By now, we should all be familiar with the way the Twins approach each and every offseason. There’s the restrained budget, the flurry of arbitration case signings, and the trying to secure as much young talent as possible.
It’s the law of the land for the Twinkies, and it won’t change anytime soon, not after finishing in a tie for first place with the White Sox.
Though things are business as usual this offseason, Minnesota’s inactivity might actually work out in their favor. The economic woes hitting the country are undoubtedly having an impact in the way small market teams like the Twins go about their business. It’s not surprising at all that the Twins haven’t made headlines by signing a big-name free agent (even backing out on one). Instead, the Twins have so far concentrated on retaining some of the young talent in their system.
The Twins had two major needs this offseason, plugging a hole in the infield with a power hitting third baseman or shortstop, and solidifying their bullpen. After flirting with the idea of going after players like Adrian Beltré, Casey Blake, Orlando Cabrera, Eric Gagné, Brandon Lyon, and Jarrod Washburn, they’ve opted to upgrade from within (thus far).
In fact, they’ve only had serious negotiations with three free agents. They tendered a “framework” of a contract to Blake, who ended up signing with the Dodgers. They also came close to signing reliever Eric Gagne to an incentive-laden deal, but withdrew their offer at the last minute.
The other player the Twins have had serious interest in is Joe Crede, who is coming off surgery to repair a herniated disk (a procedure he had once before in 2007), sending a scout to his recent work out in Arizona. News reports indicated that Crede looked good enough to be ready for spring training, drawing some new contract offers, but none from the Twins.
According to the Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen, the Twins came away from those workouts believing the All-Star third baseman was only moving at 75 percent. Though the Twins do have a serious need to find a power-hitting infielder, there’s legitimate concern with Crede’s health considering he’d spend a good chunk of the season playing on the Metrodome’s AstroTurf. So far Scott Boras (who reps Crede) insists that his client is ready, and he recently implied he’ll sign with a team in the next week. But the Twins are dragging their feet. The sense is that they’ll platoon Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris, while Nick Punto plays short (for what it’s worth, Twins CEO Jim Pohlad told a group of reporters yesterday that “we’re not done.“)
As far as the bullpen is concerned, the non-signing of Gagne first indicated that the Twins would more comfortable giving the ball to young talent like Jose Mijares, rather than shelling a few millions for an expiring veteran, yet they did sign Luis Ayala to a one-year $1.53MM deal. Plus, this year’s bullpen will feature three guys that were part of the 2006 bullpen, which according to Eric Seidman at Fangraphs, was the best in the league, playoff team or not, since 2002.
Don’t think the Twins haven’t had a busy offseason, though. They re-signed Punto, and avoided arbitration with Jason Kubel and Matt Guerrier (the Kubel signing was puzzling to Rob Neyer, considering they could’ve used the money to grab a more productive hitter like Eric Hinske). And even though there is the possibility of having around 10 players headed to arbitration in 2010, by then, the economy might’ve picked up, and – what’s more important – the new ball park will be opening its doors. Which could mean the Twins head into the 2010 season with some economic flexibility, even though the projected free agent pool will be thinner than this year.
Projected lineup, rotation and closer:
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
2B Alexi Casilla
SS Nick Punto
3B Bruan Buscher/Brendan Harris
LF Delmont Young
CF Carlos Gomez/Michael Cuddyer
RF Denard Span
DH Jason Kubel
SP Francisco Liriano
SP Nick Blackburn
SP Scott Baker
SP Kevin Slowley
SP Glen Perkins
CL Joe Nathan
Players added: Luis Ayala, Joe Crede
Players lost: Adam Everett, Dennys Reyes, Mike Lamb
Offseason grade: C B-
Sure the Twins didn’t make any major moves, and barring a sudden change of heart to sign Crede, the roster is pretty much set. A couple of months ago, I wrote in my What They Need that the Twins were a few very realistic scenarios away from going to the playoffs in 2008. Scenarios that involved many of the young players they still have. But the need then, as it still remains now, was offense. They haven’t addressed that need. The truth is the Twins have plenty of young talented starters, and have a young crop of outfielders, but the Twins’ biggest strength is their pitching, who figure to be better this year having the benefit of more experience. Whether it’s enough to keep them in contention is a gamble that the front office is willing to take. In this case, maybe, just maybe, doing nothing was significantly better than doing something.
Updated post to reflect the Ayala signing, and the added/lost player lists.
Update #2 – Feb. 22: It took a while, but the Twins finally signed Joe Crede. Providing his back holds up, and he’s able to hit anywhere close to 20 home runs, he’ll be a major contribution. I think that upgrades their C grade to a B-.