– Casey Kasem, American Top 40
Shaggy’s sage advice is easier said than done, but the Minnesota Twins this year are going to need to do both. On the one hand, they face a payroll situation that likely means disassembling the team they have, let alone adding players. On the other, they have a fan base (not to mention people in their own organization) that expects significant upgrades to overcome their futility in the playoffs.
The reality probably is that they can’t do both, and maybe shouldn’t take the risks that come with trying to do both. The AL Central is going to be less, not more, competitive next year. The White Sox and Tigers are retooling and the Royals and Indians are at least another year away. Also, the Twins payroll situation loosens up to the tune of $23M in 2012 when Michael Cuddyer’s and Joe Nathan’s contracts come off the books.
So the sage thing to do is probably stay the course for one year, and that’s what I expect the Twins will do. I think they’ll offer arbitration to Carl Pavano, who I think will accept it. They’ll negotiate a multi-year deal with Matt Capps that will keep them from overpaying him in arbitration. They’ll re-sign or bring in some cheaper relievers and a veteran right-handed bench bat like Fernando Tatis. They might trade one of their young starters (Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey or Brian Duensing) for a decent, affordable, middle infielder. And, of course, they’ll re-sign Nick Punto as a utility player or maybe shortstop.
They will wave goodbye to Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, Brian Fuentes, Jesse Crain and (sigh) Jim Thome. They will also wave goodbye to a considerable amount of good will that was generated by the first year in Target Field. But that good will should return when they once again win the AL Central – and hope they don’t face the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. This is a sage, risk-adverse, and probably successful strategy.
I, however, am not sage.
I also don’t need to be risk-adverse, since I’m just (virtually) flapping my gums. And I really, really, REALLY dislike the Yankees. Really. So I’m going to go in another direction.
The Yankees faults are well documented. To beat them a team needs left-handed pitching, preferably powerful. It needs big right-handed bats, especially if they add Cliff Lee to their pitching arsenal. It helps to be patient, since it allows a team to antagonize a fairly thin bullpen. And a team would love to have some speed.
This free agent market has some opportunities. The first baseman market is chock full of talent. There are a lot of relievers who are attractive. There are quite a few sluggers with bad gloves. And even the starting pitcher market has several workhorses.
We’re going to try and take advantage of those and acquire a couple of pieces to make beating the Yankees a reality and make my fan base (and clubhouse) happy. And we’re going to try and keep the tab under $18 million ($110 million total), so it keeps my bosses happy.
1. Sign LHP Jorge de la Rosa to a 4 year/$44M contract. Don’t offer Carl Pavano arbitration. Trade away Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey.
It’s unusual to have such a good fit as de la Rosa on the free agent market, so I’m paying up and taking on the risk of a four-year contract. He’s young, he can strike guys out and he’s left-handed. He’s also a little wild, but I’ll trust Rick Anderson to help him with that. (I’m trusting Rick Anderson to help with a lot of stuff, you’ll soon see.)
Affording de la Rosa means bidding Pavano adieu. I disagree with the rest of the TwinsCentric crew on offering Pavano arbitration. I don’t think that I could offer him arbitration because he might take it rather than face the market with that Type A loadstone tied around his neck. If he accepts it, I’m already over my whole budget, and I have more to buy.
That gives me six starting pitchers, which I would normally love, but I need to unload some salary. So I need to trade away Baker(-$5M), Blackburn(-$3M) or Slowey(-$3). I don’t really care which one, so long as I get back some speed, preferably from a middle infield spot. (Is Oakland SS Cliff Pennington available?)
(BTW, I don’t rule out trading away Brian Duensing instead. It doesn’t save me any money, but for the right return, I figure something else out. He might really be overvalued by other teams right now given he early success, and he’s left-handed.)
2. Sign Derrek Lee to a 2 year/$14M contract.
There’s my right-handed bat and my insurance policy if Morneau doesn’t come back, since Lee is an exceptional glove man. He wasn’t good last year, but he’s only 35 and I’m hoping that was a fluke. It raises the sticky question of which guy is the first baseman if Morneau is better, since they both are very good, but I’ll let my manager work that out.
If I can’t get Lee, this is a banner year for big right-handed bats, provided you don’t care if they DH. Paul Konerko, Jayson Werth, Magglio Ordonez, Vladamir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Pat Burrell are all out there. I suppose you could stick Jorge Cantu and Troy Glaus in there, too. I settled on Lee because I expect him to be the guy who is the cheapest of those premier guys. This is an area in which one stretches the extra million or so if necessary.
To make room, both in the lineup and on the books, I trade away Jason Kubel (-$5.25M). Actually, I would listen to offers for Michael Cuddyer (-$10.5M) or Delmon Young (~$5M) but I’d like to retain their right-handed bats, so I’m mostly shopping Kubel. I’m flexible as to what I get back, but a fast middle infielder or some power middle relief pitching would be nice.
3. Say goodbye to Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, Jim Thome, Brian Fuentes, Matt Capps, and Jon Rauch. Possibly Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier.
I can’t afford them, so it’s fairly easy, but dumping all those relievers with the save statistic has an ancillary benefit too – it make a ridiculously talented reliever free agent market even deeper.
As for the middle infield, Alexi Casilla is getting one of the middle infield spots and I’m either hoping to get a decent middle infielder back in one of my trades or even re-sign Nick Punto. I’ve unquestionably hurt my infield defense, which isn’t the best strategy with de la Rosa coming on board, but I’ve also improved my speed. Casilla and Punto can both be aggressive on the base paths.
4. Sign at least two power bullpen arms from this list: Grant Balfour ($3.75M), Joaquin Benoit ($3.6M), Jason Frasor ($3M), JJ Putz ($3M), Jeremy Affeldt ($3M) or Frank Francisco ($3M).
I cannot believe how deep this middle relief market is this year. I’ve never seen anything like it. There are power arms everywhere. What’s more, the relief pitching market tends to value saves, making guys like Fuentes, Capps and Rauch valuable, while some of these guys fly under the radar. I’d like nothing better than to load up my team with these arms and let Rick Anderson work his magic.
I’m not gonna lie – I’m giddy about this. I wouldn’t necessarily stop at two - I’d sign as many of them as I could afford. This is the offseason I set up my bullpen for the next three years.
How many can I afford? Let’s see. I added $11M with de la Rosa, subtracted at least $3M by trading away one of my young starters. I added $7.5M with Lee and subtracted $5.25 with Kubel. All told, I’ve spent $10.25M of $18M, leaving me $7.75M. I’ll assume I can get two of these guys for $7M and hope the guys I get back in the trades aren’t arbitration eligible yet.
Let’s see how things look:
Denard Span (LH)
Alexi Casilla (SH)
Joe Mauer (LH)
Derek Lee (RH)
Justin Morneau (LH)
Delmon Young (RH)
Michael Cuddyer (RH)
Danny Valencia (RH)
Nick Punto/Other (SH)
Francicso Liriano (LH)
Jorge de la Rosa (LH)
Scott Baker (RH)
Nick Blackburn (RH)
Brian Duensing (LH)
Jeff Manship/Glen Perkins
That looks like a right-handed leaning lineup that can make the Yankees southpaws work a bit, as well as provide a little speed. I have a couple of tough left-handers at the top of the rotation. And I have the power arms I need in the bullpen.
But I"ve kept the team within a pretty restrictive fiscal limit. It takes advantage of a couple of market surpluses. And, finally, I think there is enough depth to handle the challenges an AL Central race inevitably throws at a team.
Stars? Check. Ground? Check. I think Casey would be proud.