Check that. That was several giant kicks to the package. Not just this year – next year, too, which hurts even more.
Usually, when a team is decimated by injuries, they have something to show for it. The players who were injured are replaced by minor leaguers who develop some experience and a team reaps those benefits the following year. The Twins got some of that – Ben Revere and Glen Perkins come to mind – but the risks for 2012 outweigh any of those benefits.
1) Sign catcher Rod Barajas ($3 milion) and um, “fielder,” Juan Rivera ($2 million).
Barajas is my Mauer insurance, and he adds some right-handed pop (16 HR in 305 appearances with a home park of Dodger Stadium), too. He doesn’t get on base, but he can essentially platoon with Mauer if necessary, or even take a slightly heavier load. He played in 98 games last year, sixteen more than Mauer.
Before we get to Juan Rivera, I’ll point out that his spot could be taken by Chris Parmelee, but I would really like to give Parmelee some time at AAA. Parmelee is the insurance policy if Morneau cannot play at all. I also didn’t address Span, because his replacement is also on the roster: Ben Revere. Moving Revere to center field would require finding a corner outfielder, which brings us to….
Rivera is another right-handed bat with double-digit home run power. He is essentially backing up Span AND Morneau, so I need one of their heads to, ah, come up “heads.” If Morneau is healthy, he can play first base and Rivera hits in the DH spot. I doubt Rivera can really play first base in Morneau’s abscence, but he can play right field. So who plays first base? It could be Mauer. Or it could be….
(Editor's note: since this was published in the Handbook, Rivera re-signed with the Dodgers. So you'll want to check out the names of the other thirty free agent outfielder profiled in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook.)
2) Re-sign Michael Cuddyer ($11 million/year) and Joe Nathan ($7/year).
If you want to get all Machiavellian and tell me that money could be spent more wisely, I won’t argue with you. Some will grouse that they’re being retained because they’re two of the more popular Twins in the clubhouse, the organization and the fan base. That’s true, but that’s a very small factor. Another small factor is that they both would love to stay. But the larger argument is that they are both very good fits for this team.
The lineup needs right-handed power. The injury-laden defense need flexibility. And the bullpen needs a good right-handed arm, closer or no. For all those reasons, I’ll roll the dice here. If I end up committing one year longer to Cuddyer than I should have, I’ll worry about that in 2015.
I should mention before we go much further that I’m shooting for a payroll of $115 million, so I had $34.25M to spend (per the payroll story). I’ve spent $23 million. That leaves me with $11.75M, and I want a shortstop, a starting pitcher and another reliever. I’ll take care of the first one on the cheap.
3) Sign shortstop Nick Punto ($750,000).
Punto fields well and gets on base, and those two traits, by themselves, are a huge improvement over anything the Twins trotted out last year. I even think his third trait – getting injured – is nice, because it gives the Twins a chance to insert Trevor Plouffe (who will be on the bench because he’s out of options) or Tsuyoshi Nishioka (who will likely be in AAA, because he’s not).
For the emotionally scarred, there are other names you could insert here, too. If you really like veterans, you can try John McDonald, Cesar Izturis or Jack Wilson. If you want a little more offense, maybe Edgar Renteria. If you want to pay just a little more, upgrade to Ramon Santiago. I won’t blame you. We all have our limits.
Next we get to why I was so cheap at such an important position.
4) Sign Mark Buehrle ($10 million/year).
Most of the Twins rotation leaves after this year. Carl Pavano’s contract ends, Scott Baker’s likely does, and Francisco Liriano will be a free agent. Signing Buehrle hedges against all those defections and gives the team a veteran anchor beyond this year. But there are other reasons, too.
First, he’s left-handed, which plays well at Target Field and often in the playoffs. Second, he’s a successful veteran whose style syncs with the Twins pitching gospel: work fast, throw strikes, and trust your defense (which is upgraded). Third, if the White Sox are willing to let him walk, you just KNOW he would love to stick it to them. And finally, he’s just enough of a cocky son-of-a-bitch to fire up the team a bit. Add all that up and he’s worth the money and the mult-year commitment, even at 33 years old.
That leaves just $1 million, so I’m either trading or non-tendering Kevin Slowey, preferably for a relief arm with some Ks in it. I don’t know if that new arm will help the bullpen this year, and I don’t care. I’d love to add one more arm to the bullpen, but I ran out of money and the organization will need to figure out how to get that seventh inning setup guy.
Instead, the team added some right-handed power, a middle infield glove, a left-handed veteran starter and insured itself against last year’s injuries. It also brought back two of the better (and more popular) players from last year’s debacle. Hopefully this team will be kicking some butts instead of taking kicks on the other side.
Above is one of several offseason blueprints that the Twins could follow and are being pulbished this week in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. You can still get yours, if you're fan enough: