As the 2008 season for the Twins ended Tuesday night, the offseason began. And while the decision doesn't have to be made for quite some time, the questions certainly begin.
Of course, the 2008 offseason will be a silent one compared to the 2007 offseason (we hope). But two Twin staples are up for free agency, and there are some good reasons for letting them go.
First, there's Dennys Reyes. The 2006 left-handed specialist provided the team with a go-to guy whenever they needed an out. He had a remarkable 0.89 ERA through 50 2/3 innings pitched in 2006. But since then, his reliability has decreased, his ERA has been around 3.00 in both 2007 and 2008. Reyes' niche in the bullpen was what one Star-Tribune columnist called a LOOGY (Lefty-One-Out-GuY), and he had some games in 2008 where he was ineffective sometimes to get the Twins out of a jam.
We wouldn't otherwise have this predicament with Reyes if it weren't for the arrival of a better option. Jose Mijares emerged in September and earned his way into the important games—something no other September call-up really got a stab at.
Mijares quickly became the catalyst of the bullpen's resurgence late in the year, getting his ERA all the way down to 0.87 in 10 1/3 innings pitched. The small slice of baseball to judge Mijares certainly places some doubt on his long-term success, but it might be worth the risk.
The 25-man rotation in '09 will have no room for two LOOGYs, so look for this to be a battle in Spring Training. If Mijares wins the battle for the spot, look for Reyes to be traded or released.
It is far less likely that we will see Nick Punto leave, but nevertheless, the Twins will need to reconsider their policy of stuffing the infield (outside of first base) via committee.
In 2008, nine players platooned to create the Twins' lineup at second, shortstop, and third. Punto, Adam Everett, Matt Tolbert, and Brendan Harris each logged at least 11 games played at each position.
Harris's stats definitely were affected by the constant movements—it seemed that as soon as he got comfortable at a position, the lineup was shuffled around and adversely affected his numbers. And while it was excusable for Manager Ron Gardenhire to shuffle around the lineup when things didn't work (see: Mike Lamb's failures at third), it's possible Gardy killed the consistency of his entire team by making some unnecessary moves.
No matter what Gardenhire's love of Punto might indicate otherwise, there's no doubt that the Twins have some candidates to replace Punto in the lineup. Probably the most formidable addition for the Twins next year could be Matt Macri.
Macri was called up twice in '08, once as a replacement for an injured Punto in mid-May and then for good as a September call-up. He batted an impressive .324 this season in 36 plate appearances. He added four RBI and a home run in that short amount of time.
At AAA Rochester, he batted .259 with a remarkable .789 OPS. His power alone should be enough to place him alongside Punto for the running for the starter position at shortstop. Others like Howie Clark or a full season of Matt Tolbert, could be options too.
Or the Twins could forget Punto's absolutely dismal 2007 performance and re-sign him. But again, the Twins have many options beyond simply Punto.
And apart from arbitration, the only other issue facing the Twins is Mike Redmond. As has been said on the Twins blogosphere this week, if Redmond isn't retiring, the Twins will likely pick up his $950,000 option for 2009. A touch under a million is a hard bargain for a solid backup catcher.
Bill Smith is under no real pressure to make a massive trade this year, and these are his only real issues to deal with. Of course, Smith might end up making one anyway.