Offseason Outlook: Minnesota Twins

The Twins need to add pitching and stabilize their offense this winter if they are to rebound from an awful 2011.

Guaranteed Contracts

Contract Options

  • Joe Nathan, RP: $12.5MM club option with a $2MM buyout

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Free Agents

They couldn’t score, they couldn’t prevent runs and they couldn’t stay healthy. The story of the 2011 Twins was unpleasant and unexpected for a franchise that finished in last place for the first time since 2000.

Fortunately for Twins fans, the team plays in the winnable AL Central. Two years into the Target Field era, the team is averaging $105MM in payroll in its new open-air facility. They were second in the American League in attendance this year, despite a 63-99 record (their worst regular season mark since 1982, the year before Joe Mauer was born). Owner Jim Pohlad says payroll will be "right up there" again, so the Twins aren't exactly the small market team they once were. In fact, if payroll stays in the $100MM range and they retain Perkins, Casilla, and Liriano through arbitration, GM Bill Smith could have $25-$30MM to commit to 2012 salaries.

He'll need it. Uncertainty prevails in the outfield, the middle infield, the rotation and the bullpen. There's also first base and catcher, where Mauer and Justin Morneau were supposed to provide stability. Mauer spent time on the DL with bilateral leg weakness and pneumonia, while Morneau missed most of the season with concussion symptoms. In the end, the Twins paid the pair $37MM for seven total home runs in 151 total games.

More than anything else, the Twins need the two former MVPs to stay reasonably healthy in 2012. Since the Twins' offseason plans depend on the health of Mauer and Morneau, it makes sense for them to monitor the players' health and adapt their offseason wish list accordingly.

That doesn't mean Smith's completely at the mercy of his stars' recoveries. Two other fixtures in the lineup, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are eligible for free agency. There are arguments in favor of offering both arbitration, though the Twins won't necessarily be prepared to guarantee them raises. The Twins say they'd like Cuddyer back and they've made him an offer, but it appears likely that he'll explore free agency, where he's sure to see many offers.

To establish their interest in DH and corner outfield options like Cuddyer and Kubel, the Twins will have to determine their level of confidence in the likes of Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, Brian Dinkelman and Chris Parmelee (who showed promising power during the season's final three weeks). Despite their internal options, it seems likely that the Twins will look to sign a corner outfielder if Cuddyer leaves as a free agent.

The Twins could target outfielders with good gloves and match them with defensive stalwarts Ben Revere (say what you will about his arm) and Denard Span to give their pitchers a much-needed edge. Or, the Twins could rely more heavily on the defense of Revere and Span and add a below-average defender who can hit.

The positional uncertainty extends to the Twins' infield. Tsuyoshi Nishioka wasn't at his best in 2011 and the Twins have to determine how he, Alexi Casilla, Trevor Plouffe and non-tender candidate Matt Tolbert fit into their plans. Smith, who traded J.J. Hardy to Baltimore last offseason, will consider adding shortstops from outside the organization and an addition seems likely.

Given their need for pitching and likely interest in outfield bats, a major expenditure at shortstop would be a surprise. Instead, Smith and his front office could browse second-tier free agent options such as Alex Gonzalez at short or stand pat. Another need exists at backup catcher, as Drew Butera's .449 OPS won't be enough in 2012, especially if Mauer spends even less time behind the plate. Jose Molina, 36, is coming off of a strong offensive and defensive season, so he's one relatively affordable option for the Twins to consider.

If the Twins' rotation had met expectations, the team wouldn't have lost 99 games. They ranked 26th in the Majors in rotation ERA (4.64) and still can't strike opponents out (5.8 K/9). They'll look for a bounce-back season from Francisco Liriano, who will slot into the rotation along with Carl Pavano and Scott Baker. The back of the rotation remains unsettled and Smith suggested some starters could pitch out of the 'pen in 2012 (Brian Duensing appears to be one such candidate).

Top prospect Kyle Gibson is out with Tommy John surgery, and alternatives such as Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond and Anthony Swarzak don't appear to have equal upside. It's hard to imagine a turnaround without an improved rotation, so the Twins will want to consider ways of obtaining starting pitching this offseason.

