09 November 2010
"Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
- The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, 1883
This quote from Emma Lazarus' famous sonnet, etched in bronze in the Statue of Liberty, is the philosophy the Twins will apply to the 2011 offseason. At least to one of their acqusitions.
In baseball, millions of dollars are won and lost every year. A team can award a large contract one day to find the player in line for Tommy John surgery the next. When this happens, most teams are tempted to cut their losses and sever ties with the player. Nobody wants an expensive, long-term project.
But sometimes they should.
Teams can strike gold when taking on reclamation projects. Just look at Rick Ankiel, Josh Hamilton, or even Tommy John himself. There are bargains to be had when dumpster-diving, even though you may get your hands dirty. This season, according to my blueprint, the Twins will take on a reclamation project and hope for the best. We'll get into that later.
What follows is a general outline of the seven steps Minnesota needs to take in order to get back to the postseason in 2011.
1. Reach arbitration agreements with Kevin Slowey ($2.5M), Pat Neshek ($800K), Alexi Casilla ($450K), Delmon Young ($5.25M), JJ Hardy ($6.5M), Jason Repko ($750K), and Francisco Liriano ($4.5M).
For a grand total of $20.75 million, the Twins can plug several of the holes in their roster. All of these are relatively obvious moves, save for the Hardy deal. Though he will be expensive, Hardy provides excellent defense and at least an average bat from the middle infield. With Casilla, the Twins' middle infield will once again be very strong defensively.
We don't know much about Casilla at this point, but his offensive improvement in limited time last season warrants giving him a chance. His glove is more than capable of fielding the position, and it's not difficult to reach league-average offensive production at second base.
The two arbitration-eligibles left off this list are Glen Perkins and Matt Capps, who shouldn't be offered contracts this offseason.
2. Offer Carl Pavano arbitration.
After one of his best seasons, Pavano should have little difficultly finding a lengthy deal from a team in need of pitching depth. Even though Pavano is a Type-A free agent, teams losing out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes may turn to the 34-year old out of desperation.
The only reason the Twins should offer Pavano arbitration is because the right-hander achieved Type-A status. Minnesota will receive compensatory picks should Pavano sign with another team after offering him arbitration, which are invaluable, especially with the Twins' scouting and developing teams.
If Pavano were to accept the Twins' offer of arbitration, he could throw a big wrench in my offseason plan. Airing on the side of caution, my final payroll has some wiggle room, but not enough to allow for the Twins to sign both Aaron Harang and Pavano.
3. Let free agents Orlando Hudson, Nick Punto, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Jim Thome, Brian Fuentes, and Randy Flores walk.
These players served their team well last season, but have either become replaceable or too expensive to justify bringing back. The biggest name on this list is Jim Thome, who had a career year in 2010 at the age of 39. Even though he's one of the most likeable guys in the clubhouse, I can't see Thome repeating that production next season. There are younger, more qualified alternatives.
4. Sign free agent Jesse Crain to a two-year, $6 million deal; sign Frank Francisco to a two-year, $5 million deal
Crain was the Twins' best reliever in 2010, and keeping him around is a must. This class of free agent relievers is incredibly deep, and the Twins would be wise to take advantage of the cheap arms available. Minnesota's bullpen relied on free agent help last year, and much of that talent will be off the roster in 2011.
Frank Francisco is going to be one of the biggest bargains this offseason. His 'saves' took a significant hit this past year, with Neftali Feliz taking over the closer duties in Texas. This will surely hurt his value and lower his future contract, as general managers love giving out big bucks to high-profile closers. Francisco has posted a sub-4.00 ERA and a K/9 over 10.3 in each of the last three seasons, and is one of the best relievers in the game.
When including the incredibly deep class of relievers available this winter, Francisco's value drops even further. The Twins should be able to scoop him up for relatively cheap.
5. Sign free agent starting pitcher Aaron Harang to a one-year, $5 million deal with $1 million in additional incentives.
When healthy, Harang was one of the better starting pitchers in the league. He struck out a ton of batters, though it came coupled with an alarmingly-high home run rate. Pitching in the Great American Ballpark surely influenced that a great deal, however, and a transition to the spacious Target Field would provide the perfect remedy.
Harang, 33, missed quite a bit of time this past season with a lower back strain. Acquiring him certainly comes with significant risk, but the Twins wouldn't be dishing out too large a contract. At just $5 million, Minnesota would only be expecting Harang to post a season with a WAR of around 1, which is where it was at last season for the right-hander.
Before the injuries started bothering Harang, he was capable of eating more than 200 quality innings per season. For a Twins team looking to replace Carl Pavano, picking up Harang is a low-cost move with the potential for a very high reward.
