The Twins have a LOT of money to spend this offseason:
- Add up all the Twins likely salaries, including arbitration award increases, and it adds up to about $50 million. (For details, see the 2008 GM Cheat Sheet part one and two)
- The Twins payroll this year was about $73 million heading into the season, and about $70 million after losing Luis Castillo, Jeff Cirillo and Ramon Ortiz. That’s about $10 million more than they spent in 2006.
Now, that money doesn’t include money the Twins might need to pony up if they want to re-sign Torii Hunter, but the sticking point on Hunter has never been the amount of money he would be paid next year. The question is whether the Twins want to guarantee him an enormous chunk of ching when he’s turning 37 in 2012 (which other teams will undoubtedly do).
But even if they don’t re-sign Hunter, that still leaves an enormous amount of money for this franchise, more than they had in any single year that Terry Ryan oversaw the franchise. The erroneous criticism of Ryan was that he didn’t like to spend money on free agents. Whether he liked to or not, there’s certainly no evidence he ever had any to spend.
(Personally, I can hardly wait to see the media reaction if Smith does make a big free agent splash. Will columnists speculate that Jim Pohlad is more willing to spend than his father? Will radio hosts suggest that Smith is better at persuading the Pohlads to spend than Ryan was? Will radio callers wonder if Ryan was the obstacle to spending money all along?)
So are there any particularly good fits on the free agent market for the Twins? Strangely, the easiest hole to fill might be the one left by Hunter:
Center Field – If the Twins don’t re-sign Hunter, they can take comfort that there are a fair number of replacements. Brave Andruw Jones is the biggest name, but he’s had a terrible year. Odds are, he would be willing to sign a one-year deal to increase his value again. Padre Mike Cameron is on the down slope of his career, but would be a capable and more affordable option. Phillie Aaron Rowand has a combination of defense, offense and youth that is going to earn him a bigger contract than anyone expects. In fact, he might be as desirable in the market as Hunter. Finally, Indian Kenny Lofton would be a nice short-term solution to replace Hunter in the field and Luis Castillo at the top of the order.
Third Base – The position that Twins fans mention the most (and the one that has hurt the Twins this year the most) will also be the hardest to fill this offseason. The big name is Yankee Alex Rodriguez, but the Twins aren’t going to be getting him, no matter how much money they have. Red Sox Mike Lowell is more likely, but he’s 33 and will be looking for a long-term deal, ala Hunter. Beyond those two, the only real improvement over someone like Brian Buscher would be Mike Lamb, but can he hit left-handers?
Designated Hitter/Left Field – If you’re dreaming of adding a big bat, you would think this would be the best place to start. Umm, maybe not. The Reds have a $13M option on 28-year-old Adam Dunn that I’m guessing they’ll pick up, but if not, he’ll be at the top of the list. (I also wouldn’t rule out a trade between the Twins and Reds for him). Beyond Dunn, you have to start checking expiration dates, because some of these guys are likely starting to curdle: Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Bobby Abreu.
As one looks at the names available, it’s a little ironic (and depressing) that the free agent market is so thin at exactly the time that the Twins have money to spend. But it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Twins do, indeed have money to spend. Fans recognize that this is a critical offseason for this franchise. We should start expecting it to be a rewarding one, too.