Monday, November 28, 2011

What DO the Twins Have?

With the baseball winter meetings coming up in a week or so - the baseball hot-stove fires are about to be stoked into a blazing inferno here in the next 1-2 weeks. Up to this point I've done my fair share of speculating about what the Twins will do and in looking around other Twins blogs, you'll find no shortage of others who tried their hand at the same thing. With this piece, I want to take a different tact...I want to take a look at the pieces the Twins have right now that we can be assured of seeing on Opening Day (barring pre-season injury of course). All of us have a pretty good idea of what the holes on this team are - but laying out what the team has right now may make it crystal clear where the team should start in addressing their weaknesses.

Infield (arbitration eligibles in red, backups in parentheses):

C - Joe Mauer (Ryan Doumit/Drew Butera)
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - OPEN (Alexi Casilla)
SS - Jamey Carroll (Tsuyoshi Nishioka)
3B - Danny Valencia
DH - Ryan Doumit/ ?

This infield situation is complicated by unknowns. In a perfect world, the Twins would bring in a Kelly Johnson or a Aaron Hill type to fill the hole at 2nd base and your infield would be set with Morneau & Valencia on the corners with Carroll and Johnson/Hill up the middle. Reality is far from that though as the Twins have still not addressed second base and only God knows what Justin Morneau's availability will be come Opening Day.

Outfield (arbitration eligibles in red, backups in parentheses):

CF - Denard Span (Ben Revere)
LF - Joe Benson? Trevor Plouffe?

To me, the outfield situation is just as dire as the bullpen situation. If the Twins do nothing to address the outfield situation, the Twins will have a couple of guys (Revere and Benson) with less than a full-year of Major League experience as your starting Right and Left fielders. Not only that, Denard Span is coming off a 2nd-half which saw him miss significant time due to a concussion. He has said on Twitter that he's been feeling good lately, but with Morneau's cautionary tale, I don't think there's any counting on Span. I would like to think they'll bring back Jason Kubel, though I view his role as more of a DH if he returns, filling the void left by Jim Thome's departure. Aaron Hicks stands to get a look in Spring Training, but as a 22-year-old who spent all of last year a Fort-Myers (A-ball), I don't know that his chances are all that good. The Twins have announced that they are going to make Trevor Plouffe an outfielder, but even if he makes the transition defensively, I don't know that he has much staying power in the lineup (.697 OPS in 286 PAs last season). In short, the Twins have a lot of outfield question marks and not a lot of answers, though I did discuss a few potential free-agent answers in my last post.

Starting Pitching (arbitration eligibles in red):

#1 Francisco Liriano
#2 Carl Pavano
#3 Scott Baker
#4 Nick Blackburn
#5 Kevin Slowey? Brian Duensing?

Some people have seen a lot of question marks here too, but to me the starting rotation is pretty much set with the only question mark being who the Gardenhire and the Twins will decide to install as their 5th starter. As expected, Duensing's permanent move to the rotation last season exposed him and I wouldn't be surprised if they move him back to into the bullpen and give Slowey his old spot back. Then again, Slowey is (and has been) in the dreaded Gardenhire dog-house for awhile, so there are certainly no guarantees there. I would love to see the Twins go out and grab another starting pitcher, but those tend to be expensive, especially in a market like this year's when there are not many good ones available. As far as help from the farm goes, the Twins have nothing in the Minors that inspires much confidence in terms of starting pitching. There are a couple of arms (Hendriks, Salcedo), but they don't seem close.

Bullpen Pitching (arbitration eligibles in red):

Glen Perkins
Jose Mijares
? Jeff Manship ?

Ok, I take that back about the outfield rivaling the bullpen as the Twins most pressing issue. Holy smokes. The Twins have a bunch of garbage arms they could use including (but certainly not limited to): Alex Burnett, Scott Diamond, Jim Hoey, Jeff Gray, etc. With around $69.5M already committed to next year's payroll, and another $15M or so wrapped up in arbitration eligible players...the Twins have about $15M to spend to fill holes in the infield, outfield and bullpen. It's going to take every cent of that money, in addition to some GM wizardry, to field a competitive Twins team in 2012, but I feel that Terry Ryan is up to the task. Capable bullpen arms don't need to be expensive, and as Aaron Gleeman talked about in his most recent column, the Twins shouldn't feel the need to spend a lot of money on a closer either...a closer doesn't need to be "proven" in order to be dominant.

I think if I were Mr. Ryan, I would focus on the outfield first because useful outfielders are likely to be snapped up a lot more quickly than useful bullpen arms will be. Aside from that, I wouldn't overreact or overpay for marginal talent. The Twins have enough quality pieces (especially if Mauer and Morneau are healthy) that they can afford to have a few duds in the lineup). I would rather see good money spent in the bullpen than money needless thrown at replacement level infielders and outfielders.

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