How the Twins Can Give up on 2011 and Focus on the Future

Yesterday, I posted my plan for how the Twins can save their 2011 season. I strongly believe that there is still hope to win the division and make a playoff run this year – as long as the Twins make some big moves soon. Today, I’m looking at the other strategy the Twins can pursue: write off 2011 as a lost year and plan for 2012 and beyond.

For the record, I sincerely hope that the Twins are still trying to win this year. But if they aren’t going to do what it takes to win in 2011, then the absolute worst thing they could do is take no action at all. That would help neither the 2011 nor the 2012 Twins.

If the Twins refuse to take the necessary steps to win in 2011, here is what they need to do:

1. Trade Some Veterans. Jim Thome re-signed with the Twins because he wanted another shot at the one thing missing from his Hall of Fame career: a World Series ring. If the Twins are going to pack it in for 2011, they should deal Thome to a contending team in need of a left-handed bat. Not only will this allow the Twins to dump a little money and get a prospect in return, it will give Thome that one last chance he deserves. Carl Pavano already has a World Series ring (from the 2003 Marlins), but the Twins should try to deal him, too. Unlike last year, when Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee were both dealt, this year’s trade market for starting pitchers looks to be pretty thin. As long as Pavano can lower his ERA from its current 6.64 mark, he could fetch a decent return in a trade. Coincidentally, both Pavano and Thome were traded midseason in 2009. That year, the White Sox received a AA level infielder, Justin Fuller, for Thome, while the Twins dealt Yohan Pino, a once promising prospect, for Pavano. Neither of those guys has managed to crack the big leagues, but trading the veterans would at least allow the Twins to take a chance on a new prospect, perhaps a catcher.

2. Give Joe Mauer a Few Starts in Left Field. Speaking of catchers, the time has come for Joe Mauer to stop being one. Mauer’s latest injury seems to have convinced the blogosphere, if not the Twins front office, that Mauer’s future is not behind the plate. If the Twins aren’t going all-out this year, they should give him 10 or 15 starts at another position so that he can get used to the inevitable switch. In the offseason, they can search for a catcher not named Drew Butera to take Mauer’s spot behind the plate.

3. Rest Justin Morneau. This season is starting to look a lot like 2005. That year, Morneau got off to a horrible start after receiving a concussion from a Ron Villone fastball. He went on to hit just .239 with only 21 home runs. Now that Morneau is recovering from a concussion again, the Twins should take every precaution to ease his recovery. If they don’t foresee a playoff run this year, they should give Morneau plenty of off days and time as a DH. 2005 was bad, but Morneau came back with a vengeance in 2006, winning his MVP award. It would be nice to see him do the same in 2012.

4. Call up Some Prospects. The Twins have already started doing this out of necessity, since so many of their Major Leaguers have suffered injuries. But if the Twins want to prepare for next year, they need to call up their young stars and get them some experience. Kyle Gibson should be here in late June, as soon as he clears Super 2 status. The Twins might also consider bringing up Joe Benson this summer, since he will likely be competing for a starting outfield spot in 2012.

5. Let Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer Go. Kubel and Cuddyer have been valuable contributors to the Twins for many years. But both are aging (Cuddyer will be 33 next season and Kubel 30), and both are likely to command big paychecks when they hit what is likely to be a weak free agent outfield market this fall. Letting them go would free up nearly $16 million in payroll, giving the Twins flexibility to fill needs through trades or free agency. And, since there is a chance that both Kubel and Cuddyer could become Class A Free Agents, it could lead to a windfall in the 2012 draft. Matt Capps is also scheduled to become a free agent. If the Twins feel Joe Nathan will be ready to resume closing duties in 2012, letting Capps go could save them an additional $7.15 million and provide two more draft picks. The Twins should entertain trade offers for these players, but because of their potential Class A status, it would be unwise to trade them unless they receive a windfall of prospects in return.

6. Get that Draft Board Ready. If the season ended today, the Twins would have the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. That’s an incredibly depressing thought, but also an exciting one. Imagine the kind of impact player the Twins could draft with such a high pick. They could finally draft a bona-fide ace pitching prospect – a guy who doesn’t just “pitch to contact” with a 92 mph fastball. In addition to a high first round pick, the Twins would be able to stock up on talented players with the picks they receive for Cuddyer, Kubel, etc. It is highly doubtful that any of these picks could help the Twins in 2012, but the 2012 draft could potentially create the next generation of winning Twins teams.

On the plus side, the Twins should still have a competitive team going into 2012. There’s almost no way the 2012 version of the Twins could have as many injuries to key players as this year’s team has. And the nucleus of the team – Mauer, Morneau, Delmon Young, and most of the starting pitching staff – will still be intact. The steps above would free up some money to complement those players with a free agent or two and also prepare the rest of the team’s role players so they’d be better suited to compete in 2012.

What do you think the Twins should do? Should they make an all-out effort for 2011? Do you think it’s wise for them to focus instead on 2012? Or am I a fool for even considering it? Whatever you think, I’d love to hear it. Please use the comments field below to give me your plans for a 2011 fix or a quick rebuilding effort.

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Tags: Carl Pavano Jason Kubel Jim Thome Joe Benson Joe Mauer Kyle Gibson Matt Capps Michael Cuddyer Minnesota Twins

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