According to calculations by this site and by others, the Twins probably have about $30 million to spend this offseason on new player payroll. I’ve seen the number $35 million thrown around, but it’s probably best to stick with the conservative figure; after all, the team might have to tuck away a few extra bucks to use on signing bonuses for their super high 2012 draft picks.
So how to spend the $30 million? That’s probably enough to sign Jimmy Rollins and C.J. Wilson. That would shore up the team’s two biggest holes: middle infield and starting pitching. Unfortunately, the two marquee players would drain pretty much every available cent the Twins have, leaving none left over to sign an outfielder, backup catcher, or relief help. Plus, Wilson and Rollins are both over 30, and they’d both command long term deals. I don’t think the Twins want to be writing giant checks to Rollins when he is 37. So if you’re hoping the Twins will go after Wilson, Rollins, Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, or Prince Fielder, please reconsider.
Fortunately, with $30 million, it should be possible to stock the roster with more affordable options who could bridge the gap between the worst team in the American League and a respectable team capable of contending.
Here’s how I’d spend the money (assuming all of these guys are willing to play for the Twins):
Edwin Jackson, RHP, Cardinals, $12 Million
Jackson has racked up double digit wins in each of the last four seasons and at least 199 innings in each of the last three. He also has 6.7 strikeouts/9IP for his career. He’d be a perfect fit on a staff that lacks power pitchers, innings eaters, and strikeouts (the Twins were last in the AL in strikeouts in 2011). Problem is, Jackson is a Scott Boras client, and there are not a lot of big-name starters available this year. That could drive his price way up. Then again, he has a career 4.46 ERA, and he has bounced around six different teams since 2008. So maybe a five year deal at about $12 million per year would be enough to sign him.
Michael Cuddyer, OF, Twins, $8.5 Million
Cuddyer is a Type A free agent. Despite the great relationship he has with the Twins clubhouse and fanbase, it’s tempting to let the 32 year old sign with a new team and take the two compensatory draft picks. That is, it’s tempting until you look at the market for affordable veteran right-handed outfielders with power. Cuddyer pretty much stands alone. The Type A status might scare some teams away and keep his price reasonable. A two year, $17 million contract should be enough to retain Cuddy until the Twins’ crop of minor league outfielders is ready to play in the Majors.
Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates, $3 Million
It’s hard to assess the market price for Doumit’s services. He is a good hitter for a catcher, but he isn’t good enough behind the plate to be a #1 guy. Fortunately, the Twins don’t need a #1. They could, however, use Doumit as a poor man’s Victor Martinez. He could catch part time to spell Joe Mauer, and he could play first base or DH when the Twins need a competent switch-hitter in the lineup. Offer him two or three years at $3 million per year.
Ramon Santiago, SS, Tigers, $3 Million
Santiago is a solid utility guy for Detroit. He’s a much better fielder than hitter, but his .260/.311/.384 line is (sadly) better than any of the Twins’ current SS candidates had in 2011. At age 32, he could still be a productive player if finally given an opportunity to play full-time. Offer him two years at $3 million per.
Javier Lopez, LHP, Giants, $2.5 Million
Lopez is a competent veteran reliever who should be available cheap. Unlike the plethora of closers on the free agent market (Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, etc.), his salary won’t be inflated by meaningless saves totals. If he’s available for two years at $2.5 million per year, the Twins should consider him.
Rich Harden, RHP, Athletics, $1 Million
Harden could have been a perennial Cy Young candidate if not for the laundry list of injuries he suffers every year. But he can still put some velocity on his fastball, and he should be available for about $1million in a one year deal. My proposal: sign Harden as a reliever. The lighter workload will reduce the chance of injury and add a big strikeout guy to the Twins bullpen. If a starter gets hurt, Harden could step into the rotation. If not, he could be a great setup guy, or even a bargain basement closer.
In 2011, Jackson had a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 3.8, Doumit of 1.8, Santiago 1.4, Lopez 0.7 and Harden 0.4. Since the Twins had replacement-level players (or worse) at all of those positions in 2011, adding these affordable free agents would mean an extra 8 wins for the team. That’s the difference the American League’s worst team (63 wins) and a team that is simply below average (71 wins). Combine these players with bounceback seasons from Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Danny Valencia, and/or Denard Span, and the Twins could be easily contenders in the Central Division again.