By their normal standards the Twins have had a very busy November so far. They’ve added free agents Ryan Doumit and Jamey Carroll, brought in a couple of bargain-basement bullpen possibilities (Jason Bulger and Jared Burton), and restored Terry Ryan and Wayne Krivsky to the front office positions in which they excelled a few years ago. All of these are probably steps in the right direction.
There is, of course, more work to do. If you’re keeping track, Doumit and Carroll fulfill two of the top five urgent needs I identified back in September (backup catcher was #4 on the list, and middle infield was #2). The extra bullpen bodies may do a little to help out with need #3, but they don’t completely solve the problem. And Needs #5 – outfield – and #1 – starting pitching – have not yet been addressed.
Carroll signed for just under $3 million per year, and Doumit also signed for $3 million. If you buy Terry Ryan’s comment about the $100 million payroll, the Twins have about $12 million more to spend on salary this year. If you think that $105 to $110 million is more reasonable, they have about $17 to $22 million left. Obviously, there’s a huge difference between these numbers. With a $12 million to spend, the team would either have to sign cheap players for all of the remaining areas of need, trade prospects to obtain low salary veterans, or ignore some of the holes completely. But if they have $22 million, they could afford to sign some very decent free agents to fill most of the needs. For the purposes of my speculation, I’ll assume the payroll will be around $100 million. If they turn out to be willing to spend more, I’ll consider that a pleasant surprise.
Let’s look at the remaining holes and see what options remain:
Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel have not yet signed anywhere. We heard a rumor early in free agency linking Cuddyer to the Phillies, but talk has cooled off on that front. Still, the fact that other teams are pursuing him will drive up his price. It could cost the Twins $12 to $13 million per year for multiple years to keep him. If the payroll is only $100 million, Cuddyer would essentially suck up all the remaining money. So I think you can rule out the team re-signing the fan favorite at that level. Kubel would be a few million bucks per year less than Cuddyer, but still pretty expensive. Rumor had it that the Twins were interested in Josh Willingham, but given his 29 homer season last year, it’s hard to believe he’d be any cheaper than Kubel. If the Twins want to sign a starting-caliber outfielder and still have some money left over, they might look at David DeJesus, Coco Crisp, or Cody Ross. Neither one would be a flashy signing, but all three are competent with the bat and with the glove.
Terry Ryan said last week that he doesn’t foresee any major changes to the Twins rotation. Of course, this was about two days after we heard that the Twins were making an attempt to lure Mark Buehrle, and several weeks after we first heard that the team was a possible destination for Hisashi Iwakuma, so you have to take that with a grain of salt. I am and always have been an unabashed proponent of signing Edwin Jackson. I think he has good enough “stuff” to be an ace pitcher if he could get it together. He is durable and can get strikeouts, which is exactly what this injury-riddled, shaky-fielding team needs on the mound. He is also the youngest high-impact starter on the market. But money is a problem here, too. It’s hard to say exactly what kind of money Jackson would make, but it’s probably at least $10 million per year. As with Cuddyer, signing Jackson would leave little money to do anything else. But if there’s one player on the market who the Twins should spend all their money on, I think it’s Jackson (I know that someone will probably call me an idiot in the Comments section for saying that, but I’ll stand by it).
Buehrle might even cost a little more than Jackson, given his longer track record of success. He’s my second choice behind Jackson, but I’m a little concerned about his age. He’ll be 33 by Opening Day, which would make a long-term contract ill-advised. Iwakuma would be a complete gamble. He’ll be a few million bucks less expensive than Buehrle or Jackson, but nobody can say with any certainty how he would adapt to the American game.
Between Bulger, Burton, Samuel Deduno, Matt Maloney, Jeff Gray, Lester Oliveros, and Esmerling Vazquez, there might be two or three competent relievers in the making. But those guys don’t solve the bullpen problem by themselves. One reliable shutdown reliever would be a nice addition. Joe Nathan is not that guy. He has had a nice run with the team, but the Rangers offered him $14.5 million for two years, and that is too much money to spend on a guy who’ll pitch 70 innings at most. Sad as it is to see him go, the Twins are better off without him at that salary. In fact, I would rule out all pitchers who have been closers, because their saves totals artificially inflate their asking prices (just look at the truckload of money that Philadelphia wasted on Jonathan Papelbon).
I still want the Twins to make an offer to Rich Harden, because I think he’d make a talented and affordable setup man. Aside from Harden, there are so many relief pitchers floating around MLB that it’s hard to account for them all. No matter what the Twins do, there will be some major battles in Spring Training for bullpen slots.