Minnesota's bullpen never recovered from the losses of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Jon Rauch and was the worst in baseball by many measures. Twins relievers posted 6.3 K/9 (30th in MLB) and a 4.51 ERA (30th in MLB). They were also last in xFIP and SIERA, so this doesn't appear to be a case of bad luck. They'll decline Joe Nathan's option but could bring him back on a one-year deal. Matt Capps' Type A ranking and decline in performance should prevent the Twins from offering arbitration (he would obtain a raise from $7.15MM). Glen Perkins' emergence out of the bullpen, a positive for the Twins in 2011, puts Jose Mijares and Phil Dumatrait in non-tender limbo.

One way or another, the Twins need to obtain a shutdown reliever to pair with Perkins in late innings. The D'Backs, now an inspiration to so many of baseball's last-place teams, turned their bullpen around in one season. It can be done and the Twins must do it to improve upon the dismal results of 2011.

While an arbitration offer to Capps seems unlikely, the Twins could have up to three extra draft picks in 2012. They already have the second overall selection, and scouting director Deron Johnson could have extra picks if Minnesota offers arbitration to Kubel and Cuddyer and they decline. 

The Twins need pitching – and lots of it – to be a better team in 2012. They'll probably add a starter and they should add multiple big league relievers. As for position players, it makes sense to offer arbitration to Kubel and Cuddyer before turning to external options. They could use a new shortstop and would do well to pursue a backup catcher who can hit. That's it, you say? Not quite, as the unanswerable question of how much Mauer and Morneau will produce in 2012 remains, and that variable could make the difference between a winning season and further disappointment for Twins fans.


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50 Comments on "Offseason Outlook: Minnesota Twins"


3 years 10 months ago

Only way this team is gonna win is by cleaning house (front office) and changing its organizational philosophy.

3 years 10 months ago

People in the cities love Gardenhire and the Twins’ style, but it desperately needs to be changed. Sure it’s fun to see a team like this make the ALDS once in a while, but championships are won with two aces and big bats. With the payroll increase this calls for no more excuses with no power potential…Smith needs to go and I’m halfway out the door with Gardy too.

Twins11Fan
3 years 10 months ago

Not all of us do…

Twins11Fan
3 years 10 months ago

Not all of us like their style…I’d like to see Smith and Gardy go…

3 years 10 months ago

Wow the Twins are just a mess.Bad contracts and no good pitching.The GM has to go

NickinIthaca
3 years 10 months ago

If Carl Crawford’s contract is considered as bad as it is, how are people looking at Mauer’s after the past two seasons?

3 years 10 months ago

Mauer’s extension didn’t kick in until this year. 

NickinIthaca
3 years 10 months ago

Fair enough…

johnsilver
3 years 10 months ago

It’s not so much Mauer as it is all those rubbish tossing pitcher’s that this organization drafts, signs as FA and fills it rotation with every single year.

Whatever happened to Blyleven type guys who could at least throw 92-94mph once in a while? Sure they have Liriano (when healthy) but other than him, the rest of those guys are nothing more than “break glass” types only for emergency starts, or better put.. #4-5 starters. Much less making upwards of 10m a year at it.

DMCj
3 years 10 months ago

I could see lots of guys who wore Nats uniforms this year helping out the Twins. 

Backup catcher? Jesus Flores can hit, wants more playing time and is a free agent. If you’re willing to consider a defense-first type, Pudge Rodriguez still wants to play though his bat is nothing like it once was.

Shortstop? Ian Desmond swings a big bat and finally seems to have gotten his defensive demons under control – but might get squeezed as younger players create an opportunity to move Danny Espinosa to SS.

Pitching? The Nats almost have too many arms; John Lannan or one of the younger guys (Milone, Peacock, Detwiler) may find them themselves without a roster spot -as might young relievers like Mattheus, Kimball, Severino – even Henry Rodriguez.

