The Twins are going to have some tough decisions to make when the season is over, as seven of the players on the active roster will become free agents. Here’s a look at the potential free agents (with a link to their Fangraphs page, if you are curious about their stats), their Elias ranking according to the most recent projections, and their likelihood of sticking around:
Carl Pavano: Type A. Whether or not the mustachioed one re-signs with the Twins depends a lot on the market, and what, if any, pitching prospects are included should the Twins manage to swing a deal for Cliff Lee. Pavano is likely going to demand something in the ballpark of 3 years and $8 million per year, and he should. He’s definitely earned it. He might get it, too, as he looks to be about the second-best starter on the market next year. It’s unlikely the Twins will want to commit more than two years to a 35 year old, especially with Kyle Gibson looking to compete for a roster spot next year and Brian Duensing available to slide into the rotation, unless they give up a ton of pitching prospects in trades. If Pavano reaches Type A status, the Twins will likely offer arbitration and settle for the compensatory draft picks when he signs elsewhere.
Jon Rauch: Type B. Rauch has done an admirable job filling in for Joe Nathan, and somebody will probably notice he’s among the league leaders in saves and overpay for his services (I’m looking at you, Ed Wade, if you still have a job). It probably won’t be the Twins, as Nathan will be back next year, and they have an abundance of relief prospects in AAA. The front office probably values the sandwich pick a lot more than the Tall One’s services, so it’s likely they will let him walk.
Matt Guerrier: Type A. This is a tougher call. Guerrier has been one of the most reliable pitchers in the bullpen since 2007, and the front office might be tempted to sign him to a multi-year deal. However, the front office typically doesn’t overpay for relief help (well, with one notable exception), and with more pressing holes to fill in the infield and a payroll likely above $90 million despite all of the impending free agents, will be more inclined to use those resources elsewhere. They also have a similar pitcher in prospect Kyle Waldrop, who will likely earn a spot in the bullpen next year. The thought of snagging more draft picks might also be too tempting to pass up as well.
Orlando Hudson: Type A. There is a provision in the O-Dog’s contract forbidding the Twins from offering him arbitration should he reach Type A status, so they will have to either make a serious attempt to re-sign him or lose him for nothing. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if he stuck around for another year (or two, provided it’s an option year), since the free agent market for infielders is pretty thin and there really isn’t anyone in the system who is close to major-league ready. Committing more than two years, $12 million, to a 33 year old infielder who seems to find interesting new ways to hurt himself is sheer lunacy, though.
Jim Thome: None. Thome can still hit balls over the fence, though his skills have declined a bit. He probably won’t see enough playing time to earn an Elias ranking, so the Twins will just have to let him walk. I doubt the front office will try to re-sign him, as he will be 40 years old, and players of his age and body type tend to decline very rapidly. Their main target in the offseason should be another right-handed bat, preferably one that can plug the hole at third base.
Nick Punto: None. Technically, Punto will be a free agent at the end of the season, but he has an option for 2011 and I can’t imagine the Twins won’t pick it up, given the lack of infield depth and the fact that Little Nicky is unlikely to qualify for an Elias ranking. The front office would be insane if they made a serious attempt to keep him around any longer than that, however.
Jason Kubel: Type A. Again, Kubel Khan has an option for 2011 that will, in all likelihood, be picked up. While it might be tempting to jettison him in favor of the supplemental picks, Kubel will be very cheap next year and letting him go would create too many holes in the lineup (especially since there is no guarantee the Twins would snag those picks, more on that in a minute). I’m not sure if the front office intends to keep him around much longer than that, but players with Kubel’s skill set (DHs with a ton of power but very little athletic ability) don’t age very well. He will be 29 years old at the end of his current contract, and it probably wouldn’t be wise to extend him beyond the next four years.
Now, just because the Twins have all of these free agents available does not necessarily mean they will hit the jackpot where draft picks are concerned. The 2011 amateur draft looks to be one of the deepest in years, and most likely teams will be conservative when it comes to sacrificing picks by signing free agents. One of the reasons solid veteran players, such as Hudson, have had trouble finding work over the past couple of years is that front offices just don’t want to risk weakening their farm systems for a temporary fix. Also, if one of their free agents sign with a team that signs more than one Type A free agent (such as the Yankees or Red Sox), their picks would probably get bumped to the lower rounds, where the pickings are much slimmer. Just ask the Brewers, who got the shaft when the Yankees signed C. C. Sabathia and pretty much every other Type A free agent available on the market. Still, with the draft being as deep as it is next year, it does make a lot more sense to gamble on draft picks, or to even risk overpaying the likes of Rauch and Pavano in arbitration, than to hand out a bunch of multiyear contracts to this crop of free agents.
Did I miss someone? Please mention it in the comments.