The State of the Twins Off-Season
By far the biggest loss of the off-season to this point was the retirement of Brad Radke, who has anchored the Twins staff for the past 12 years. If you also consider Francisco Liriano's injury, which will keep him out for the entire 2007 season, the Twins have lost 2/5 of their starting rotation from a year ago. The Twins also saw OF Shannon Stewart depart via free agency, but considering the injury woes that have plagued him over the last couple of years, this isn't particularly significant. Also virtually meaningless is the loss of DH/1B Phil Nevin, who was picked up for the playoff run, and who didn't exactly remind Twins fans of Don Baylor in terms of his effectiveness as a ringer. Also gone is 12th pitcher Willie Eyre, who simply didn't pitch well enough to make the Twins consider keeping him around, and who will now get a shot with the Texas Rangers.
There aren't all that many of them. The biggest addition is probably 1B/3B Jeff Cirillo, a guy who is likely to play a significant role for the Twins in 2007 as a backup corner infielder (and possibly even occasionally at 2B), and who is a much more inspiring signing than Tony Batista was a year ago. The Twins also picked up IF Alejandro Machado in the Rule 5 Draft, and signed Mike Venafro and Carmen Cali to compete for a spot as a lefty out of the bullpen. Ken Harvey, DH/1B, was also signed to compete for a spot on the roster. Perhaps the biggest "gains," however, were actually just "non-losses" - players who the Twins could have let go but chose to keep around. Torii Hunter heads that list, and his $12 million option for 2007 now looks a bit more affordable in light of the contracts that have been signed this off-season. Carlos Silva will get another shot in the rotation, and is now the only veteran in the rotation outside of Johan Santana. The Twins also re-signed Rondell White and Luis Rodriguez, filling a gaping whole in LF with White and adding an infielder to compete for a roster spot in Rodriguez.
SP - Johan Santana
SP - Boof Bonser
SP - Carlos Silva
SP - Matt Garza / Scott Baker
SP - Glen Perkins / Scott Baker
Closer - Joe Nathan
Set-Up - Juan Rincon
RP - Denys Reyes
RP - Pat Neshek
RP - Jesse Crain
RP - Matt Guerrier
RP - J.D. Durbin / Mike Venafro / Carmen Cali
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Luis Castillo
3B - Nick Punto
SS - Jason Bartlett
LF - Rondell White
CF - Torii Hunter
RF - Michael Cuddyer
DH - Jason Kubel / Ken Harvey
C - Mike Redmond
IF - Jeff Cirill0
IF - Luis Rodriguez / Alejandro Machado
OF - Jason Tyner
OF/DH - Lew Ford / Ken Harvey / Jason Kubel
Start with the starters - Santana is obviously a lock, barring an injury. Bonser and Silva will both be in the rotation unless they suffer significant setbacks in Spring Training. That essentially leaves 3 youngsters competing for two spots in the rotation (Garza, Perkins, and Baker), with J.D. Durbin an outside possibility to win a starting job if he had a very solid spring, coupled with poor performances from a couple of the three favorites. If the Twins add any more free agents this off-season, it is likely to be here - a veteran who could add stability to the rotation would be welcome.
There are very few question marks surrounding the bullpen - really the only battle is over the 12th spot out of the 'pen, including the question of whether there even will be a 12th pitcher on the roster. In past years, Ron Gardenhire has preferred an 11-man pitching staff, but the realities of having a young group of starters in the modern MLB may make an 11-man staff wishful thinking. If a 12th pitcher is carried, veteran lefty Mike Venafro has to be considered the front-runner, but with formerly prized prospect J.D. Durbin out of options, the team may give him a chance to prove he's Major League ready by sticking him at the back end of the bullpen.
There are no battles for starting positions anticipated outside of the DH battle that should shape up between lefty Jason Kubel and righty Ken Harvey - a battle that may logically be expected to be resolved by the creation of a platoon. It is possible, but unlikely, that Jeff Cirillo could play his way into a position battle with Nick Punto over 3B - but that's more likely something that would shape up early in the regular season, rather than something that would develop during Spring Training. After all, the Twins are outwardly committed to Nick Punto as the starting 3B at this point.
There will either be 4 or 5 spots available on the bench, depending on the number of relievers the team carries. Mike Redmond, Jeff Cirillo, Jason Tyner are all pretty safe, and leaves more than likely just one more spot available on the bench. If Kubel and Harvey were kept around as platoon DH's, there would be no spots left on the bench for a middle reliever such as Rodriguez or Machado, unless the Twins kept only 11 pitchers. This means that either (1) the Twins will carry 11 pitchers in order to carry a full bench, (2) the Twins will not carry Ken Harvey as a platoon DH (probably the most likely scenario), or (3) the Twins will not carry a backup middle infielder (highly unlikely). This also means that Lew Ford has virtually no chance of making the Major League roster out of Spring Training, unless he were to outplay Jason Tyner, or if Jason Kubel didn't make the Major League squad. This makes the decision to offer Ford a contract even more perplexing.
The big news transaction-wise for the remainder of the off-season is almost certain to be the contracts signed by the arbitration-eligible players, including the "Big Three" of Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer. My hope is that at least one of these players is signed long-term in the next few weeks, before arbitration rolls around. Outside of the that, the Twins are unlikely to add any more free agents, with the possible exception of a starter who could help stabilize the rotation. Tomo Ohka is one of the names that has been mentioned, along with Joel Pineiro and Tony Armas. Ohka would be a solid signing (career 4.04 ERA), but would probably be awfully expensive. While a signing is possible, I expect the Twins to go into Spring Training with the roster they currently have.