November 14, 2008

Twins likely to add via trade

Today marks the beginning of the Free Agency period in which free agents are allowed to discuss contracts with teams of their choosing. The Twins have 4 players that have filed for free agency, including pitchers Eddie Guardado and Dennys Reyes and infielders Nick Punto and Adam Everett.

Reyes is the only player who qualified to bring the Twins compensation should he decide to sign a contract with a different team. Of course, the Twins will need to offer arbitration, and it's pretty apparent that they will. Reyes qualifies as a Type-B free agent, which would bring the Twins a supplementary round pick in return, which will be used in next June's MLB draft.

Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune believes that given the current state of the bullpen, the Twins are hopeful of re-signing Reyes. Reyes has served as the Twins primary left-handed reliever for 3 seasons, but with the emergence of two left-handed relievers - Craig Breslow and Jose Mijares - it looks like Reyes may no longer be needed in the Twins bullpen. As of right now, it looks like Mijares is our go-to setup guy with Breslow likely our go-to guy against left-handed hitters. Since Reyes has been nothing more than a LOOGY, I would rather see the Twins acquire a reliever who could push Mijares for the setup role.

The reliever market seems to be pretty strong this off-season so the Twins should have no problem with adding a suitable arm. Over the course of the off-season, I have mentioned plenty of names that would be suitable for the Twins to sign. I know the team will likely try to stay away from a Type-A free agent, due to the fact that they don't want to lose their first-round pick in next June's draft. So off the bat, the Twins likely won't be signing any of these relievers:
  • Doug Brocail
  • Juan Cruz
  • Brian Fuentes
  • Bob Howry
  • Jason Isringhausen
  • Darren Oliver
  • Francisco Rodriguez
  • Russ Springer
  • Kerry Wood
With those guys off the table, the reliever market still is pretty strong. The Twins won't give up a draft pick to sign a reliever, so Type-B free agents are still viable options for the Twins to pick up. Here are some realistic options for the Twins to sign without having to lose a draft pick:
  • Chad Cordero
  • Kyle Farnsworth
  • Eric Gagne
  • Jason Isringhausen
  • Brandon Lyon
  • David Weathers
Most of these guys have closing experience, which means that handling setup roles should really be no problem. Chad Cordero is a young, talented reliever who is currently recovering from shoulder surgery which is a big risk, but could be a steal if he returns to anywhere near his old form. Kyle Farnsworth had a terrible second half of the 2008 season, but he really isn't a terrible pitcher. He could be a cheap 1 or 2 year signing. Eric Gagne could also be a steal, however the chances of him returning to a dominating reliever are incredible slim. He may be the biggest risk, highest reward on this list, but I think the Twins will probably stay away from him. Jason Isringhausen had a bad 2008 season, but his track record shows that he's a very good reliever. Hopefully last season was an outlier and he will return to his old form. David Weathers wasn't great in 2008, but he could be a serviceable option.

The guy I find most desirable is Brandon Lyon. In 2008, Lyon served as the Diamondbacks primary closer in the first half before Chad Quals took over in the second half when Lyon really struggled. Lyon is a 29-year-old right-handed reliever with a career 4.46 ERA and 51 saves in 416 innings of work throughout his 7-year career.

He obviously is not the most desirable guy on the planet, but considering that he won't cost either a draft pick or a lot in terms of salary, I think he is a realistic option for the Twins. I can see a 3-year $13 million deal as a realistic contract for Lyon and I think that that's certainly within the teams limits.

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune believes that the Twins will look to upgrade the team through trades instead of free agency. I don't know if that is more so in reference to upgrading the infield, but I can see the team also acquiring a reliever through trade as well.

Phillies reliever Ryan Madson is one player for instance I could see traded. You may think, "are you crazy?" And before responding with, "sometimes" I guess I should explain my reasoning for suggesting this.

Surely Madson was the best reliever on the Phillies roster last season besides closer Brad Lidge. He played a huge role in their World Series victory and is the bread to Lidge's butter when it comes to the 8th & 9th inning for the Phillies. However, with the lose of Pat Burrell, the Phillies lost not only an outfielder but also a right-handed bat as well. That's where the Twins could come in.