The Nats will want Denard Span in return for anyone currently under contract – a good defense, high OBP, cost-controlled leadoff type being their #1 priority – but it seems like it could be a good match if Terry Smith is willing to let “Capps for Ramos” be bygones.

NordeastMPLSTwinsFan
3 years 10 months ago

You are mixing GMs.  It’s Bill Smith.  Terry Ryan was the previous GM.
  

DMCj
3 years 10 months ago

::facepalm:: I knew I should have Googled that first. Let the record show that I edited my original comment to fix Ross Detwiler’s last name but left Bill Ryan’s name unchanged :)

NordeastMPLSTwinsFan
3 years 10 months ago

I see what you did there.  Well played.  

rxbrgr
3 years 10 months ago

 Great analysis. You’ve done your research. As much as I love the Nard Dog, it would be interesting to see what kind of package the Nats would offer this time around for Span.
Any 3 or 4 of Desmond, Bernadina, Peacock, Detwiler, and Flores would be interesting.

Greg Snyder
3 years 10 months ago

One thing that the Twins desperately need to upgrade that doesn’t get mentioned much is their defense.  Their pitchers are taught to pitch to contact, and without any legit strikeout pitcher or ace, defense has to be above average and a priority.  This past year they were brutal, ranking near the bottom in most defensive metrics.  Improving the defense alone will help the pitching, but a legit top of the rotation starter has to be added along with improvement in the bullpen.

Shu13
3 years 10 months ago

What I don’t understand about the Arbitration process and is WRONG….When you read a sentence like…
 Matt Capps’
Type A ranking and decline in performance should prevent the Twins from
offering arbitration (he would obtain a raise from $7.15MM).

“Declining performance” and “obtain a raise” SHOULD NEVER be in the same sentence….

Who goes into a yearly review w/ declining sales or whatever and comes out w/ a raise in the real world? NO ONE…..why should players be any different….

Greg Snyder
3 years 10 months ago

The rankings are based on two year performances compared to other players at the same position.  

But I would agree in general.

Shu13
3 years 10 months ago

 I understand that and yet Mathis has gotten a raise of $400k ($.3 to $1.7) for batting .195 down from .211 the year before and not stellar D (despite what the Angels try to force down the fans throats)

Greg Snyder
3 years 10 months ago

In Mathis’ instance, it’s based primarily on service time for a younger player.  Capps is enough service that its strictly performance based.

In some instances it makes a lot more sense to the point where a player doesn’t really get enough of a raise.  We’re talking about cases where the opposite is true.  By no means does Capps deserve a raise or his Type A status.  But he won’t get a raise because he won’t be offered arbitration because he’d accept it since he won’t make that much on the open market.

3 years 10 months ago

Wow… I will love the Twins through thick and thin, but this looks like it is going to be REALLY bad for a REALLY long time.

DMCj
3 years 10 months ago

Chin up … your boys play in the AL Central. Consequently, you have as good a chance as any other fan of a team in that division of seeing a home playoff baseball game in 2012.

$3513744
3 years 10 months ago

Tell that to the Royals.

3 years 10 months ago

The problem with the Mauer contract is not the money, it’s the length. Eight years for a 28 year old catcher with creaky bones. Is it the longest contract ever given to a catcher? Five years max is what they should have done.

jwsox
3 years 10 months ago

dare I say it, but might it be time to at least entertain the idea of trading away mauer? He clearly cant catch for the entire length of that contract. And might not be able to stay healthy for an entire season ever again. Also who knows if he will ever be fully healthy/ return to the MVP batting title champ type of hitter he once was. I would have to think there would be teams out there jumping at the chance to take mauer, contract and all. Maybe the yankees and twins could match up sending montero to the twins and mauer and most if not all of his contract to the yankees. Montero could be a santana type, split time at C, 1st, DH for the twins. And Mauer could be moved to right field for the yankees. Considering they SHOULD let swisher walk. Just one team, i know there are others out there…maybe the bosox could get in on it. or even the bluejays. They have a ton of great young pitching..Mauer to the bluejays, he plays 1st and maybe the jays send a catcher there mayeb JP

