It’s that time of year folks. The air is crisp. The leaves are nearly all gone. The lights at your local baseball venue have long been dim. Oh yes, it’s that time of year.
No…I’m not talking about Christmas and all that crap. I’ll let all of the major media conglomerates take care of pimping Christmas and cramming it down your throat for the next twenty-odd plus shopping days that remain…no, no…I’m talking about the down-time lull for baseball fans.
The World Series has been over for nearly a month already and the members of Red Sox Nation have already moved on and are planning their Patriots Super Bowl parties. The biggest fish on the free agent market, Alex Rodriguez has returned to the fold and will don pinstripes for the rest of his inevitable march to pass Barry Bonds’ all-time home run record. A few trades have been made and a few options have been exercised. Tom Glavine has completed his homecoming and will be a Brave once more and all the while the aforementioned Bonds appears to have no home, no suitors and potentially no shot at staying out of jail?!
With all of these storylines running amok its time for me to exercise my right as a fan who thinks he knows it all—and by golly, I am a fan who thinks he knows it all—and rant my ass off about what my team could do to improve this off-season.
Unfortunately, as a Twins fan, I am contractually required [as are all Twins fans] to lead off my ranting blog with a precursor filled with bitching and moaning about Carl Pohlad and his unwillingness to “loosen the purse strings” and how its hurting his team and blah blah blah. I know Pohlad’s cheap. You know Pohlad’s cheap. We all know the dude has got more money than A-Rod has advisors [Warren Buffet, really?!]…so let’s go ahead and get past the fact that the stingy old bastard isn’t going to spend a ton of money and focus on what the Twins can do with what they have.
**DISCLAIMER: This doesn’t, however, change the fact that I’m still pulling for the Twinkies to re-up with Hunter and then promptly sign Cuddyer, Morneau, Santana and Nathan to long-term pacts.**
Okay, now that we’re through with all the formalities and the sad, misguided optimism, let’s look at the most glaring holes the Twins will seemingly need to fill to compete in 2008.
The team will most likely be looking to bring in a centerfielder who can cover some ground to make up for the loss of Hunter and lighten the workload for whichever combination of Monroe, Kubel and Cuddyer is on the field at any given time. At the same time, some sort of offensive presence would be nice, but the team is clearly banking on productive seasons from Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel and Monroe.
[Realistic] Free Agent Options: Torii Hunter [if he gives a home-town discount and/or decides he really doesn’t want to leave the Twins], Corey Patterson, Mike Cameron, Milton Bradley, Darin Erstad, Kenny Lofton and Steve Finley.
[Realistic] Trade Options: Matt Kemp/Juan Pierre – LAD, Elijah Dukes/Delmon Young/BJ Upton/Rocco Baldelli – TB, Johnny Damon/Melky Cabrera – NYY, Lastings Milledge/Carlos Gomez/Fernando Martinez – NYM, Coco Crisp – BOS
Via Free Agency: I think that the two most reasonable options are probably Corey Patterson and Mike Cameron. Both players offer the same risk and reward. Both have the potential to hit 20-25 HR and play Gold Glove defense. Both will also probably hit in the .250s with 100+ strikeouts. However, that type of risk is generally offset by the defensive skills and the speed the both men possess on the base paths.
Patterson is flying very much under the radar right now with all the hoopla surrounding Hunter, Rowand and Jones and could probably be signed to a reasonable contract if the move is made soon, although I’m sure the Twins don’t want to give Hunter any sort of indication that they’ve already moved on before he makes his decision. Lest us not forget that Patterson was also thought to be the next big thing as recently as 2004 following his 24 homer campaign with the Cubbies.
Cameron has proven his is a big time CF and has played in markets of all-sizes. His gamer attitude would be a great fit in the Twins clubhouse and his work ethic would almost mimic what the Twins were losing in Hunter. However, Cameron also comes with a buyer-beware tag as he’ll miss the first 25 games of 2008 while serving a suspension for using a banned substance.
