Projecting the opening day roster yesterday got me scared. If the Twins wanted to save on payroll, that roster would do it. According to my projection of salaries it would be a total of under $90 million.
If we believe Jim Pohlad really does want to win, that low a payroll in 2012 is highly unlikely. It is obvious that Terry Ryan is not finished yet with his off-season work.
Based on my roster projections, I think the need for upgrades are especially acute in the following positions. Right field, one starting pitcher and at least two bullpen arms, including a closer.
Ryan has already publicly said he is looking for a closer and has hinted that Matt Capps might be the guy. Many Twins fans, myself included, shudder at that idea, but that does not mean it will not happen. Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson both like him and with the recent revelation of the forearm tightness he pitched through last season, there may well be too many within the organization that want to bring him back than can be resisted. My hope is if it happens, it is for $3 million or less for one year and not a longer term contract.
I’d rather see a proven set-up man over a period of at least two or three years be a target for a trade to become the closer for relatively low cost.
Kevin Slowey is not a good option even for the number five starter. His record last year was dreadful and it is clear that neither Gardenhire nor Anderson have a lot of confidence in his ability to do what is needed. I expect him either to be non-tendered or traded. That means the Twins need another proven starting pitcher. Trade is the most likely scenario, but there are some free agents that might be in the price range.
I’ll discuss the bull pen options and another post because there are so many scenarios that include both in house candidates, free agents (already signed and yet to be signed) and players acquired via trades, most probably as part of a multi-player deal.
Right field is the most important position to fill in my opinion. Left field can be adequately manned by Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe in a platoon effort. That would allow for lefty/righty matchups and for Revere to be available often off the bench to pinch run in late inning situations.
My great preference would be to re-sign Jason Kubel, a known quantity and very good hitter. He made the adjustment in 2011 to Target Field and even though his home run totals were not what he has done, that was more likely a result of his foot injury than anything else.
Michael Cuddyer is an option, but he is older than Kubel and not really much more mobile in the field. Both have good strong arms. The concern I have with Cuddyer is that the Twins would overpay for too many years and that is already a problem for the payroll. I also believe the Twins need new leadership in the clubhouse from some other players and that is less likely to happen if Cuddyer is back.
If neither Kubel nor Cuddyer are signed, then another starting outfielder is needed. Some are available in a decent salary range as free agents. Ryan may also work out some kind of trade for a strong right fielder.
Before wrapping up this review of needs, I must say that I think the Twins also need one more utility infielder to replace Nishioka, at least to open the season. He would greatly benefit from some time at AAA Rochester to get more comfortable with the way the game is played in the USA. He should get some time at shortstop and second base. If he progresses well on defense and hits well at Rochester he can be brought up to serve the utility role or replace Alexi Casilla if he flounders again in 2012. Luke Hughes is adequate as a corner infield utility guy, but less so at second base.
With these fixes, and good health for the whole roster, the Twins could be somewhat competitive in the Central Division.