Nicholas Grimson
3 years 9 months ago

Rather have JP. I doubt an extremely expensive singles hitting DH is in AA’s plans. 

jwsox
3 years 10 months ago

dare I say it, but might it be time to at least entertain the idea of trading away mauer? He clearly cant catch for the entire length of that contract. And might not be able to stay healthy for an entire season ever again. Also who knows if he will ever be fully healthy/ return to the MVP batting title champ type of hitter he once was. I would have to think there would be teams out there jumping at the chance to take mauer, contract and all. Maybe the yankees and twins could match up sending montero to the twins and mauer and most if not all of his contract to the yankees. Montero could be a santana type, split time at C, 1st, DH for the twins. And Mauer could be moved to right field for the yankees. Considering they SHOULD let swisher walk. Just one team, i know there are others out there…maybe the bosox could get in on it. or even the bluejays. They have a ton of great young pitching..Mauer to the bluejays, he plays 1st and maybe the jays send a catcher there mayeb JP

3 years 10 months ago

The Twins need to add a middle infielder that can handle SS, and has experience at 2B. Considering the multiple year investment in Nishioka, I highly doubt that the Twins would change course so abruptly. I think that a Nick Punto/Twins reunion makes sense. It appears that his skill set is undervalued, so he should come at a bargain. For example, according to WAR, Punto was worth about 5.3M to the 2010 Twins, but signed a 750K contract with the 2011 Cardinals late in the off-season.

While I think that re-signing Cuddyer and Kubel should be a priority for the Twins, there should be enough interest in Cuddyer’s skill set on the open market that they might have to push an offer towards 10M/YR for a minimum of 3 years to convince him to avoid testing the market. I could also see the Twins pursuing either Dejesus or Willingham as a replacement for Cuddyer. However, both replacements should cost a similar price. Kubel, however could return and be utilized as a DH.

As for starters, I think that the Twins have enough money and need to be interested in Javier Vazquez at about 1YR/10M. Although Vazquez is a little older than some potential free agent targets, they have been successful with at least one Yankee burnout (Carl Pavano), and Vazquez is coming off of a strong season with the Marlins. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe Nathan re-sign with the Twins on an incentive-laden deal. I could also see the Twins interested in right handed bullpen arms like Juan Cruz and Todd Coffey, or left handed bullpen arms like George Sherrill and JC Romero.

The Twins position players could include: C Mauer, 1B Morneau, 2B Punto, SS Nishioka, 3B Valencia, LF Willingham, CF Span, RF Revere, and DH Kubel. And their rotation might consist of: RH Vazquez, RH Pavano, LH Liriano, RH Blackburn, and LH Duensing.

jwsox
3 years 10 months ago

javier was not just a yankees burn out he was a whitesox and marlins burnout too…dude is done and if the twins gm offers him 10 mill he should be fired. And any team starting Nish at SS is asking to have a losing season. He clearly cant play in the bigs, at least yet. Maybe some time in AAA would do him well.

3 years 10 months ago

That is ignorant.

According to FIP, Vazquez has been a solid, and at times a great starting pitcher. His only poor seasons were in 04 (4.78FIP) and 2010 (5.56FIP). Each and only these two seasons, he was a New York Yankee. Injuries haven’t been the issue. Obviously he just doesn’t perform well under the spot light. While he is 35, he is still hitting 90-91MPH with his fastball. With the 2011 Marlins, Vazquez was worth 3.2WAR and about 14.4M. Give me something to back up your claim that he “is done.” And that he shouldn’t get an offer of 1YR/10M.

As for Nisioka, he only had 221 at bats! The Twins still owe him 6.5M through 2013. From 03 to 2010 he was a .293 hitter in Japan. He needs a chance to adjust to the majors, and some “time in AAA” wouldn’t do him any good. He may as well take BP.

rxbrgr
3 years 10 months ago

Vazquez would be a great add if not for his personal demands of playing on the east coast, close to his native Puerto Rico.

