Minnesota Twins: 10 Free Agents That Can Immediately Help the Twins
After back-to-back last place finishes in the American League Central, the Minnesota Twins have some serious holes to fill as they attempt to work their way back to relevance.
Since the team's sudden downfall following their three-game American League Divisional Series sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees in 2010, the team has struggled to fill holes in the middle infield and in their pitching rotation.
The result has been the Twins regressing back to the dark days of the 1990s when the team was routinely buried in the AL Central standings.
There will be no such thing as a complete quick fix for the Twins as they look to the free-agent market, but there are a few guys that can step in and provide an immediate upgrade over what they have.
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Just to be honest, I believe that there is a very small chance the Twins sign Zack Grienke.
However, it doesn't mean that his presence wouldn't help a team that has finished dead last in the American League for team ERA in the last two seasons. The Twins need an ace, and Zack Grienke could fit that bill.
Since winning the American League Cy Young award with the Kansas City Royals in 2009, Grienke has gone 57-33 with a 3.37 earned run average that would easily make him the ace of the Twins pitching staff if the Twins were to throw some money on the table.
Alas, the money will be the key issue as the Twins continue to believe that baseball plays with a $100 million salary cap. A team such as the Los Angeles Dodgers or Texas Rangers should easily be able to write Grienke a blank check and outbid the Twins.
The Twins also seem to be focused on building from within as the Denard Span trade pointed out. In that trade, the Twins got Alex Meyer who could become the Twins ace after another season or two in the Twins' minor league system.
If the Twins had been proactive and traded for Grienke like the Milwaukee Brewers did prior to the 2011 season, the Twins may have had a shot but the money seems to be way too much for the Twins ownership to handle.
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The Twins signing Josh Hamilton may seem like fantasy baseball, but with the departure of Denard Span, it could be more of a fit than anyone would imagine.
With Ben Revere sliding over to center field, the Twins have a gaping hole in right field that is projected to be filled by speedy outfielder Darin Mastroianni.
It doesn't take a two-hour lecture and a chalkboard to describe how Hamilton (.285, 43 HR, 123 RBI in 2012) would not only be an upgrade in the lineup, but could also have less of a defensive burden while playing in right.
However, Hamilton might not be a fit for what the Twins front office is trying to do.
Even if the Twins decided to break the bank for Hamilton, they still are in a rebuilding process. Signing a 31-year-old outfielder (who will turn 32 in May) to a massive contract might not be the best idea to go about a rebuilding process.
A better option would be to go with a lower cost free agent that could be a stop gap for several outfield prospects, such as Oswaldo Arcia, who are shooting up the Twins' minor league system.
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John Lannan is the kind of free agent that the Twins will be looking for this offseason. While Lannan will not be a completely cheap option after being non-tendered by the Washington Nationals, he also fills the gigantic need the Twins have when it comes to pitching depth.
It's been well-documented that the Twins have not had much success in their pitching rotation as they've ranked 13th for earned run average in the American League in 2011 and 2012.
While it would be nice to go get an ace to help this staff, the Twins would be better suited to get a back-end starter who isn't washed up like 2011 free-agent pickup Jason Marquis.
Lannan's win-loss (42-52 in six seasons) numbers are not as impressive as you would like but he's able to eat innings (over 180 IP in three seasons) and keep the ERA (4.01 in his career) down.
The Twins will likely be dipping into the second-hand starter market, and Lannan could help fill another spot next to the current last man standing from the 2012 rotation, Scott Diamond.
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Brett Myers is the rare free-agent fit who could help the Twins either in the starting rotation or in the bullpen.
The 32-year-old southpaw is willing to help out in a bullpen, but he's spent the majority of his career as an effective starter with the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros going 14-8 with a 3.14 earned run average as recently as 2010.
Even if the Twins don't think starting is his best role, the team may still be considering filling the closer role with someone other than Glen Perkins.
As the Astros' closer for the first half of the 2012 season, Myers converted 19 saves and pitched even better (3.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in July.
No matter how the Twins want to use him, Myers could be a nice addition to a rebuilding pitching staff.
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A lot can be said about Stephen Drew's attitude while missing the first half of the season while recovering from a gruesome ankle injury, but he was able to make an impact when he was traded to the Oakland Athletics last season.
