Top Five Positions of Concern

 

The Twins have a lot of work to do this offseason after this disastrous season. Nearly every position on the field has questions, and some of them are complete black holes. Hopefully, the team’s executives are already at work putting together a strategy and identifying players to target on the free agent market.

Many would argue the first changes that need to be made are in the front office; specifically, people are calling for General Manager Bill Smith and/or Manager Ron Gardenhire to be fired. I am going to save those topics for future articles, though, and limit this one to on-field needs.

Here are the Top Five positions that the Twins needs to upgrade this offseason, ranked from least desperate to most.

5. Outfield

Though the team has made it clear that they want to re-sign Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, the chances are that both will leave. Even if they are willing to stay, it might not make long-term sense to keep them, since they could both command multiyear deals at $10 million or more per season, and the soon-to-be-rebuilding Twins could benefit from the draft picks they’d receive in compensation. Though outfield is one area where the Twins have a lot of interesting minor league prospects, players like Angel Morales, Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario, and Aaron Hicks are still several years from contributing. Ben Revere and Joe Benson have both seen Major League action this year, but they too could benefit from some time in AAA to work out the kinks.

There will be some bargains on the free agent market this year. In particular, the Oakland Athletics have a couple of starting-caliber outfielders due to hit free agency. David DeJesus might be available for a low price after an off year. Though he slumped in 2011, he is capable of hitting .300 with moderate power and very good fielding skills. Fellow A Coco Crisp might also be a reasonable option, as he has speed and range in the outfield.

4. Backup Catcher

If Joe Mauer is injured as often in 2012 as he was in 2011, the Twins season will be a disaster again. But even in the best case scenario, Mauer probably won’t be behind the plate for more than 130 games. Drew Butera is a capable defender, but he has posted a ghastly .155/.197/.221 hitting line. If either Butera or Rene Rivera (who is actually worse at .141/.204/.202) is on the Twins 2012 roster, fans should be allowed to sue the team under the 8thAmendment. Anyone who doesn’t think that being forced to watch Butera and Rivera hit counts as Cruel and Unusual Punishment has obviously never seen them play.

It would be almost impossible for the Twins to do worse here, so any player they sign would help. One intriguing option would be to go after Reds free agent Ramon Hernandez. Hernandez still has a good bat, and he has played 89 games this year, but his age (35) should keep his price down. The Twins could platoon Mauer and Hernandez at catcher, with Mauer at DH when Hernandez is behind the plate. Other affordable backup options on the market include Jose Molina and Ramon Castro.

3. Bullpen Help

The bullpen collapsed this year even before the rest of the wheels came off. For a while, in fact, a terrible ‘pen was the main obstacle keeping the Twins out of contention. Aside from the surprising emergence of Glen Perkins, every aspect of the bullpen has been terrible this year. Next year, Matt Capps will be gone, and it is likely that longtime closer Joe Nathan will also depart.

I won’t get into the names of the relievers on the market, because there are way too many (you can find a list of free agents by position here). But there are always competent relievers to be had for $2 to $3 million. The Twins should sign at least a couple of them, preferably ones who have lively fastballs and can strike out the occasional hitter.

2. Middle Infielder

The Tsuyoshi Nishioka signing will be remembered as one of the worst decisions in franchise history. But the players who have shred the middle infield with Nishioka have been nearly as bad. Trevor Plouffe has shown flashes of power, but his defense is woeful, and his line of .231/.300/.384 shows he isn’t ready to hit MLB pitching yet. Alexi Casilla may be able to hit, but he cannot stay on the field long enough for us to tell. Luke Hughes and Brian Dinkelman are nothing more than stopgap utility players.

The Twins need to go after a middle infielder who can field well enough to bail the team’s groundball pitchers out of trouble. Casilla, Plouffe, etc. can compete for the other spot in Spring Training. If you think the Twins will sign Jose Reyes, you are expecting them to do something completely out of character. But Omar Infante, Mark Ellis, Ramon Santiago, and Aaron Miles are more reasonable targets (though some of them are probably past their primes).

1. Starting Rotation Help

The Twins thought they had talent and depth in the rotation at the beginning of the year. Carl Pavano (17 wins and 3.75 ERA in 2010) and Francisco Liriano (14, 3.62 ERA) were coming off good seasons, and Scott Baker had the talent to be a great #2 or #3 starter. If Brian Duensing or Nick Blackburn faltered, Kevin Slowey and Kyle Gibson were more than ready to fill in. Fast forward six months, and all of that depth has been completely wiped out. Only Pavano has avoided serious injury. Gibson will miss all of 2012, Duensing, Blackburn, and Liriano have been very disappointing even when healthy.

The starting rotation is the biggest area of concern, and it will probably be the most expensive to fix. Fortunately, the Twins will have some cash to spend, since the departures of Delmon Young and Jim Thome, and the likely departures of Capps, Nathan, Cuddyer, and Kubel will free up about $40 million in payroll. I have already written about some possibilities for the 2012 rotation via trade, free agency, and the current crop of starters, if you’re interested in knowing who is available.

Tags: Aaron Hicks Aaron Miles Alexi Casilla Angel Morales Ben Revere Brian Duensing Carl Pavano Coco Crisp David DeJesus Denard Span Drew Butera Eddie Rosario Francisco Liriano Glen Perkins Jason Kubel Joe Benson Joe Mauer Jose Reyes Justin Morneau Kevin Slowey Kyle Gibson Matt Capps Minnesota Twins Nick Blackburn Oswaldo Arcia Ramon Hernandez Ramon Santiago Rene Rivera Trevor Plouffe Tsuyoshi Nishioka

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