6. Trade outfielder Michael Cuddyer and $4 million to Atlanta for shortstop/pitcher Andrelton Simmons (rookie-league) and left-handed starting pitcher Brett Oberholtzer (High-A)
Nick Nelson's suggestion of Derek Lowe for Cuddyer makes sense, but the fact that Lowe is owed $15 million in 2012 is worrisome and could be hard to work around. Instead, I think the Braves will be willing to unload a few mid-tier prospects in return for a powerful corner outfield bat.
Atlanta's outfield, from an offensive perspective, was fairly poor in 2010. Besides Jason Heyward, the Braves gave Eric Hinsk and Melky Cabrera significant playing time in Turner Field's outfield grass. Cabrera was miserable offensively, and Atlanta would love nothing more than to replace his at-bats with a legitimate power threat. Even if it comes at a hefty price.
Cuddyer is owed $10.5 million next season, but should be able to provide the Braves with at least two wins, which is about average over his last three full seasons.
This move is primarily a payroll dump for the Twins, so they shouldn't expect much back from Atlanta. One year of Cuddyer at $10.5 million isn't worth very much in a trade, but Minnesota should be able to net some prospects with a decent chance of becoming valuable players.
Simmons has outstanding defense, at least judging from reports, and John Sickels believes his bat could improve. The Braves drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, but wanted to use him from the mound. (Interestingly enough, Simmons signed his contract with Atlanta while the Braves were in Minneapolis last June.) Simmons wanted to be a shortstop, and showed off his glove in 62 games in the Appalachian League this past summer.
Oberholtzer is a strike-throwing pitcher who doesn't walk many. Exactly the type of pitcher the Twins drool over. These two prospects are just two interesting prospects from the Braves' system that I believe the Twins may be interested in, and could be easily replaced with other prospects.
7. Trade center fielder Ben Revere to Oakland for center fielder Coco Crisp.
Parker Hageman of Over the Baggy originally suggested this trade, and I liked it so much I stole it. I dislike moving Denard Span to a corner outfield spot as much as the next guy, but I'm banking on a slight progression from the 26-year old. Hopefully Span can get his slugging percentage north of .400 once again.
Crisp provides the Twins with a much-needed infusion of speed and defense, and his bat isn't awful, either. A switch-hitter, Crisp would slide nicely into the two-hole of the lineup – allowing Alexi Casilla to slide down, where he probably belongs until he provides proof of improvement.
Crisp's power is nothing to write home about, but his on-base skills are well above-average. Most of the 31-year old's value lies in his base-running skills and outfield defense, two things the Twins were sorely lacking last season.
Lineup: Span (L), Crisp (B), Mauer (L), Morneau (L), Young (R), Kubel (L), Valencia (R), Hardy (R), Casilla (B)
Opening Day 25-Man Roster – 2011
C: Joe Mauer, $23 million
1B: Justin Morneau, $14 million
2B: Alexi Casilla, $800 K
SS: JJ Hardy, $6.5 million
3B: Danny Valencia, $450 K
LF: Delmon Young, $5.25 million
CF: Coco Crisp, $5.75 million
RF: Denard Span, $1 million
DH: Jason Kubel, $5.25 million
BN: Drew Butera, C, $450 K
BN: Matt Tolbert, IF, $450 K
BN: Bendan Harris, IF, $1.75 million
BN: Jason Repko, OF, $750 K
SP: Francisco Liriano, $4.5 million
SP: Aaron Harang, $6 million
SP: Brian Duensing, $450 K
SP: Scott Baker, $5 million
SP: Kevin Slowey, $2.5 million
SP: Kyle Gibson, $450 K
CL: Joe Nathan, $12.5 million
RP: Jesse Crain, $3 million
RP: Jose Mijares, $450 K
RP: Frank Francisco, $2.5 million
RP: Pat Neshek, $800 K
RP: Eric Hacker, $450 K
Add: $4 million owed to Michael Cuddyer
TOTAL: $108 million
This roster gives the Twins another great offensive lineup in addition to improving the starting rotation. Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker can fight for the right to be replaced by Kyle Gibson when he's deemed ready in 2011.
The final player payroll should be right around $107 million, giving the Twins enough wiggle room to financially survive (minus the Harang signing) should Pavano accept the arbitration offer he's given. If Pavano goes elsewhere, as expected, the Twins should have enough funds if they require a mid-season boost to get them over the top.
Compared to last year, the starting rotation takes a giant step forward. The bullpen should be solid once again, and the lineup shouldn't be any worse than during the 2010 season.
Without tearing apart the budget, and baring any major injury, the Twins will be a better team in 2011 than they were in 2010.