As I'm certain everyone is aware by now the Twins traded Denard Span late last week to the Nationals for minor league pitching prospect Alex Meyer. At first blush I was down on the trade, having hoped the Twins could turn the talented Span into a MLB ready mid-rotation starter type (like Jeremy Hellickson, for example) but the more I've read about it and spent time thinking about the move the more I like it.
Meyer (and you can read more about him here at Aaron Gleeman's blog or Keith Law at ESPN or really anywhere they talk Twins) is a former first round pick who lit up A and A+ ball in his first pro season last year. He's already 22 so the good numbers are not surprising for an older player at that level, but that also means that he should progress through the system fairly rapidly, hopefully landing at AAA at some point this coming season and then ready for the rotation in 2014. He throws in the mid-90s and can touch 100 at times (which means his downside is likely a pretty good reliever although hopefully it doesn't come to that) and has what one scout I read somewhere called "a truly filthy slider." He's working on a change-up as a third pitch that apparently "could become average" which doesn't sound great but as a third pitch is just fine when he already has two plus pitches. Even better, he struck out more than a batter an inning which means the Twins have recognized that having soft-tossing strike throwers is fine, but you can't have those exclusively and need some power arms. With Meyer, Kyle Gibson, and a couple of the guys they drafted this year they seem to at least be recognizing that fact. I also heard that Meyer is now the #1 pitching prospect in the system, ahead of Gibson. He's a really, really good get for the team.
Losing Span certainly hurts (he was one of my favorites after Kubel left), but a move with him had to made. He's one of the sickeningly few attractive trade pieces this team has with his elite leadoff skills, quality defense, and team friendly contract and the Twins need to rebuild the entire organization at this point. With Revere ready to step in now and hopefully Aaron Hicks in two years the Twins already have guys who have the potential to replace Span's skillset. Revere is a better outfielder already and has increased his OBP each of the last two seasons, reaching .333 in 2012 which was just shy of Span's number (.342) and actually better than Denard's OBP in 2011, and Hicks is supposed to be even better. Add in the organizational depth of top prospects in the outfield (Buxton, Arcia, Rosario, even Joe Benson plus Hicks) and it was a no brainer to get the best they could for Span, and it looks like they got a pretty good return, even if it's a lottery ticket of sorts.
From here I can see two viable directions for the Twins to go in. On one hand, you say, this team and organization is broken, time to rebuild. Trade every asset for whatever you can get. Willingham should certainly bring a decent package, and for the right team needing a first baseman Justin Morneau would be attractive - although in his case you're probably better off waiting for this year's trade deadline when other team's needs seem more urgent and hopefully he can show he's all the way (or nearly) back. I don't know if they have anybody else they could possibly trade (Doumit?). Maybe Glen Perkins if he gets a bunch of saves and somebody is desperate for a lefty reliever. It's also possible they see Perkins as their closer of the future (hint: he's not) and won't shop him, but they should if they go in this direction.
The other way to go is to try to sign the right mix of players to turn this into a competitive team, which basically means pitching. With Span gone that gives them somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million in payroll to play with, based on their comment about a payroll target for this year. You can do some good things and become a competitive team in this horrible division for that kind of money. You could sign Brandon McCarthy ($5 mil), Edwin Jackson ($11 mil), Kevin Correia ($5 mil), and like, Marco Scutaro ($8 mil). I don't know how long you'd want to/have to extend those guys, but then you're looking at this lineup:
Not bad. Don't forget the Twins had a solid offensive team last year, and this is a pretty similar look with Revere in for Span and Scutaro in for Casilla. That's a net win.
And here's your rotation:
5. Deduno/Devries/Hendriks, etc.
Certainly better than last year.
Can that team, assuming an adequate bullpen which admittedly is a pretty big assumption, compete in the AL Central? Probably for second place, and they aren't going to be in the Wild Card race.
I can see, and make an argument for, either approach. I would probably prefer to trade away everybody and try to remake the entire team, but I can also see something like the above to stay competitive to keep bringing the rubes to the park and pocketing that sweet cash to hopefully re-invest in the team. Naturally, the Twins will probably do something like sign Freddy Garcia and Derek Lowe and Wilson Valdez and Austin Kearns and call it a day, not making any moves for the future nor significantly upgrading the team and ending up sucking again while not building for the future.
Then again, Terry Ryan is back instead of Bill Smith, so there's some reason for optimism. Either way, it's going to be an interesting off-season. Actually it already has been. Do more, Terry.