Give P Francisco Liriano a 4-year, $36 million contract.
This would buy out the remaining two arbitration years and the first two free agent years for Liriano. Some people won’t call him an ace, but he is definitely one of the best, if not the best pitcher the Twins had last season (yes, I could argue that he was even better than Carl Pavano). There is a little risk involved, but pitchers of his caliber are often paid many millions more. I’d pay him $4 million in 2011, $7.5 million in 2012, $11 million in 2013, and $13.5 million in 2014.
5. Re-sign P Carl Pavano (3 years, $33 million) and Jesse Crain (3 years, $11 million).
Pavano combined with Liriano to form two very good pitchers atop the Twins rotation, and he’s likely looking to capitalize on his first consecutive 200-inning seasons since 2003-2004. He is a Type-A free agent, so it may be tough for him to find a new home, but he’ll probably want the security of a multi-year contract rather than signing for a 3rd consecutive one-year deal. I’d structure his deal so he is paid $9 million in 2011, $11 million in 2012, and $13 million in 2013. Bringing back Pavano would push Brian Duensing back to the bullpen to join Jose Mijares.
I know Crain would like to close, but there are a ton of actual closers on the market, so he’d have better luck if he chose to remain a setup man. His contract would pay him $3.25 million in 2011, $3.75 million in 2012, and $4 million in 2013.
6. Make IF Alexi Casilla the starting 2nd baseman
This is a bit of a risky move, as Casilla has been prone to mental lapses on the field, but he’ll be much cheaper than retaining Orlando Hudson, who doesn’t appear to be coming back anyway. If Casilla doesn’t work out, then there’s a line of Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, and Trevor Plouffe all waiting for their shot (Gardy would probably put them in that order, also).
7. Sign OF Marcus Thames to a 2-year, $4.5 million contract and DH Jim Thome to a 1-year, $4 million contract.
It’s going to be tough to say no to bringing back Jim Thome. Last season seemed like a rebirth for Thome, but we shouldn’t expect the same for 2011. He’s probably still capable of 15-20 HR and plenty of walks, so I’d be fine with re-signing him to once again be the DH.
One thing that has bothered me the past few years is that Jason Kubel has been allowed to bat against LHP despite his obvious struggles. Thames is a guy that is serviceable in the outfield, and would serve as a good platoon partner for Kubel as he earns $2 million in 2011 and $2.5 million in 2012. Unfortunately, this does make the outfield very crowded as there would now be 6 OF potentially on the 25-man roster (Young, Span, Kubel, Cuddyer, Repko, Thames) so I would fix this with…
8. Trade OF Michael Cuddyer and $5 million to anyone that will take him for anyone that is cheap.
All I want here is a salary dump and to clear up some space in the outfield. Thames is the new righthanded bat, and there isn’t as much of an obligation to play him as often as there was with Cuddyer. If you’re the GM of another team, acquiring someone like Cuddyer at his salary ($10.5 million) is too high, but $5.5 million is far more acceptable. I’d definitely try to aim high with who you could receive from the other team (maybe acquire someone that’s better and/or cheaper than what I’ve suggested here), but my main goal would be to just unload him and the last year of his contract.
9. Sign any one of P Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, J.J. Putz, or Frank Francisco to a 2-year, $7.5 million.
These guys are all very comparable to each other, and are much better than Matt Guerrier in terms of striking batters out. I’m not really sure who I would prefer, but for now I’ll lean towards Balfour. I’ll say this contract pays $3.5 million in 2010 and $4 million in 2011.
This final signing completes the 40-man roster and the 25-man roster. Below is what the new roster looks like (click to enlarge).
Obviously, the middle of the lineup has 4 lefties among 5 consecutive hitters, but that’s why I signed Thames. He could pinch-hit for Thome or Kubel, and against a LHP I would give him the start over Kubel. Again, if Casilla struggles, there will be several guys already in line to take the position away from him in Tolbert, Hughes, Plouffe, etc. The only reason I put Plouffe on the bench instead of Hughes is because I assume the Twins would want Hughes to get some playing time in the minors first to show that he has recovered from his season-ending injury last year. If Morneau gets hurt once again, it looks like Chris Parmelee could get his first shot in the majors.
In the bullpen, I would have Crain and Balfour as the set-up men to Joe Nathan. If Nathan happened to struggle as a closer, then I’d give the job to either one of these guys. Duensing and Mijares form a solid team against lefthanded hitters, and Neshek and Manship could be used in low-leverage roles. If necessary, I’d have Anthony Slama, Kyle Waldrop, Alex Burnett, or Rob Delaney on speed dial in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
In addition to these moves, I’d also sign a couple guys to minor league or low-cost contracts, such as Randy Choate, Mike Sweeney, Ty Wigginton, Jerry Hairston, Bill Hall, or Eric Hinske. Granted, I would have to make room on the 40-man and active rosters for these guys, but they all could be useful in various forms.
Overall, there isn’t much turnover between last year’s and this year’s teams. If anything, it’s from more guys leaving than from bringing in players. Like I said before, the total payroll is a little high, but it’s still fairly respectable, and this should be yet another competitive team next year. Now if they lose again to New York, we better not blame Marcus Thames for being “scared of the Yankees.”
Edit: Supposedly the Twins put in a bid for Japanese RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, which would have cost at least $10 million (Oakland won the bid with something around $15 million or higher). The fact that the Twins were willing to even include a bid suggests that payroll will rise for next year, and a $114 million payroll doesn’t sound as ridiculous now.