All of the Minnesota faithful has been in next-year mode for well over a month, and now it's time to talk 2012. General manager Bill Smith and the Twins front office will have a host of important decisions to make regarding their up-and-coming youngsters and the direction of this ball club.
With a potential $40-plus million coming off the books for next year's payroll, owner Jim Pohlad stated, "I think probably everybody is on our radar," as well as, "My guess is we're probably going to have to do more than one impact player."
Since rebuilding hasn't yet been part of Smith's tenure, it will be interesting to see who will stay and who will go as the Twins try to jump right back into contention in the AL Central.
So the discussion begins. Here's my take at what would be the most cost-effective strategy at retooling the Minnesota Twins for contention.
I want to hear from you, too—let's see if we can piece together another winner in MN.
Joe Mauer's 2011 season wasn't what the Twins were looking for when they handed him $184 million a year ago. But with seven years and 161 of those million remaining on his mammoth contract, Mauer will get every chance and more to prove he's the face of the franchise in 2012 and well beyond.
As far as an approach to keep Mauer fresh and healthy, I look to a new strategy: bringing in a guy like Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit who could catch 50-60 games and play some first base would give Mauer everything he wants, which is the main catcher position. Ideal players like Cleveland's Carlos Santana, who would add a power spike to the lineup, might cost some hefty draft picks with his tiny $416,000 salary.
With two catchers/first basemen in the lineup daily, the Twins would need a solid backup catcher to grace the bench (preferably not named Drew Butera). A free agent such as Ivan Rodriguez would be cheap and effective. With his lengthy and healthy MLB tenure, he'd bring needed veteran leadership to the clubhouse. Maybe he could even give big No. 7 a few workout tips. Oh yeah, and the Twins drafted his son in the sixth round this year.
It pains me to think about Wilson Ramos' coming-out party in Washington, especially after Joe's knees started showing serious signs of wear and tear this year. Ramos would have filled a gaping hole for this team in 2011.
My two cents: Sign Ryan Doumit, whose 2012 option is likely to be declined in Pittsburgh. Split Mauer between catcher, first base and DH. Give up a low-end prospect and some cash for Pudge Rodriguez.
Total Cost: About $8 million per year between the two.
The starting first base job is up to Morneau's health. If he continues to have concussion symptoms, the Twins might play it safe and primarily pencil him in at designated hitter.
If the front office were to follow my Santana/Doumit strategy, Morneau would fit nicely in the primary DH role. However, I don't see the Twins paying $14 million a year for a DH unless they have to—especially one who is capable of making plays defensively.
My two cents: If Morneau is healthy, he'll be the starting first baseman. But I would love to see the Twins add a C/1B. This would allow Ron Gardenhire to be flexible with both Mauer and Morneau. Instead of giving them both a weekly day off, Gardy could split them with their respective positions and a less demanding one (1B for Mauer, DH for Morneau).
If Casilla can return to form as the spark-plug he was (when healthy) in 2011, then he would be a great fit at second. During Minnesota's hottest streak this season, Casilla was the igniter. Sure, he'll hit about .250, but Alexi has good defensive range and the ability to steal bases. Ron Gardenhire wanted to add speed to his lineup before this year, and Casilla fits his paradigm.
Younger players like Luke Hughes and Brian Dinkelman will be playing their hearts out in Ft. Myers next year as well. I expect them both to contend for the position.
My two cents: If Casilla is healthy and hitting, second base is his spot to lose.
The most dynamic defensive position requires a dynamic athlete, and the Twins don't have an abundance of talent at shortstop. The job will clearly be up in the air during spring training, with the likes of Trevor Plouffe and Tsuyoshi Nishioka competing.
Nishioka's 2011 was underwhelming, whereas Plouffe provided little extra power. Neither hit well for average, nor did they field the position well.
The Twins will need a big upgrade both offensively and defensively at shortstop.
Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins top the list of free-agent shortstops, but I'd be surprised if the Twins pursued either. Orlando Cabrera is available, so they could even invite him to compete for the job.
Most intriguing behind the big money guys is the Astros' Clint Barmes. He would only command about $4-5 million per year and plays excellent defense. He's hit in the .240s recently, but has shown that he can hit for average (.290 in 393 AB in 2008). He's also exhibited a little power with his 23 HR/76 RBI campaign the very next season.
My two cents: Go hard for Clint Barmes. Throw in a bid for Jose Reyes too. Barmes is an upgrade both offensively and defensively until the Twins figure out how to draft and develop a great shortstop.
Total Cost: $4-5 million per year.
The third base job is a given at this point, with Danny Valencia providing good defense and a bit of power. Although he's gone through a little bit of a sophomore slump, he'd proven in 2010 that he can hit for average and play above-average defense.
I'm expecting a bit of a breakout season from Danny in 2012. Although he only hit .246 on the season, he's created run production in the middle of a very depleted lineup. With healthy players surrounding him, I think it would be fair to expect around 20 home runs and 70-80-plus RBI from Valencia.
My two cents: It's a no-brainer. Give the gig to Valencia.
No Michael Cuddyer? It could be possible. As a Type-A free agent, Cuddyer would net the Twins two draft picks. Jason Kubel is a Type-B free agent, and is the younger and less expensive option to keep on the ballclub.
Cuddyer would command around $10 million per season, but his flexibility in the field and power at the plate would be sorely missed.
If Cuddyer would take a bit of a home-town discount for more guaranteed years in Minnesota, perhaps he would be more inclined to stay. I imagine something in the neighborhood of three years/$24 million with an option for a fourth year.
The Twins have an outfield full of young and promising players like Joe Benson and Ben Revere, but re-signing Cuddyer has to be a top priority this offseason. His veteran leadership and connection to his city just mean too much.
My two cents: Re-sign Cuddyer, hope that he'll take a bit of a discount to finish his career in a Twins uniform.
Total Cost: Around $8-10 million per year.
Can Denard Span take the field healthy in 2012? That's the million dollar question. Since this year's concussion was Span's first, I wouldn't expect his symptoms to last nearly as long as Justin Morneau, who has a bit of a concussion history.
On top of Span's obvious value as a leadoff hitter, he's signed to a team-friendly contract through 2014 which includes a $9 million option for 2015. He'll be making $3 million in 2012 and there is no doubt that he's earned his few million thus far.
Even with Ben Revere's flashy leather and blistering speed, Span still earns his leadoff hitter and center fielder duties in spades.
My two cents: If healthy, Span will start in center field. If/when unhealthy, we get to watch Ben Revere. It's a win-win.
It's looking more and more like Jason Kubel will not be a Twin in 2012. The Kubel vs. Cuddyer case looks like it will rule in favor of Mr. Cuddyer for the time being.
The Twins would definitely miss his bat in the lineup, but will need to cut salary if they want to pursue a starting pitcher.
Youngsters Rene Tosoni and Ben Revere could get some time in left field if left vacant. The Twins could also look to free agency, where a guy named Josh Willingham had a pretty big year. However, Willingham is likely due for a nice raise which would push him out of the Twins budget.
Speaking of free agency, the Twins could pursue Juan Pierre and field one of the fastest baseball teams in recent memory.
Perhaps if a little more money comes off the books for next year we'll see Kubel re-signed. A lefty power hitter, he would surely be snatched up quickly if the Twins don't get to him first.
My two cents: Put a bid in for Kubel, Josh Willingham or even Juan Pierre. If all else fails, start Ben Revere in left.
Who Could Stay:
Joe Nathan: Joe's $12 million option will be declined, and the Twins will most likely work out a much less burdensome salary to keep Nathan on board. Perhaps $5 million per year?
Glen Perkins: He stays as the setup man. After the best year of his career in a new role, Perkins will have every opportunity to keep it up in 2012.
