The Minnesota Twins, long known for their patient approach to the offseason, have quietly rebuilt their middle infield, and added new, intriguing arms to a retooled bullpen.
There are many questions still needed to be answered for the Twins this offseason. Here's a look at the moves made so far this winter by the Twins.
JJ Hardy, SS: Traded to Baltimore Orioles
Orlando Hudson, 2B: Signed free-agent contract with the San Diego Padres
Jose Morales, C: Traded to Colorado Rockies
Matt Guerrier, RP: Signed free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers
Jesse Crain, RP: Signed free-agent contract with the Chicago White Sox
Brendan Harris, IF: Traded to Baltimore Orioles
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, SS/2B: Signed as a transfer from Chiba Lotte Marines (Japan) for three-year/$9 million
Brett Jacobsen, RP: Acquired in trade from Baltimore Orioles
Jim Hoey, RP: Acquired in trade from Baltimore Orioles
Scott Diamond, RP: Selected in Rule 5 Draft
Yet To Be Determined
Brian Fuentes, RP: Unrestricted free agent
Jon Rauch, RP: Unrestricted free agent
Nick Punto, IF: Unrestricted free agent
Carl Pavano, SP: Unrestricted free agent
Jim Thome, DH: Unrestricted free agent
The Twins are still in the hunt to re-sign starter Carl Pavano. He will be looking to cash in after a season in which he won 17 games.
Nick Punto still has a good chance of re-signing with the Twins, though he would have to most likely take a pay cut from the $4 million he has made in both the '09, and '10 seasons.
Thome also has a good chance of coming back to the Twin Cities. Although after a season where he hit 25 home runs, and had an OPS of over 1.000, he may have priced himself out of the Twins' range. Also with Justin Morneau hopefully coming back healthy next season, Michael Cuddyer will move back to right field, thus pushing Jason Kubel back into the starting DH position.
There is almost no chance that either Fuentes or Rauch will re-sign with the Twins. The Twins have already close to $18 million committed to Matt Capps and Joe Nathan next season. This has already forced Guerrier and Crain to move on this winter to other ball clubs.
The bullpen has received a massive overhaul after losing Crain and Guerrier, and most likely Fuentes and Rauch.
The Twins have made moves for three possible bullpen arms this winter.
Brett Jacobsen is not likely to make an impact on the Twins this season, and probably not in any season. He is currently pitching in Australia.
Jim Hoey is a much more interesting arm. The 28-year-old right-hander mixes in a slider and changeup to go along with his 98 MPH fastball. Control has been as issue for the fire-baller. Last year in Triple-A he walked 34 batter in just over 50 innings. The Twins are a club that pitches to contact, and values pitching in the strike zone. If Rick Anderson can get under control though, his stuff has the potential to dominate hitters.
The Rule 5 Draft produced another pitcher for the Twins. Scott Diamond comes to the Twins from the Atlanta Braves and will be required to stay with the big ball club all season. Last season he spent most of his time at Triple-A Gwinett. He started 27 games going 8-7 with a 3.46 ERA. The Twins project him as a possible long-relief type player for the 2011 season. The Twins can only hope he turns out like another Rule 5 Draft Pick from 1999—Johan Santana.
It's worth noting that the Twins are welcoming back one of the best closers in baseball to their squad this year. Joe Nathan should return to action in 2011, and reports on his recovery have been encouraging thus far. "Right now I can't wait until the first day of Spring Training," Nathan said. "I'm very anxious for it. I know most guys are probably thinking it's forever away but for me, it's right around the corner now." Reports have him ready to go come February 17th when pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, FL for spring training.
New Middle Infield
By now everyone has read up on Tsuyoshi Nishioka and expect him to be the starting second baseman come April. The intrigue now is what are the Twins going to do for shortstop.
Most believe Alexi Casilla will be given every opportunity to win the starting job. But reports have a possible homecoming for former Twin Orlando Cabrera. This could be an interesting signing for the Twins. Cabrera was instrumental in the 2009 Division Championship. He could bring a veteran presence to the squad, and allow Casilla to play the utility-man role that Punto has been the last few seasons.
But for now the Casilla/Nishioka combo seems like (at least on paper) a solid defensive pairing, that brings potential for base-stealing at the top of the batting order.
Work Left To Be Done
Re-sign Carl Pavano. This should be the only focus for the Twins at the moment. Hopefully a two-year deal around $21 million can coax him back into Target Field. With the re-signing of Pavano the Twins could then either move Kevin Slowey or Brian Duensing to the bullpen, or potentially trade a starter for more help in the pen.
Jim Thome could return. I just still don't understand the need for him as the team shakes out right now. Kubel is a left-handed DH with power and should be left in that role. His numbers dipped as his playing time was erratic this past season.
A possible move the Twins should make is to find a right-handed bat off the bench. The lineup is loaded from top to bottom with great left-handed hitting, but the Twins have been eaten up by left-handed pitching. Thome and Kubel are the most obvious example. The Twins would be better off signing someone like Marcus Thames who can be a right-handed platoon at DH. Ideally Vladamir Guerrero would be the best option for this role, but signing Guerrero is unlikely.