The playoffs have barely begun, yet the Twins' offseason has already begun. Seeing that the Twins have already let Luis Rodriguez go and outrighted 3 more players (Lew Ford, Josh Rabe, and Tommy Watkins) to the minors yesterday, I realized I couldn't put off my offseason wishlist any longer. This is one of the most important off-seasons in recent history, with important decisions surrounding Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, and others looming. The following moves that I suggest the Twins take may be surprising to some (and are not even close to what I expected to write here when I started looking things over this morning), but most of them have been suggested by other Twins fans out there as well.
When I started researching what the Twins should do this off-season, my first notion was that they should definitely keep Santana and try to extend his contract. However, after looking at the options and trying to find a way for the Twins to fill their holes on offense, the best option came down to trading Santana. Clearly, the Twins' biggest needs right now are on offense, and they have lots of young, promising pitchers looking to get a shot in the rotation, so trading Santana for a couple of young hitters forms the basis of my off-season plan for the Twins. Now, obviously, I don't know the personal side of the major league business at all, so I couldn't factor that into my plans. (For example, Justin Morneau has made some statements about possibly not signing if Johan and Torii don't, and I don't know how much of an effect those two leaving might actually have on him.) So, without further ado, here are my ideas for what the Twins roster should look like heading into next season:
Starting Rotation: Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey.
Bullpen: Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, Boof Bonser, Dennys Reyes.
Catcher: Joe Mauer.
Infielders: Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Jason Bartlett, Andy LaRoche.
Outfielders: Jason Kubel, Matt Kemp, Michael Cuddyer, Sammy Sosa (DH).
Bench: Jason Tyner, Garrett Jones, Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Mike Redmond.
DL: Jesse Crain.
Additions: Andy LaRoche, Matt Kemp, Sammy Sosa.
Losses: Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Luis Rodriguez.
Clearly, the big move was trading Santana, and my proposed trade is a variant of the Clayton Kershaw/Matt Kemp deal that there have been rumors about. I would like to see another hitter added into this deal, and third base prospect Andy LaRoche certainly fits the bill. The Dodgers have other young infield prospects, and if necessary I would be OK with the Twins adding in a pitching prospect if need be, such as Oswaldo Sosa, but I would hope that wouldn't be necessary. Kershaw is a 19 year old left-handed starter considered to be a top prospect, and he has put up amazing strikeout numbers, but needs to work on his control before he is major league ready. Kemp, a centerfielder, has gotten some playing time in the majors over the last two years, posting an OPS of .893 and an OPS+ of 127 as a 22 year old in 292 at bats in 2007. LaRoche is a 23-year old with a career line of .294/.374/.524 in the minor leagues, including 28 home runs, a .315 batting average, and a nearly equal K to BB ratio in 467 at bats in AAA over the past 2 seasons. Based on the haul the Rangers were able to get for Mark Teixeira, I think this trade is definitely possible, although the Dodgers would probably want to sign Santana to a long-term deal (which they have the money to do if they want). The next move of the off-season should be to sign Sammy Sosa. This move would seemingly go against the rest of my plan, which is playing all the youngsters and just seeing what they can do. However, without Sosa, the Twins would still have a gaping hole at DH, and the 39 year old Sosa would both fill that void and show the fan base that despite the losses of Hunter and Santana, the Twins weren't totally giving up. I really have no idea what the market for Sosa would be, but I would guess the Twins could sign for a 2 year deal worth 18 million dollars or less. That might sound like a lot of money, but with my plan for the Twins, their payroll will be low enough for the next 2 years that they can easily pay that to Sosa. After those 2 years, hopefully a player from the Twins farm system, such as Brock Peterson, or an affordable free agent will be able to take over at DH.
The next moves I would like the Twins to make are to sign Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, and Justin Morneau to front-loaded long-term deals. The Twins still have control over Cuddy and Morneau and Nathan has a $6 million dollar club option, but the Twins have waited long enough to sign their key players, and this off-season is the time. Also, signing them to front-loaded deals would allow the Twins to pay these 3 more money in the next couple years when the rest of the roster is (for the most part) making the league minimum or just entering arbitration. I think most people would agree to signing Cuddyer and Morneau, although some may disagree with signing Nathan. I don't think Neshek is ready to be the closer (see his struggles and possible injury in the second half), and Nathan is only going to be 33 next season. There are plenty of examples of older closers still going at it, such as Mariano Rivera, so I think it makes sense to sign Nathan to an extension either before or after picking up his option. I don't know how common it is to sign players to front-loaded deals, but I think it would make sense in this situation.
