November 11, 2010 – The Twins have nine players (Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, Carl Pavano, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Randy Flores, and Ron Mahay) that became free agents and Nick Punto was added to the free agent list when the Twins passed on his $5 million option and let him walk for the $500K buy-out. They did however; pick up Jason Kubel’s $5.25 million option.
OK, so what do they do now? The Twins payroll was about $101 million last year and President Dave St. Peter has stated that the payroll will go up for 2011 but he did not say by how much. For the record, the Twins have stated that they usually spend 50% of their revenue on player payroll. Since we don’t know the true figure of the Twins revenue let’s assume that they will raise their payroll this year by about 10% and that the payroll number they will be shooting for is $110-$115 million.
The Twins have a number of issues as they go into the off-season. The bullpen is pretty much decimated by free agency so they have a huge rebuilding task there, Carl Pavano, although not a number 1 or 2 pitcher in my mind is still a valuable starter. They can probably fill their 2B hole from with-in and then there is always the question of what happens with Jim Thome who was the team leader in home runs but can’t play in the field and is 40 years old.
If those were the only problems that the Twins had they would be in good shape but they have two other huge black clouds off in the distance, will Joe Nathan bounce back from Tommy John surgery and if so, can he be ready to open the season as the Twins closer? What about Justin Morneau and his concussion, will Justin be healthy enough to start the season at 1B? Nathan and Morneau are huge question marks that have huge implications on how the Twins should spend their payroll dollars and what kinds of free agents they should go after and what kinds of trades they might pursue.
If I am Bill Smith I have to sit back and say WOW, where do we start? Strangely enough Smith started by signing free agent pitcher Eric Hacker, a career minor leaguer, with the exception of 3 big league relief appearances with the Pirates in 2009. Smith has also been quoted as saying they are in the Thome hunt but you have to wonder how long they will stay in that hunt. Thome put up some very nice numbers but only because he had the opportunity to play way more than was originally planned due to Morneau’s injury. If Morneau is healthy do you want a 40 year old with back problems as your DH? No, but then again he did hit 25 home runs and he will want more money and there are other teams, some in the Central Division that might just give it to him. Orlando Hudson is probably history, a luxury the Twins can no longer afford with Alexi Casilla once again showing he can probably do the job for less money.
So what to do with the bullpen free agents? Mahay and Flores are easy, let them go, no one is going to beat their doors down to sign them. Flores had a 4.91 ERA and pitched a total of 3 2/3 innings in 11 games, geez! Brian Fuentes I really like, but he wants to close and the Twins don’t have that opportunity open to him here so he is gone too. Jon Rauch is good insurance since he has closing experience but with him I am thinking it is all about the money, depending on what he wants determines if the Twins keep him. The two most important free agent relievers are Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier. Guerrier is three years older and has pitched in 70+ games in four consecutive years. Crain strikes out more batters but also walks more. There is also some talk floating around that Crain would like to be a closer somewhere and the Twins have no closer opening. Crain and Guerrier are two totally different pitchers but yet they both get the job done. If I am Mr. Smith, it is a priority for me to sign both of these guys to provide some stability for a bullpen that needs some help. And these moves just scratch the surface of the Twins moves this off season, you might need a scorecard to identify the players.