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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