Seeing as how I left them off my roster, it's clear that I am suggesting letting Carlos Silva and Torii Hunter walk this off-season. Both of them performed well this season, but it is not worth the money to keep either one. For Hunter, his price will go too high for the Twins to pay him even though there is no suitable major-league replacement in center, and it seems as if he doesn't really want to stay that much anyways. (I just hope the Yankees don't get him, or Santana for that matter, which is another reason why they should trade him to the Dodgers). He will be 33 next July, and the Twins can't afford to give him a 5-year deal around $100M. Silva, on the other hand, has suggested taking a hometown discount, but with his buddy Santana gone, that might be out the window anyway. And, even if he is still willing to take one, his price (somewhere around 3 yr/$20-25M) is too high when there are so many young pitchers who deserve a rotation spot. One could argue that it would be worth it to pay him to be the veteran and mentor of the starting rotation, but I don't think it is.
With these moves the Twins' payroll would look something like this:
$0.39M (league minimum)- Baker, Bartlett, Bonser, Buscher, Casilla, Garza, Jones, Kemp, LaRoche, Liriano, Neshek, Perkins, Slowey.
$0.95- Redmond, Tyner.
$2M- Guerrier, Rincon.
$6M- Nathan (club option).
$9M- Sosa (part of a 2 yr/$18M deal), Cuddyer (part of a 5 yr/$33M deal)
$13M- Morneau (part of a 4 yr/$45M deal)
Obviously, the exact numbers for the Sosa, Cuddyer, and Morneau contracts are a lot of guesswork (the rest are all actual numbers from Cot's Baseball Contracts), so those could be way off, but the total payroll of this team is only about $60M dollars, which leaves plenty of wiggle room, as that number is expected to be around $80M next year. Now, this seems like I am advocating a rebuilding year for the Twins, and the more I look at it, the more I see it that way too. However, though this plan is certainly not to create a world series champ in '08, I do not think this team will be much, if any, worse than the Twins were in 2007, and starting in 2009 I think this team will be very competitive, just in time for the new stadium and the next wave of young players needing long-term deals. For those of you not convinced, I found this comment about the rumored Santana-to-LA trade here, and thought that it explained the Twins' predicament well:
"Honestly, this could be a good deal for both clubs. For the Twins, the
opportunity to replace Torii Hunter and Santana with players of potentially
equal talent, but 10 years younger and millions cheaper? This is the way
the Twins have been doing it for years, and they have been successful.
Twins fans worried about losing everyone from Knoblauch to Koskie to Pierzynski
to Guzman to Milton to Ortiz-- but the Twins at worst have suffered those
losses (Ortiz), and at best improved from them (Joe Nathan). The Twins
have a knack of replacing players when their value is maximum (about to
decrease), and they have excellent scouting to figure out who to bring
in. The players they've brought in in trades have always improved the team
in the long run. With the club they have right now in a tough division,
the Twins are not a threat; with this deal, they will be laying the groundwork
to have a contending team when the new stadium opens."
Now that I've covered my ideas for the Twins' off-season, I'll discuss what the man who matters's ideas are, as new GM Bill Smith gave an internet interview about the same topic recently. So far, the actual results have been promising, as he let Luis Rodriguez go to the Padres off waivers and sent Lew Ford, Tommy Watkins, and Josh Rabe to the minors (they could leave via free agency now, but that's no big loss). Smith did not say anything especially interesting, though he did say that Joe Mauer would not switch to 3rd base and that Liriano is still on schedule to start 2008 in the Twins' rotation. Though not really a positive, Smith did acknowledge "we probably have bigger holes to fill than second base," which means that he is at least looking towards fixing the obvious holes at 3rd base and in centerfield (if, as presumed, Hunter leaves). While he was asked about Sosa and other free agents, he was unable to answer due to MLB's tampering rules. One last note: he did say that Kubel would be the "frontrunner" for the starting job in leftfield, which I think should be obvious, but then quickly added that "Gardenhire makes out the lineups every day," saying that it is the manager's decision who should play each day, which, to me, is unfortunate (at least as long as Gardy is managing).
Finally, after all this writing and all this analysis, I fall back to this one quote I read regarding the Twins' off-season plans:
"Or do what they are destined to do. Not sign Hunter, try to get
Santana to agree to a long-term deal, and sign no one worthwhile
in the offseason. They will send a makeshift lineup onto the field, bank
on their pitching, and hope 4 hitters will have career years, so they can make
it to the playoffs."