Via Trade: The majority of the outfielders who could be acquired through a trade are factored in under the assumption that the Twins move Johan Santana. This theory, however, doesn’t apply to the Red Sox and/or Devil Rays nearly as much. I feel that moving one top-tier pitching prospect and a position player could bring a solid return.
If that were the case, I like the thought of Coco Crisp’s above average defense roaming centerfield at the dome. Crisp plays great defense and thrived in the AL Central with the Indians. His offensive numbers have dropped off significantly in Boston, but a return to a smaller market could bring back big rewards for the Twins and the slick-fielding Crisp.
Third base has been a relatively barren place for the Twins since the departure of Corey Koskie. Michael Cuddyer tried his hand at the hot corner, unsuccessfully. The highly touted and easily forgotten Terry Tiffee washed out of the Twins system when it was learned he couldn’t play the position he was groomed for. Tony Batista was…well…Tony Batista and Nick Punto’s feel-good story of 2006 turned out to be just that, a story of 2006 and only 2006. As such it is definitely time for an upgrade.
[Realistic] Free Agent Options: Pedro Feliz, Corey Koskie, Mike Lamb, Mark Bellhorn, Russell Branyan, Shea Hillenbrand and Aaron Boone.
[Realistic] Trade Options: Scott Rolen – STL, Ian Stewart – COL, Morgan Ensberg – SD, Andy LaRoche/Tony Abreu – LAD, Wilson Betemit – NYY, Andy Marte – CLE
Via Free Agency: Pedro Feliz is, in my humble opinion, the best option on the free agent market and a player the Twins should pounce on immediately. Feliz will be 33 this season and could probably be locked up in a 3-year pact at a reasonable value given the explosion in the market for third basemen.
The Twins should act quickly given that two of the three highest-profile third basemen have already returned to their respective teams. This leaves the bidding war for Miguel “The Pillsbury Doughboy” Cabrera as the only thing keeping attention off of Feliz for the time being.
In his four years as a regular starter with the Giants Feliz has authored a fairly impressive set of averages that fit right in-line with the Twins’ needs at third base. He has averaged 21 home runs, 84 runs batted in, 31 doubles all while playing a very solid third base defensively. Those offensive numbers would look even better at the Metrodome which is a much better hitter’s park than AT&T Field in San Francisco.
Via Trade: Many of the potentially available third basemen in trade talks—that aren’t named Cabrera—bring some sort of baggage and/or buyer beware issues. Rolen may cost too much if the Cardinals stick to their current mantra that they won’t eat any of the remaining dollars on Rolen’s contract. Stewart is an ubber-prospect, currently stuck behind Garrett Atkins. The team is more likely to deploy Stewart at 2B if Kazou Matsui leaves via free agency and if they do move Stewart, he’d still be a rookie and could have an Alex Gordon-like rookie season or a Ryan Braun-like rookie season. Ensberg has a Jeckyl and Hyde complex, but if the Twins get the monster who can mash balls to the tune of 400 feet…that’d be just fine. The trades involving the Dodgers and Yankees are based upon moving Santana and as such, won’t be delved into until that dark, dark day falls upon all fans in Twins Territory.
That leaves Marte. It seems that Marte was a can’t miss prospect in Atlanta where he was saddled behind Chipper Jones but the Indians were less than impressed with Marte and gave the starting third base job to Casey Blake. Rumors have been swirling that the Indians were also sniffing around and kicking the tires on the likes of Lowell, Rolen and a few others implying that they may want an upgrade beyond Blake, thus making Marte, seemingly, expendable. Whether or not either the Twins or Indians would be willing to trade within the division is a large question mark, but it is definitely an option worth exploring for both teams.
In my opinion, snagging Feliz is the smartest move as the trade market for third basemen is guaranteed to be out of hand this off-season, especially once Cabrera has settled into a new home.
