Coming into the 2011 season, the Twins have a lot of questions marks:
Relief Pitching has been the main concern. After losing Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain out of free agency, only a few bullpen locks remain. Matt Capps was the steady closer for 2010, and Jose Mijares will most likely return with a bigger roll in 2011. Returning All-Star closer Joe Nathan should be ready for spring training, but it doesn't make sense to expect too much from him after so recently undergoing elbow surgery.
Another area that could use help is starting pitching. It looks like Carl Pavano may return to the Twins with something like a 2 year/$20 million deal. But if they can't retain him, The rotation would seem to look as follows: Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey. The Twins have recently announced that Slowey may be traded, so the retention of Pavano will be key this offseason.
As far as the lineup pans out, the Twins are looking good. Since negotiations are complete with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the starting 9 may look something like this:
1. Denard Span (CF)
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2B or SS)
3. Joe Mauer (C)
4. Justin Morneau (1B)
5. Delmon Young (LF)
6. Jason Kubel (DH)
7. Michael Cuddyer (RF)
8. Danny Valencia (3B)
9. Alexi Casilla (2B or SS)
Depending on Nishioka's effectiveness, the Twins could even move Span down in the order, and bat Nishioka and Casilla in the number 1 and 2 spots. Either way, having Span or Casilla at the bottom of the order bodes well speed-wise when they bat back into the top of the order.
If veteran Jim Thome returns to Minnesota, he would give the Twins a great DH option and pinch hitter. But regardless if he comes back, the Twins may look for another bat or two to grace the bench.
Trades and free agents could be the answer for the Twins, beyond their minor league depth. Let's look at a few remaining free agents that could help the Twins in 2011.
Well, this is obvious.
After a career resurgence in Minnesota, Carl Pavano and his healthy mustache are beloved in Minnesota.
Teams like the Brewers and Nationals have hinted at contracts with the innings-eater, with the Brewers being the most serious. Still, it seems that Pavano will most likely return to Minnesota with a 2-year deal worth around 20 million.
Pavano is the veteran presence that the Twins' young starting five needs. After a 17-11/3.75 ERA 2010, Carl is the biggest remaining starting pitcher on the market. He threw 221 innings last season, with a career-high and league-leading 7 complete games.
The 34 year old is the most likely of the list to sign with the Twins.
Suggested Contract: 2 years/$18 million, with option for 3 years
If the Twins can't re-sign Pavano, Brandon Webb may be another viable option. After winning an NL Cy Young in 2008, Webb missed all but 4 innings of 2009-10 with shoulder problems.
Webb would most likely be very cheap coming off so much missed time, and would warrant a one-year, incentive laden deal. The Twins may be able to ink him for a couple million, with extras for performance.
When healthy, the former Cy Young racked up an average of nearly 230 innings from 2004-2008, all with an ERA just above 3.
Webb would be cheap, and would definitely be worth a shot if the Brew Crew picks up the Mustache.
Suggested Contract: 1 year/$3 million guaranteed, full of incentives
Fuentes pitched the latter part of the 2010 season with the Twins. The 35 year old was great in limited innings for the Twins, not allowing a run.
Since the price of relief pitching is so high after the Joaquin Benoit signing, Fuentes may be looking for a 3 year deal worth a little bit of money. But after what he did for the Twins in 2010, throwing $5 million a year at him would be money well-spent to shore up the currently depleted bullpen.
After a career-high 48 saves with the Angels in 2009, Fuentes saved only one game for the Twins in 2010 in 9.2 innings.
If he would accept more of a middle relief and lefty specialist role, Fuentes could be a viable option for the Twins in 2011.
Suggested Contract: 3 year/$15 million
For a little bit cheaper than Fuentes, the Twins might be able to lock up Dotel for a year or two for around 3 million per season.
Known for posting an ERA in the high 3's to low 4's, Dotel is a guy that strikes out a bunch and walks historically too many. But he's a hard-throwing late-innings guy that might be able to help in Minnesota.
Changing scenery is nothing new for Dotel, who has played for 10 different teams over his career, including 3 in 2010. Octavio would join a host of setup/closer type pitchers in Minnesota.
Suggested Contract: 1 year/$3 million, with option for second year
After the Phillies declined Romero's option for 2011 in November, the former Twin became available. He posted a 3.68 ERA in 2010, down from his 2008-09 numbers where he posted a staggeringly consistent 2.75 and 2.70 ERA, respectively.
Romero's return to Minnesota could be fruitful. The lefty could eat middle relief innings or serve as another lefty-on-lefty option besides Mijares.
At the age of 34, Romero would cost the Twins around 4 million per season.
Suggested Contract: 2 years/$8 million
Yes, trading for Greinke would cost the Twins an arm and a leg, (especially because he makes him home in the AL Central) but it makes sense giving the big moves made by both the Tigers and White Sox this offseason.
The Twins would definitely have to give up some big prospects, but they have some very talented youngsters. The Twins do tend to covet their young stars, but last year's trade of Wilson Ramos to land Matt Capps showed they aren't untouchable.
Some players that the Twins could shop: OF Aaron Hicks, OF Ben Revere, SP Kevin Slowey, RP Carlos Gutierrez, SP Kyle Gibson, OF Joe Benson.
It is unlikely that Greinke would end up in Minnesota, but if the Twins could unload a few bright prospects and handle his contract, (which wouldn't be much higher than Pavano's asking price) it would make sense for them to go for the gold on the Royals' ace.
Suggested Trade: Aaron Hicks, Carlos Gutierrez, Kevin Slowey for Zack Greinke
Contract Remaining: 2 years/$27 million