Monday, October 11, 2010

Twins Season Wrap: 10 Roster Questions for Next Year

With the season officially in the crapper and my heart broken clean in two, I thought I'd look at some of the pressing offseason roster questions that Bill Smith and the Twins' front office are going to have to deal with, and then never speak of the Twisn again.  There are a lot of things that are going to change, which makes this year's defeat all the more soul crushing - the team was setup to win this year, and they failed.  Failed hard.  

1.  Will Morneau be back?  Hard to believe a simple knee to the head could end someone's career, but the fact that he missed the last three months of the season and still can't string together more than a few days without a relapse/dizzy spell who the hell knows what could happen.  I won't bother to just wildly speculate since I don't have any knowledge of it or any kind of medical background except what I learned on Scrubs, but as unfathomable as it seems that he might not be around next year, did you think there was even a slight chance he'd miss the rest of the season?

2.  How high will the payroll go?  Right now the Twins have seven players under contract for next year, but those seven (Mauer, Morneau, Nathan, Cuddyer, Baker, Span, and Blackburn) total $68 million in payroll.  Most other current Twins are arbitration eligible and most will get raises, so the Twins will have to make some hard decisions about who to keep and who to let go.  And wherever they let players go, I'd guess they try to plug those holes from within.  Will that mean Alexi Casilla as a full-time starter and Anthony Swarzak in the rotation?  I hope not, but it wouldn't surprise me.

3.  Jason Kubel's option?  Kubel had an off year this season, at least compared to the prior year, and has a team option remaining that the Twins can pick up which would pay him $5.25 million (or they can buy him out for $350k).  I hate having two defensive butchers at the corner outfield positions with him and Delmon, and Kubel is certainly more suited to a DH role, so his true value depends on whether Thome comes back.  Which, brings us to....

4.  Will Thome return on the cheap?  Jim Thome was only signed this year because he was willing to take a very cheap $1.5 million to come play part time.  With Morneau's injury and subsequent position shifting of everyone, his value skyrocketed and he more than proved himself worth every penny.  If Morneau comes back, Thome goes back to his part-time role.  Would he be willing to do it again, or at this point does he want to be full-time player again?

5. What's going to happen with Delmon Young?  Delmon is arbitration eligible and made $2.6 million last year, but coming off the year he had, including surpassing magic numbers of 20 HRs and 100 RBI, he's going to get a healthy raise if they go to arbitration.  If his agent is worth his shit, however, they'll be pushing for a long-term contract, and the question is if the Twins will go for it.  Nick Markakis of the Orioles had a similar year in 2008 and ended up signing a 6-year, $66 million deal.  Are you ready to pay Delmon $11 per year?  

6.  How is the bullpen going to shake out?  Joe Nathan is the only bullpen guy with a guaranteed contract for next season, so this is where a lot of choices are going to have to be made.  Fuentes is a free agent and will be gone, but everybody else is a question mark.  Matt Guerrier, Jessie Crain, and Jon Rauch are all free agents and Matt Capps is arbitration eligible and will get a significant raise from the $3.5 million he made this year if he's offered.  With the payroll already where it is, they probably won't be bringing everybody back, and I'd be pretty shocked if Rauch is a Twin next season.

7.  How will the middle infield look next year?  Orlando Hudson is a free agent, and I'd be pretty shocked if they brought him back, while J.J. Hardy, Alexi Casilla, and Matt Tolbert are all arbitration eligible.  Hardy made $5.1 million this year, and even if he doesn't get a raise that is still a pretty high number for medium production, but the alternatives make me want to kill myself.  Unless they decide to try to pay for Juan Uribe, a free agent from the Giants next year, Hardy is pretty much the only viable option.  And if they start next year with Punto as their starting SS, we might as well just give the season up for dead.  Speaking of......

8.  They can't possibly pick up Nick Punto's option, right?  The choices are to either agree to pay him $5 million next year (Five.  Freaking.  Million) or buy him out for $500k.  Putting aside how terrible that contract was, I know they are in love with him over at Target Field but even they have to realize that $5MM is a ridiculous number for a good fielding utility man, right?  Their best bet would be to buy him out, then offer him a contract for a year in the $500k - $1 million range to be their back up, although they should probably just pay him the minimum since he's essentially stolen over $13 million from the Twins the last few years. 

9.  Will the 'stache be back?  This might be the toughest decision to make, since Carl Pavano was brilliant all year and carried the team at times.  Of course, pitchers who are brilliant and carry their team generally make a lot of money.  He made $7 million this year, and, unless the Twins move quickly, will hit the open market, and who knows who is going to offer him what and for how long.  One advantage is that there is no way the Yankees will be after him since he burned them once before, but there are plenty of other teams who have money and need pitching.  Whatever the cost, I would be nervous giving Pavano anything more than a 2-year deal, but if you want to keep him you might have to, and don't be shocked if he makes $10+ million per year with a new deal.

10.  Pavano or no, what about the rest of the rotation?  Baker is pretty much stuck since he's got a contract ($5 million next year) as is Blackburn ($3 million), Brian Duensing is still under team control, so he'll be here, and Francisco Liriano will be back as well, whether it's through arbitration or if they decide to sign him longer term.  Slowey is also still under arbitration, so I'd expect him to be back as well.  None of the in-house options are very attractive at this point, unless Kyle Gibson has just an amazing spring, so I'd expect the rotation to look pretty similar to start the year, with those five above the guys they go with if they don't end up signing Pavano.  There will probably be a few other scraps on the open market, because they'll have no shot at Cliff Lee, but I wouldn't expect the Twins to go after anybody unless they think they can get a steal on a veteran they think is undervalued (like Pavano was).  I wouldn't be shocked to see Javier Vazquez as a Twin next year, although if I was to bet on it I'd guess next year's rotation would be Liriano, Duensing, Baker, Slowey, and Blackbun.  Doesn't that just get you fired up? 

Well, there you have it.  It will be interesting to see what they end up doing in a variety of areas, and to see the results.  Worst case, the team takes a nosedive and sucks.  Best case, another division title and they get swept out of the first round of the playoffs.  Either way, it guarantees a season ending in frustration.  Thank god college hoops isn't too far away, because Gopher basketball is never frustrating.

Catchers and pitchers report in 19 weeks.

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