Free agency in Major League Baseball started on Saturday night.
The Minnesota Twins have the second-most free agents from the 2010 roster in all of baseball with 10 (Tampa Bay has 11). This story from Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune sums up the situation pretty well.
Here’s an excerpt to get you up to pace:
Besides Pavano, the Twins no longer hold the rights to Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain or Jon Rauch, along with Nick Punto, Ron Mahay and Randy Flores.
While it’s possible the Twins could re-sign some of these players, it’s also possible all 10 could leave. If so, the Twins would need to replace their leading home run hitter (Thome); the pitcher who led the team in victories, innings pitched and complete games (Pavano); their second baseman and No. 2 hitter (Hudson); their longtime utility infielder (Punto); not to mention six relievers.
Much of the team’s core (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, etc.) remains, but these are significant losses. Consider also that Christensen says even if all 10 of these players leave, the players remaining are owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $105 million (a rough estimate since many of these guys will get yet-to-be-determined raises through arbitration).
The Twins have nine players with set salaries for 2011. That list goes as follows:
- C Joe Mauer: $23 million
- 1B Justin Morneau: $15 million
- RP Joe Nathan $11.25 million
- OF Michael Cuddyer: $10.5 million
- OF Jason Kubel: $5.25 million
- SP Scott Baker: $5 million
- SP Nick Blackburn: $3 million
- IF Brendan Harris: $1.7 million (scary that he’s on a big league contract after last year’s unusual two-year extension)
- OF Denard Span: $1 million
Those nine players are due to make a combined $75.7 million. So you can see it won’t take much to get to $105 million when you still need another 16 players on a big league roster. Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano will likely get healthy raises in arbitration.
So, now what? My expectation is that Twins GM Bill Smith will get pretty creative this offseason. I’ve heard some say it will be low-key because they don’t have a lot of money to work with if it’s assumed the payroll will continue to be around $100 million.
I disagree.Â I expect this to be a pretty active offseason. Will it be as active as last season’s? Maybe not. But certainly moreso than the ones seen during Terry Ryan’s tenure as general manager.
I’m not expecting Smith to make a big splash in free agency. But I bet he pulls off a trade of some sort in an effort to re-shape the roster. As successful as the Twins were at home, this lineup just doesn’t seem built for Target Field. Thome strikes me as the only guy with enough power to consistently hit balls out. But at the same time, you can’t argue with the success at home.
Anyway, here’s what I think the Twins should do:
- Make a run atÂ a legitimate ace. Reports are the Kansas City RoyalsÂ could be lookingÂ to trade starting pitcher – and 2009 AL Cy Young winner – Zack Greinke this offseason. He’s under contract at $13.5 million/year through 2012. His numbers dipped this past season, when he went 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. I’m still a believer. If the Twins want an ace, they might have to “gamble,” if this even qualifies as a gamble. Could a package centered around Young and Blackburn/Slowey get it done? Not sure. Smith could start there though.
- Shop Kubel to other clubs. Twins might have to do this simply to get salary relief if they do get Greinke. Two reasons why I say Kubel: 1) He’s had epic struggles in the playoffs, going 2-for-29 with 13 strikeouts. 2) The Twins are going to have to free up cash somehow. I think they would have a REAL difficult time dealing Morneau (coming off a concussion), Nathan (coming off missing an entire season) or Cuddyer (making too much for someone with his numbers).
- Let Alexi Casilla and Trevor Plouffe battle it out for second base job. Twins need to let Hudson walk. I like O-Hud. You know every year what he’s going to give you. But they’re not in a position to hand out contracts like that this season. I’m not comfortable handing it over to Casilla the way they did in 2008 again. But he showed some flashes this past season, and I think Plouffe has reached a point where he can’t do much more in the minors.
I’m still not sure what I’d do about the departing bullpen arms (Guerrier, Crain, Rauch, Fuentes, etc.). Guerrier is actually a Type A free agent, so if you offer him arbitration, he would probably take it because he might have a tough time getting a contract elsewhere if he didn’t. So that might be one of the more under-the-radar stories to watch this offseason.
Honestly, it’s hard to imagine the bullpen without Crain the way he pitched down the stretch. But there’s a danger in terms of dollars when re-signing players after career years, like they did with Mauer.
To wrap this up, I don’t think the Twins need to blow up the roster or anything after yet another sweep suffered in the playoffs. And I don’t believe in firing manager Ron Gardenhire, as many fans wanted to do after the team’s 12th straight postseason loss.
I do think this roster needs to undergo some signficant re-tooling. There’s something about these Twins that leads me to believe that there’s a culture in that clubhouse that doesn’t think they can get the job done in the playoffs. There’s a constant struggle with this team to drive runners in scoring position in during the playoffs. I hoped a guy like Thome, who has been there and done that, would change that mentality. But not this time, anyway.
It would be niceÂ to see Thome return. But the Twins number-crunchers will have to determine whether or not that is possible. I believe he’ll be back though.
But I do think this team needs to get faster. And they need an ace. They need someone that they can go into Game 1 of a playoff series with and believe they can win with. I think Greinke gives you that, and maybe a trade to a playoff team will give him a jolt and get him back to posting 2009 numbers.
Should be a fun and unpredictable offseason to watch.
NFL picks for Week 9
I’m sitting 17-13 for the season with my picks for the NFL spread. Here’s my picks for this week:
New York Jets by 3 1/2 at Detroit. Lions
New Orleans by 6 1/2 at Carolina. Saints
New England by 4 at Cleveland. Patriots
Green Bay by 7 1/2 vs. Dallas. Packers
Pittsburgh by 3 1/2 at Cincinnati. Steelers