The Twins haven’t had a really reliable designated hitter in…um…you know, a really long time. Sure they had David Ortiz, but they were nice enough to let him mosey on over to Boston and become a folk hero. Granted in doing so they gave up one of the most prolific power and clutch hitters of the 21st century, but that’s neither here nor there. What is here AND there is the glaring hole the Twins have had at DH in recent years and the obvious necessity to find a reliable bat.
[Realistic] Free Agent Options: Mike Piazza, Sean Casey, Cliff Floyd, Sammy Sosa, Mike Sweeney, Luis Gonzalez, Jose Guillen, Reggie Sanders and Rafael Palmeiro.
[Realistic] Trade Options: Adam Dunn…yeah, I said it.
Via Free Agency: This one is tough, because of all the names on this list, I feel like I am repeating a bunch of them from last year…which clearly goes to show how right I was last year?! I usually snag one comeback player dead-on. In 2006 it was Frank Thomas. Last year it was Sammy Sosa (sorta) and Dimitri Young. As far as 2008 goes, it could really be anyone on this list.
Piazza may still command too much money, but a rather dismal debut in his first stint as a full-time DH in Oakland might have driven his value down just enough for him to fall into a one-year deal with incentives. If he’s got some pop left in the bat and is willing to grow the ‘70s porno ‘stache back, the Twins would love to add the 20+ homers he could provide.
However, I like some of the bigger gambles on this list. Floyd has proven that when he’s healthy he can be a great offensive contributor. I think if he can be healthy for a full-season and avoid injury by DHing, he has a shot to be a solid 30 HR, 85 RBI producer in the middle of a solid lineup.
Jose Guillen is an intriguing, and oft-injured, option as well. Getting him out of the field most days would be good for keeping him off the DL and for putting runs on the board. His attitude has come into question many a time, but I think Ron Gardenhire might be the right type of manager to help squelch that problem before it starts. Guillen has, however, been linked to Senator Mitchell’s steroid probe and could face a suspension to start the 2008 season.
Easily the most intriguing name on this list is the last one, the long since forgotten about Rafael Palmeiro. He has been in exile for two seasons now. Whether or not he’s in shape or even thinking about making a comeback is entirely up for debate, but if he is and he can still put up numbers even remotely close to his career averages the Twins would be fools not to take a one-year incentive-laden chance on the would-be Hall of Famer. Palmeiro is probably chomping at the bit for a chance to comeback and not only clear his name, but to prove he can still perform and has had two years robbed from him. If he can in fact do so, I’d be more than willing for him to take that gamble in a Twins uniform.
Via Trade: Let’s be honest folks. Not a lot of teams are willing to give up big boppers, especially if they aren’t going to see much on the return. The Reds, however, are in an interesting position. They have a team overloaded with outfielders and prospects who are currently handcuffed to AAA as a result. Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. are probably the two biggest stars on the team and as such, are also two of the most expensive. The Reds probably foresee Dunn walking away via free agency next year to take over left field for the Yankees or Angels and would be willing to move him this off-season, potentially even eating some of his salary, if they received worthwhile compensation in the form of young pitching and a position player. The Twins could make a move and then try to sign Dunn for the same offer they currently have on the table for Torii Hunter. After all, a dude who can mash 40 home runs in his sleep is hard to come by.
And that ladies and gentlemen concludes my game plan for the Twins to put together a competitive and relatively affordable lineup in 2008. Now I realize that a lot of this hinges on what happens with Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva. If Silva goes, then the direction in the off-probably turns to either a) acquiring a veteran starter or b) shipping Santana and Nathan out for prospects and beginning the rebuilding mode.
Either way, I still feel [as all good fans do] that the Twins are on the verge of being a very good team with the core they have established. I’d like to think that 2007 will prove to be an aberration and the majority of the squad that made the improbable comeback in 2006 will be together again next year working to start another string of division titles in Minnesota.