Michael Cuddyer missed the majority of the 2008 season with various injuries, but when 100% healthy is a pretty good outfielder with a good bat capable of hitting in the middle of any order. The Twins have a little bit of a logjam in Major League outfielders, so if the Twins could move one of them for a position of need, it certainly would seem to be a good move for the team. Although other players could be included, I think that Cuddyer for Madson is a pretty fair deal. I do think that the Phillies may need to add another player to even it out. And perhaps the Twins could sweeten the pot and try to get Jason Donald from the Phillies, who is a shortstop/thirdbase mix with a great looking bat and despite not a lot of attention, looks to be a great player. The Twins would love to get Donald from the Phillies, I am sure.

Other relievers that could be available:
  • Heath Bell, Padres
  • Frank Francisco, Rangers
  • Aaron Heilman, Mets
  • Joe Smith, Mets
  • Huston Street, Rockies
  • Dan Wheeler, Rays
Perhaps I am starting to become overly obsessed with improving our bullpen, but I do think it's a position that needs to be looked at with a high priority. And although I am sure many will disagree with the players involved in a possible trade, I think it's safe to say that the Twins need to add a player who can change our bullpen and I think the sooner they do it the better. The Twins don't want to be sitting here in February without improving their bullpen, and possibly allowing it to determine their seasons fate once again next season.

So far the Twins have only been linked to having interest in one free agent, that being Casey Blake. The 35-year-old third baseman from Des Moines, Iowa seems to be a better fit with the Twins than either Garrett Atkins or Kevin Kouzmanoff who both have been linked to the Twins recently and would both cost a lot more than just money to acquire.

Blake through 917 games and 3,304 AB's, Blake has averaged 23 home runs, 79 RBI with a hitting line of .264/.334/.447 and an OPS+ of 105 in his career. He doesn't play outstanding defense, however he is definitely capable of playing everyday.

Blake is said to be looking for a 3-year deal and is expecting to see an annual salary of somewhere around $6 million per year. I don't see the Twins offering 3 full years for Blake, but I could see a 2-year deal with a an option for a 3rd year. If the Twins could acquire either a third baseman or a shortstop through free agency, I think that leaves quite a bit open to acquire a shortstop through free agency.

Sure the "word on the street" is that the Twins will probably only upgrade one of the two infield holes (third base/shortstop) and fill the other with "in house" options. Brendan Harris and Matt Tolbert are said to be options at shortstop if the team acquires a third baseman, while Harris and Brian Buscher will likely platoon (like they did for a portion of the 2008 season) at third base if they were to acquire a shortstop.

Personally I would like to see both infield positions filled from outside of the organization, but I know that is seriously unlikely. The Twins have plenty of money to sign a good free agent such as Rafael Furcal, however the team is not likely to go after any of the prized free agents, meaning Furcal is likely out of the question.

If I had it my way, this is the lineup the Twins would go into next season with:
  1. Denard Span, RF
  2. Yunel Escobar, SS
  3. Joe Mauer, C
  4. Justin Morneau, 1B
  5. Casey Blake, 3B
  6. Jason Kubel, DH
  7. Delmon Young, LF
  8. Alexi Casilla, 2B
  9. Carlos Gomez, CF
Of course the big acquisition would be Yunel Escobar, who's name has also been linked to the Twins as of late.

Escobar is a 26-year-old above average hitting and fielding shortstop from the Atlanta Braves organization. His name has been at the center of the Braves-Padres rumors in which former NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy would be traded to Atlanta for a package of players headlined by Escobar. Although I am sure the Braves would hate to add his contract, I think the Twins could make a good enough package to acquire Escobar from the Braves for Cuddyer. I am sure that other players would be involved on both sides, perhaps the Braves would like to get rid of a contract or two?

Regardless I think that shortstop is so weak (with respect to Furcal), that if the Twins really want to make an upgrade at that position, it certainly would have to come from a trade. Third base is also weak, however I do think that the Twins have honest interest in Blake and I think that signing him would be ideal for this team. If they choose to sign a shortstop, I hope that the team just chooses to re-sign Punto who with his defense and price is probably the most attractive shortstop on the market (again besides Furcal).

We'll see I guess, only time will tell what the Twins intend on doing. I hope that the team heads into the Winter Meetings with at least one of the three priority areas filled so that they don't have to worry about acquiring more than one player that time.

I also hope that the team looks into signing Jason Kubel and possibly Scott Baker long term. Baker more so to just avoid arbitration and to take a year or two off of his free agency. I also would like to see Kubel signed to a deal which also takes off a year or two of his free agency.

We'll see I guess, certainly this off-season has not been nearly as exciting as last years, but I hope that Bill Smith and Co. don't leave us disappointed and can come away from free agency feeling like they really made an impact on the team and in 2009 will be fielding a team that their fans will be proud to support.