Bernaldo
3 years 10 months ago

You destroy your own case – and credibility – by calling somone “ignorant” simply because he has an opinion different from yours.  FIP alone doesn’t make a pitcher “solid” let alone a “great starting pitcher”. Vazquez has always been a garden-variety, journeyman starting pitcher who had a couple of very good years but mostly near average production.  Now, he is near the end of his career. There is simply no good reason for the Twins to waste a roster spot on him and Vasquez himself himslef has indicated he won’t take a minor league deal which is all that he is worth.

Nishioka lost at bats at the beginning of the season because of his broken leg.  He lost at-bats in the second half of the season because he couldn’t hit big league pitching and is mediocre in the field.  The Twins kept giving him chances but by August it was pretty clear that his way over his head in the big leagues.  He doesn’t need or deserve more chances – his swing and stance will never let him hit MLB pitching with any consistancy.  He either needs to completely change his approach to hitting or head back to Japan. Nishioka is merely that latest in a line of Japanese infielders who have failed at the MLB level.  

Nicholas Grimson
3 years 9 months ago

Yeah, so many garden-variety journeyman pitchers are the active leader in strikeouts and 29th on the all time list. As for Nishioka, yeah, I’ll give you that one, he just sucks. 

Bernaldo
3 years 10 months ago

You destroy your own case – and credibility – by calling somone “ignorant” simply because he has an opinion different from yours.  FIP alone doesn’t make a pitcher “solid” let alone a “great starting pitcher”. Vazquez has always been a garden-variety, journeyman starting pitcher who had a couple of very good years but mostly near average production.  Now, he is near the end of his career. There is simply no good reason for the Twins to waste a roster spot on him and Vasquez himself himslef has indicated he won’t take a minor league deal which is all that he is worth.

Nishioka lost at bats at the beginning of the season because of his broken leg.  He lost at-bats in the second half of the season because he couldn’t hit big league pitching and is mediocre in the field.  The Twins kept giving him chances but by August it was pretty clear that his way over his head in the big leagues.  He doesn’t need or deserve more chances – his swing and stance will never let him hit MLB pitching with any consistancy.  He either needs to completely change his approach to hitting or head back to Japan. Nishioka is merely that latest in a line of Japanese infielders who have failed at the MLB level.  

3 years 10 months ago

Everyone hates on nishi and they have a right with the overall season he had. I try and look at the bright side and I think he’d have some potential coming around (but should definitely be used in just a utility role). His defense is the real thing that needs work. He went 3 of 4 vs sabathia is one I can remember late on. He did horrible against verlander which sucks. could hit Jimenez but everyone sort of could. He needs a lot of conditioning in the offseason, but I’m hoping he finds hit stroke and gets some confidence going into the next season.

I don’t like how the majority of commenters anywhere thinks all problems on a baseball team can be solved by firing and replacing. It’s really complicated and a lot of times it’s best to try and get the potential out of what you have…look at baker, he’s always been average and hung so many balls up in the zone. This year he looked ace like (finally), but injuries got him. The fans solution was always to dump him and get an ace. If the twins could dump everyone and hit the free agents and have this lineup next year they would….

CF.Span
SS.Reyes
1B.Pujols
DH.Fielder
3B.Morneau
C.Mauer
RF.Cuddyer
2B.Casilla/Nishi/Plouffe
LF.Revere

1.Sabathia
2.CJ Wilson
3.Baker
4.Liriano
5.Pavano

But they wont get any of them so be happy with what you got

rxbrgr
3 years 10 months ago

I know you weren’t being serious with the lineup and roster guesses…but what were you doing? Head-scratcher.

Brad Beneke
3 years 10 months ago

Paul, I think you just made the world a little dumber with that post.

3 years 10 months ago

As long as Bill Smith is GM, your gonna see more years like what they just went through. He is arguably the worst in baseball.

3 years 10 months ago

As long as Bill Smith is GM, your gonna see more years like what they just went through. He is arguably the worst in baseball.

rxbrgr
3 years 10 months ago

 For as bad a GM as Bill Smith, he could gain ground in my eyes if he only had a more unique name. Bill Smith? Really. Somebody check his birth certificate.

Fols
3 years 9 months ago

Bill Smith fired today, yes!