2010 MLB Hot Stove Rumors: Four Players The Minnesota Twins Should Pursue
It's been a relatively uneventful offseason for the Twins, albeit only on the major league side. The Twins have landed a slew of relievers for their minor league system, as well as a few promising young prospects. Most notable is 17-year-old shortstop Javier Pimentel of the Dominican Republic.
Besides the signing of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Twins' major league squad remains fairly depleted. Key losses of Carl Pavano, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch and J.J. Hardy seem to overweigh the small but earnest gains.
Former Braves reliever Chuck James and young infielder Matt Brown are the most notable of the few major league additions this offseason. The Twins also added catchers in Steve Holm and Rene Rivera, who have spent limited major league time with the Giants and Mariners, respectively.
Make no mistake, the club is headed in the right direction. Young arms like Brett Jacobsen and Jim Hoey (from the J.J. Hardy trade) will be ready to compete for a bullpen spot come spring training.
In-house bullpen candidates include Alex Burnett, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Anthony Slama, Carlos Gutierrez and Jeff Manship, to name a few. With another veteran arm or two from the open market, the Twins should be able to put together a fairly decent bullpen in 2011.
With the biggest concern being the bullpen, the starting rotation also has some question marks. The aforementioned Carl Pavano remains on the market, although a deal with Minnesota seems imminent.
The Nationals are also in the race for Pavano's services, but the consensus seems to be that Carl will don a Twins uniform for at least the next couple seasons.
As it stands, the Twins' rotation rests with Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey. All have shown shades of brilliance, but seem to be repeatedly bitten by the inconsistency bug.
Liriano earned AL Comeback Player of the Year honors for 2010 after posting a 14-10 record with a nice 3.62 ERA and 201 K's. Minnesota is no doubt expecting big things from Franky Franchise next season.
Kevin Slowey also had a good 2010, earning a record of 13-6. Injuries once again derailed what could have been a great season. His name has been mentioned as a possible trade chip, however.
Young starters like Kyle Gibson and Kyle Waldrop may make a late-season appearance if any rotation patchwork needs to be done.
Even with a host of young talent, the Twins will need help from the Hot Stove. Banking on Pavano signing, here's a neatly ordered list of who could fill the open slots in Minnesota:
This lefty reliever was a godsend for the Twins in late 2010. His combined stats between Minnesota and Los Angeles last season include a 2.81 ERA, 24 saves and a lovely 1.06 WHIP.
Fuentes is presumably looking for a closing gig, but he's also looking for a multi-year contract. If the Twins can fork out $15 million over three seasons, they should be able to land the crafty lefty.
If Fuentes wouldn't mind a setup or lefty specialist role, he would fit in perfectly with the Twins bullpen.
And hey, he didn't even give up a run as a Twin last season. I can't be the only one who wants to see that streak continue.
The Twins lost their veteran bullpen work horse Matt Guerrier over the offseason, who found a nice new home and a padded three-year deal with the Dodgers.
Adding the former Twin Balfour may help fill the Guerrier hole. The Rays' reliever had statistically the second best year of his career last season. He posted a 2.28 ERA with 16 holds and a WHIP of 1.08.
He's averaged around 60 innings per season over the last three years in Tampa, which is close to the 70-inning mark that Matt Guerrier was known for.
Balfour made just over $2 million for the Rays last year, and like Fuentes, is seeking a multi-year deal.
The Twins would be smart to ink Balfour for at least a couple seasons, and should only have to pay about $4 million-$5 million per year.
The Reds seem to be the team most interested in Webb's services, but no serious negotiations have begun.
Coming off of Tommy John surgery, the 2008 NL Cy Young winner missed all but four innings of 2009-10. Being two years removed from the surgery and only 31 years old, he may be primed to bounce back.
Wherever he lands, it's foreseeable that the righty will only be guaranteed a one-year deal with loads of incentives and possibly an option for a second year.
The price seems to be creeping up to around $10 million for Webb, but don't expect it to stay that high.
Any team could come out of the winter looking like a genius if the dormant star returns to form in 2011, so the Twins may want to look into a deal.
At 30, the Phillies' fifth starter looks to be on the market. And he's priced to move.
With $17 million remaining on his contract (some of which the Phillies would surely eat), Blanton would be available for two years and somewhere around $6 million-$7 million per year.
His numbers aren't staggering, but he was 21-14 in his two seasons with the NL powerhouse Phillies. Blanton could be a good fifth starter for the Twins as well, with a career ERA of 4.30.
If the Twins do decide to move Kevin Slowey, Blanton could benefit from the change of scenery and flourish in Minnesota. And with the small price tag for the young starter, now may be the time to be in on Joe.
Who says the Twins couldn't use another Joe?
This Grizzled Baseball Fan's Opinion on Pitching
We'll start with the bullpen. Signing Fuentes and Balfour is a must in my opinion, as they add a veteran presence from the different sides of the plate and both have played in Minnesota.
Returning from 2010 is lefty Jose Mijares and closer Matt Capps, both of whom will be counted on heavily next season. Also, Joe Nathan will look to make his return from surgery back to his old closer self.
The starting rotation could work as-is, but having a veteran presence like Carl Pavano has already helped the young arms in Minnesota. Look for the Twins to resign Pavano in the next week or so and focus more attention on the bullpen.
If the Twins take the 12 pitchers route in 2011 (5 starters, 7 bullpen), my list would look as follows: (Please comment, I'd love to see your take...and keep in mind that this list is purely hopeful/wishful thinking)
1. Carl Pavano
2. Francisco Liriano
3. Brandon Webb
4. Scott Baker
5. Nick Blackburn
Alex Burnett or Pat Neshek
Moving Brian Duensing to the bullpen is smart, because he is statistically better as a reliever. Although he showed some great stuff the last couple of years as a starter, I think his niche is in a relief role.
It also opens an extra spot for the likes of Brandon Webb, who I would love to see return to his old self in a Twins uniform.
Having Nathan, Capps and Fuentes could bode well for the Twins, who may want to consider another closer-by-committee approach.
Last year, they had no closers. This year, they could have three potential fits. Fuentes could take care of primarily lefty lineups, with Capps and Nathan handling the righties.
...And The Lineup
The Twins are already looking to field a powerful lineup, as they have done in years past. But they do have a few questions to answer before Opening Day.
The main offensive concerns are the bench and middle-infield scenarios. The Twins would be very lucky to have slugger Jim Thome back for another season. With Kubel slated as the everyday DH, Thome could spend more time as a pinch-hitter, the role he originally signed up for before last season.
If the Nishioka/Casilla double play team doesn't work out, Orlando Cabrera has interest to return to Minnesota in 2011.
But with Ron Gardenhire's recent speed kick, it seems that Casilla is his No. 1 guy. Cabrera could return as a bench player, joining the ranks of (possibly) Jim Thome, Matt Tolbert, Ben Revere and Drew Butera, among others.
Assuming Justin Morneau is healthy and the Twins re-sign Thome, here is how I would stack the Twins bench, defensive positioning and lineup card:
1. Denard Span/CF
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka/2B
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/SS
Again, please give me some feedback! I'd love to know if you agree, think this is total crap, or have some ideas yourself.
And there you have it: The Twins problems solved with a little elbow grease and research. For my articles on New York baseball, check out www.sportshaze.com when it re-debuts on Jan. 1, 2011. For more on the Twins, keep it tuned right here to Bleacher Report!