Drew's stats weren't gaudy by any means (250, 5 HR, 16 RBI in 39 games), but they were good enough to help the Athletics solidify their revolving door at shortstop and win the American League West championship.
Drew's presence alone won't help the Twins win the Central in 2013, but he could provide a stopgap at short until Brian Dozier (.234, 6 HR, 34 RBI) is ready to play consistently at the major league level.
If Drew is able to come close to replicating his 2010 season with the Arizona Diamondbacks (.278, 15 HR, 61 RBI), he could form a solid combination up the middle defensively with second baseman Jamey Carroll.
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It never hurts to add a guy that was a vital cog on a World Series team. If the Twins want to go with the stopgap route with Dozier's development, perhaps Marco Scutaro would make the impact the Twins need in the middle of the infield.
Scutaro has long been an underrated player. The 37-year-old shortstop started slowly with the Rockies, but played out of his mind (.362, 4 HR, 44 RBI in 61 games) down the stretch for the San Francisco Giants en route to the 2012 World Series Championship.
Scutaro could provide more offense than Stephen Drew could at shortstop and be another missing piece that the Twins have had since trading Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay.
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One of the problems with the Twins rotation the past couple of years was that they went too young and it wound up costing them. With the exception of Carl Pavano, the majority of the Twins' starters have been in their mid-20s and saw their share of growing pains.
One way to give the Twins a veteran starter would be to add Ryan Dempster.
Dempster did not perform well after heading to the Texas Rangers prior to the July non-waiver trade deadline. It also seemed that his first-half performance with the Chicago Cubs (5-5, 2.25 ERA in 16 starts) was a fluke as many teams are wary that he may not be able to sustain such a performance.
A one-year deal with the Twins could be a perfect proving ground for the 35-year-old starter. Dempster could mentor the young pitchers making their way up to the major leagues, and provide solid innings which is something the starting rotation has failed to do over the past two years.
While it may not be a long-term solution, bringing Dempster would provide long-term impact toward a pitching rotation that is still learning.
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Dan Haren was nearly traded to the Chicago Cubs this offseason for Carlos Marmol. At the time, it seemed like the Twins had squandered an opportunity to obtain his rights and possibly get a steal of a pitcher.
Haren is now an unrestricted free agent and the Twins could have a buy-low opportunity with questions being raised about his health. A back issue has scared some teams away despite Haren being one of baseball's most durable pitchers over his career with seven 200-plus inning seasons.
Terry Ryan has not been afraid to take free-agent gambles before, and if Haren is healthy as he insists, the Twins could get a starting pitcher capable of leading a rotation.
If he's a cheap option, he'd look great in a Twins uniform next March.
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In the same mold of Dan Haren, Brandon McCarthy could also be that free-agent steal the Twins are looking for to make an impact.
McCarthy has always had the talent as he was named a top 100 prospect by Baseball America in 2005. However, McCarthy's downfall has been injuries early in his career as he's been able to surpass 100 innings just three times in his seven major league seasons.
The Twins may not be as scared of McCarthy as they are of Haren though as McCarthy's most recent injury was a freak line drive to the back of the head that resulted in a skull fracture and brain contusion. Despite the grim diagnosis, McCarthy has been cleared for baseball activities.
That could play in the Twins favor as McCarthy has had the two best seasons of his major league career in Oakland going 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA in 281.2 innings. Those numbers would be warmly welcomed in the Twins rotation next March if his recovery continues to progress.
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When it comes to Twins fans, the scariest words they could possibly hear all offseason were that the Twins were interested in acquiring Joe Blanton. While Blanton isn't the dream pitcher that the Twins fan base wants to see in their rotation, Blanton could be exactly what Minnesota needs.
The Twins need guys that can take the ball and relieve their bullpen. Too many times, they've seen Nick Blackburn and his flat, 90 miles-per-hour fastball last just four innings to lead their battered bullpen to get kicked around the rest of the game.
Blanton isn't flashy, but he can go deep into games and that would benefit the Twins bullpen in a positive manner.
In his nine seasons, Blanton has thrown at least 190 innings in six of them. His career ERA of 4.37 won't make you drool, but it won't make you want to jump into oncoming traffic like a Brian Duensing start either.
A Blanton signing could go down the same road as Jason Marquis a season ago. However, if it works like it's supposed to, Blanton could get the innings this staff needs which could lead to an improved bullpen.