MLB Free Agents 2012: 10 FAs Minnesota Twins and Bill Smith Should Consider
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On the positive side the Twins did finish the season on a winning note. Their 1-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals kept them from being only the second team in baseball to be an over 100-loss, $100 million payroll team.
This was a season that saw almost every Twins starter taking a turn on the disabled list; only Danny Valencia, Michael Cuddyer and Ben Revere played in more than 100 games in the season. Pulling every available arm and bat from the minor leagues, we got a glimpse of the future—and it wasn't that bright.
In an attempt to fill a hole at either shortstop or second base, Minnesota took a chance on Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a veteran Japanese player with seven-plus professional seasons with Chiba Lotte Marines. the switch-hitting Nishioka struggled adapting to major league pitching, batting only .226 in 68 games.
The Twins' winning formula has been solid pitching, stellar defense and hitting for average. In 2011 the Twins pitching staff had a 4.68 ERA—only the Baltimore Orioles finished the season with a higher ERA.
The offensive struggles of a .247 batting average, good for only 21st in baseball, and their defense was atrocious, committing the third-most errors in baseball.
With the trade of Delmon Young to the Tigers, and outfielders Cuddyer, Jason Kubel set to test the free-agent market, the Twins could find themselves thin at outfield. They also need to shore up the middle infield, find a capable backup for Joe Mauer behind the plate, and acquire a power-hitting designated hitter, as well a couple of starters and a new closer.
The Twins have needs at just about every position except third base and center field.
The Twins should have some money to spend in 2012. Opening their second season at Target Field, the Twins were able draw over three million fans; add to that the fact they will be removing over $41 million from the salaries of Cuddyer, Kubel, Young, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan and Jim Thome.
Here are 10 free agents Twins general manager Bill Smith should consider making a bid for this offseason.
Closer Joe Nathan
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If the Twins hope to turn things around they will need a reliable arm at the end of the bullpen.
The Twins should make every attempt to re-sign Joe Nathan as the closer. After declining the $12.5 million option for 2012, the Twins may find themselves in a bidding war for the right-hander.
Depending on the number of teams interested in the Twins' all-time saves leader, they could quickly find themselves wishing they had accepted the option for 2012.
Catcher Ryan Doumit
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With Joe Mauer limited to only 82 game this past season, and only 52 of them behind the plate, it was glaringly apparent the Twins need a reliable catcher to back him up.
In two years in the majors, Drew Butera has not been able to hit any better than .197. The Twins will need some production out of the catcher position when Mauer is playing first base, right field, or taking a day off.
Ryan Doumit has a .271 batting average over seven seasons, and his defensive ability, while not stellar, is at least on par with Butera's.
First Baseman Lyle Overbay
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Until Justin Morneau can prove he can remain healthy through an entire season, the Twins should be looking for a first baseman.
With Micheal Cuddyer set to test the free agent waters, Minnesota will need someone capable of being an everyday-player.
A career .270 hitter, Overbay has averaged 17 home runs and 73 RBI over 11 seasons. Coming off a season with a .234 batting average playing for the Pirates and Diamondbacks, the Twins might be able to sign Overbay to a reasonable contract depending on the level of interest he receives.
Overbay was paid $5 million last season.
Outfielder Michael Cuddyer
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Michael Cuddyer's ability to play just about anywhere on the field has made him extremely valuable to the Twins the past two seasons.
Only third baseman Danny Valencia played in more games for the Twins in 2011. Cuddyer split time between right field, first base, second base and even had him take a turn on the mound, pitching an inning.
The Twins would be wise to re-sign the 11-year veteran who led the Twins with a .284 batting average, 20 home runs, and 70 RBI. Cuddyer has been Minnesota's most reliable player over the last three seasons.
The problem is Cuddyer may not be willing to give the Twins, the only organization for which he has played, any discounts.
Outfielder Ryan Ludwick
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If the Twins cannot come to terms with Michael Cuddyer, they might consider Ryan Ludwick as an adequate replacement.
While Ludwick's .261 career batting average is lower, he has a little more power, averaging 24 home runs and 92 RBI per season in his nine-year career.
Paid only $6.8 million in 2011, Ludwick might be a little easier to sign for the Twins than Cuddyer.
Second Baseman Kelly Johnson
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The Twins should give up on trying to turn Alexi Casilla into an everyday player and put him back on the bench. This would work well if the Twins could sign Kelly Johnson, who played for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Toronto Blue Jays this past season.
In 791 games over six seasons, Johnson has a .260 batting average, 92 home runs and 335 RBI. Compare that to Casilla, who has played in 409 games in five-plus seasons, has a .252 batting average with only 10 home runs and 117 RBI.
The Twins would receive an upgrade in hitting and power with Johnson without suffering any downgrade in defense. Johnson has a .981 fielding percentage at second base, while Casilla is fielding .975.
Johnson, who earned $5.85 million last season, will most likely be offered arbitration from Toronto. If he refuses, Bill Smith would be wise to reach out and try to sign him.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins
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Another option for the Twins to replace Alexi Casilla would be shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Adding Rollins to a roster with Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer would give the Twins three former MVPs.
After making $8.5 million last season, it is unlikely the Twins would be able to sign Rollins however.
Rollins has a great blend of speed and power. A career .272 hitter, Rollins had 16 home runs and 30 stolen bases—and both would be significant upgrades over the Twins' current options.
Starting Pitcher Mark Buehrle
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Wouldn't it be sweet if the Twins could lure away starting pitcher Mark Buehrle from the Chicago White Sox?
It's a good thing Ozzie Guillen is no longer in Chicago, because if Bill Smith were able to pull this one off, he would most likely completely lose his mind.
In 12 seasons Buehrle has a 161-110 record with a 3.83 ERA. He has been extremely durable since his second season in the league, as he has never had fewer than 30 starts and twice led the AL in starts and innings pitched.
The White Sox might be in the rebuilding mode and not interested in re-signing Buehrle, who made $14 million last season.
With his credentials, there could be plenty of interest for the lefty, making him another difficult option for the Minnesota.
Starting Pitcher CJ Wilson
A good contingency to signing Mark Buehrle would be Texas left-hander CJ Wilson.
It's likely to happen again with Wilson testing the free-agent market. The problem is the Twins will have plenty of competition to try and woo the Texas left-hander.
In only his second season as a starter for the Texas Rangers, Wilson led the league with 34 starts in 2011. He finished the season 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA, but went 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA in five postseason starts.
Still, Wilson, who made $7 million last season, may be a more cost effective option for the Twins than Buehrle.
Starting Pitcher Rich Harden
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The odds of the Twins being able to sign either CJ Wilson or Mark Buehrle are probably pretty slim. That being the case they might consider Rich Harden.
Even if they could acquire one of said left-handed pitchers, they might consider Harden.
The Twins had a rotation that not only lacked a true ace, but also a No. 2 as well.
Harden has a .608 winning percentage over nine seasons with a 3.76 ERA and a 1.296 WHIP. That compares favorably with Carl Pavano, who, over 13 seasons, has a .510 wining percentage with a 4.33 ERA and 1.337 WHIP.
Harden made only $1.5 million last season with the A's after making $6.5 million the previous season with the Rangers. He could be signed at a lower cost than either Mark Buehrle or CJ Wilson.