Even with some action in recent days by the Twins to provide fodder for new posts, I am finding plenty of room for speculation on what is yet to come. Not all the holes have been adequately filled and it is fun to do a close reading of comments made by Twins officials that allude to what they are trying to accomplish this off-season.
Based on direct comments and actions to date, it seems to me there are two primary goals Terry Ryan is pursuing this winter:
- First, build a major league roster that can win without Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau;
- Second, build a AAA roster that will be much more competitive fulfilling the need to give Rochester fans and management a reason to continue a relationship with the Twins after the current contract expires in 2012, as well as provide viable substitutes for the Twins in case of prolonged injuries as was the case in 2011.
The first goal comes from a statement made by Ron Gardenhire during the winter meetings. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, albeit a welcome one, that the Twins were going to be that aggressive in building the roster. And I must admit when I first heard it, I thought it might just be Gardenhire in a bit of hyperbole, but as the off-season progresses, I’m not so sure it is just hype. I am surprised because Bill Smith did virtually nothing last year to provide a plan B for either Mauer or Morneau when it was obvious that they were not a lock to be back to form as the season started, and even with the GM change this year, radical changes seemed unrealistic. I was critical last year because I did not see Cuddyer as a good option long term to replace Morneau at first base, and I couldn’t believe they did not even have more than two catchers – Mauer and Butera – on the 40-man roster during spring training with Mauer struggling to return from knee surgery. Evidence that this goal is operative might be a bit thin, but the signing of Willingham followed by the confirmation that Cuddyer and Kubel were still possibilities is a pretty strong indication that Ryan is a long ways away from being finished and plan B’s are much stronger this year than last.
The second goal is a continuation of what was begun by Smith this fall when the manager and hitting coach of AAA Rochester were fired after two consecutive 90+ loss seasons. The Twins have committed to improving that Red Wings roster as well as management. The roster will get a boost when some of the Twins’ top prospects – Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee, Brian Dozier, Liam Hendriks – are promoted to Rochester from AA last year. Additional evidence of that commitment comes by way of hiring strong leadership and signing a bevy of minor league free agents assigned to Rochester. Several of those are players who have good AAA records and have seen time in the major leagues. Initially I was not impressed with all the minor league signings, but the more I think about the need to improve the Red Wings, the more it makes sense to view these free agents as part of a grand plan to add depth. This coming season should be a much better year for the Red Wings.
When spring training arrives, with the then advantage of hindsight, we’ll know just how accurate my speculation about the off-season goals is. More to come.