Lester Oliveros: A young arm with some promise, I think Oliveros deserves a shot.
Esmerling Vasquez: Same kind of pitcher as Oliveros. Give them both a chance in spring training.
Who Could Go:
Matt Capps: Paid over $7 million in 2011, GM Bill Smith could have retained both Jesse Crain and either Matt Guerrier or Jon Rauch. Capps and his salary will be gone in 2012.
Alex Burnett: Burnett pitches to contact and gets hit around. He'll probably be back, and maybe he deserves another shot, but I don't see him getting much better.
Phil Dumatrait: Phil had a good year for the Twins out of the 'pen, so maybe they'll keep him and see if they can get similar value from him next year.
Jim Hoey: He throws hard, but not well. Send him back to the minors or get rid of him completely.
Who Should Come In:
Brian Duensing: He's got great career numbers from the bullpen. If the Twins pursue a starter or two, I'm sure we'll see Duensing back here after his awful 2011.
LaTroy Hawkins: He's a free agent, still throws hard and might welcome another year or two in Minnesota. This would be a cheap and effective help to the bullpen.
Carlos Gutierrez: A closer-type waiting in the ranks, Gutierrez will have a good chance of making the team out of spring training.
Others: J.C. Romero, George Sherrill, Joel Zumaya, Michael Wuertz, Jason Isringhausen and others clog a long list of average-to-pretty-good bullpen arms.
Closer: Joe Nathan
Setup: Glen Perkins
Lefty "Specialist": Phil Dumatrait
Long Relief: Glen Perkins
Middle Relief: LaTroy Hawkins, Lester Oliveros, Carlos Gutierrez
Who Should be Targeted:
C.J. Wilson: He's the biggest starting pitcher on the market, unless CC Sabathia makes himself available. There will be several suitors for Wilson's services, and the Twins will need to push hard to land him.
Edwin Jackson: At only 28 years old, Jackson has some wicked stuff and can be dominant at times. He's a much cheaper option than Wilson, having just completed a 2 year/$13.35 million contract in Chicago and St. Louis. He'd be due for a raise, but not a big one.
Who Will Stay:
Carl Pavano: 2012 is Pavano's final year of the two-year deal he signed before the 2011 season. He'll be back eating innings again next year.
Scott Baker: Baker has something to prove in 2012. He had a great 2011 that was mucked up by injuries. If he returns to form, the sky is the limit for Baker.
Francisco Liriano: He's the biggest high-risk/high-reward player in baseball. Nobody is as consistently inconsistent as Liriano, but not many pitchers have a brighter upside. The Twins will hope they get more of a 2010 Franky than the 2011 version.
Who Should Go:
Kevin Slowey: Just trade the guy already. The Twins constantly berate Slowey for not taking to his bullpen assignment, but they just won't get rid of him. Now his value is lower than ever, and we'll likely get next to nothing for him.
Nick Blackburn: Blacky never seems to live up to his potential as an above average sinker-baller. He has the talent, but his seasons are usually derailed by an atrocious second half. It's time to say "bye" to Nick.
There is no doubt that the Twins will need some extra help as they try to return to contention in 2012. But they don't need as much as we might think.
If healthy, we can expect better production from most of the team. The biggest swing players are Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan. With good years from these core players, the Twins are tough to stop (think 2006/2010).
With possible additions like Ryan Doumit, Clint Barmes and C.J. Wilson, the Twins could jump back into the thick of the American League Central immediately.
But they'll need to be healthy first.
Here's the estimated total cost rundown for my suggested players:
Catcher: Ryan Doumit, Ivan Rodriguez, $8 million
Shortstop: Clint Barmes, $4 million
Right Field: Michael Cuddyer, $8 million
Pitching: C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, LaTroy Hawkins, Joe Nathan, $25-30 million
Total: $45 million, bringing the Twins' total payroll in 2012 to $115-120 million.
Thought? Comments? I want to hear who you think the Twins should pursue this offseason.