The State of the Twins Roster
As of this moment, the Twins have 37 players on the 40-man roster, with Pat Neshek still sitting on the 60-Day DL. The disabled list cannot extend into the off-season, however, so Neshek will be "activated" from the list at some point in the next couple of weeks. This is really just a paper move, but it has to happen. As a result, you might as well just count the Twins as having 38 players on the 40-man roster at this moment.
Potential Free Agents
Very little happens automatically in the MLB, and players have to actually take the step of filing for free agency before they hit the market and come off the 40-man roster. Nonetheless, there's no reason not to file, so each of the 4 players who are eligible for free agency will undoubtedly file for it after the World Series ends unless the Twins re-sign them first. The free agents to be on the roster currently are Nick Punto, Dennys Reyes, Adam Everett, and Eddie Guardado (in no particular order).
There's no way the Twins will make any move to bring back Everett or Guardado, so once they file for free agency the Twins will get 2 more roster spots back, dropping them to 36. Punto and Reyes are somewhat more difficult to read. Reyes will turn 32 next season, so even though it seems like he's been around forever he's probably at the back end of his "prime." He's been a solid contributor for the Twins and lefties are always valuable. That said, the emergence in September of Jose Mijares, and the likely return of Craig Breslow to the bullpen next year, might mean that the Twins will let Reyes go.
As for Punto -- what to say? Punto has been a controversial figure with the Twins since at least the start of 2007. There an awful lot of folks who just want him gone. I'm not sure where I stand; Punto is a great defensive player, and he has two big league seasons with a batting average over .280 (nonetheless, his career big league average is south of .250). His value as a utility player is sky high -- but will he take utility player money? And if he's brought back, will Gardy actually use him as a utility player, or will he once again find himself in a regular role? For the right price, I actually am fine with bringing Punto back in. I don't think there are very many big league players who can play everywhere like he can, and I don't think he's as bad as a lot of people think he is. If I had to guess, I'd say Punto is the free agent most likely to be brought back by the Twins -- but I'd also put the odds at no better than 50-50 that he returns.
There's only one player with an option that has to be decided on by the Twins, and it's pretty much a no-brainer. Mike Redmond has a team option for $950,000 on his contract for 2009, which is the same salary he made this year. Redmond continues to be a great backup catcher for the Twins, and at that price he's a bargain. The Twins will pick up this option without hesitation (for all I know, they already have done so -- I haven't seen a story saying they have, but it seems like an obvious move). I'd be stunned if Redmond wasn't back next year.
The Twins have at least 2, and possibly 3, players eligible for arbitration this off-season. The two players who are definitely eligible are outfielder Jason Kubel and reliever Matt Guerrier. Depending on how many other players throughout the league are eligible, starter Scott Baker may also qualify as a "Super-2," but he's at the very bottom of the line in terms of eligibility, having 2 years and 128 days of service time -- the bare minimum possible. We'll find out pretty quickly whether there are enough other "Super-2's" out there to drive the minimum service time line up a little bit -- if so, Baker will be stuck for another year without arbitration, so from a salary standpoint the Twins are undoubtedly hoping that's the case.
Arbitration eligible players are often cut by teams who don't want to start paying major salaries to certain players. If I remember correctly, David Ortiz was cut from the organization after he became arbitration eligible because the Twins didn't think he would be able to stay healthy, and he hadn't lived up to his potential -- but he was due for a big raise nonetheless. Obviously, that decision didn't pan out so well, but teams have to evaluate the player's likely salary against the player's likely contribution and decide whether it's justified to bring a guy back despite the inevitable raise.
The easiest answer amongst the bunch of guys the Twins have to worry about would have to do with Scott Baker. While the Twins obviously hope he's NOT arbitration eligible, there's no chance that they would cut him to avoid giving him a raise. In fact, the Twins could even decide to try to sign him to a longer term deal to avoid future arbitration if he is in fact eligible this year. Either way, I have no doubt that he'll return to the team next year.
Jason Kubel is a slightly trickier player to evaluate, because his production has been solid enough that he's undoubtedly due for a big raise. Nonetheless, the Twins currently have a bunch of outfielders, and Kubel has still never lived up to the expectations that were placed on him a few years ago (although in my mind, this year wasn't too shabby). I'm pretty sure that the Twins will keep Kubel around, because his left-handed power bat is a valuable asset. Nonetheless, the team may not quite view this as a no-brainer -- and there's also a distinct possibility in my mind that the Twins could shop Kubel around to see what they could get in return for him. I'd be shocked if they just outright cut him like they did with David Ortiz, though. Expect him to be back, therefore, barring a trade.
Matt Guerrier is by far the most difficult player to evaluate. Guerrier was terrible in August and September -- but ironically, that might have been enough to make him more affordable in an arbitration hearing, so the Twins may gamble for this year on getting him for a reasonable price in 2009. It all depends on how the Twins internally evaluate what happened to Guerrier -- is he a good pitcher who was overused for the first four months, resulting in his collapse for the last third? Or has he somehow lost what he had for the past couple of years, when he was an asset in the bullpen and an above average reliever? Guerrier is by far the most likely of the arbitration eligibles to simply be let go by the Twins -- but I suspect they'll keep him and hope that he can return to form next season. Again, I think the gamble is a relatively small one because of his poor numbers for the season (especially the ERA above 5.00 for the year). He'd get a raise through arbitration, but the nature of his position and his poor season should mitigate that raise to the point where it's worth it to take the chance on him.
Clearing out the Deadwood
There are always players on the 40-man roster at the end of the year who don't really belong there, and who are likely to be removed from the roster (likely via unconditional release waivers). There are several players on the roster right now for whom this seems like a likely (or at least a possible) fate.
The first player who faces this possibility is reliever Julio DePaula. DePaula, who has one option year left, had a terrible year in Rochester. He posted a 5.70 ERA and gave up 86 hits and 41 walks in 77.1 innings of work. He never put himself into a position to repeat the callup that he earned in 2007, and he's fallen far, far down the organizational depth chart. The Twins may decide to keep him around to see what one more year would do (under the theory that they have the option year available, so why not use it). However, I suspect that whether DePaula stays around probably depends on how many Rule 5 Eligible players the team wants to protect before the November 20 deadline to get guys on the roster. I personally don't see much reason to keep DePaula around, and I think there's a good chance the Twins will sever ties with him soon.
The Twins have another tough decision in starter Oswaldo Sosa, who like DePaula will be entering his third option year in 2009 if he stays on a roster (although unlike DePaula, Sosa should have a fourth option year available in 2010 due to the number of "full seasons" he will have played in the minor leagues). Sosa regressed this year, starting off in New Britain and being demoted to Ft. Myers after putting up a 5.81 ERA in 62.0 innings. He didn't do much better with the Miracle, with a 5.44 ERA in 43 innings. He also had a poor K-BB numbers at both levels, which is usually not a good sign (and which is different from his 2006 and 2007 performances). With Sosa seemingly so far away from being big league ready, will the Twins want to continue stringing him along on the roster? I actually think they'll keep him around for another year, but I wouldn't be surprised if they cleared him off the roster.
Recently added catcher Ryan Jorgensen is the poster child for the kind of guy likely to be removed from the roster quickly. Jorgensen was added to the roster to give the Twins a third catcher in September, and he was virtually unused. He's a journeyman veteran who should be able to be easily replaced, and with Jose Morales already on the roster (and hopefully in recovery mode from his season-ending injury), the Twins don't need Jorgensen on the roster anymore. I'd be stunned if he wasn't removed.
Randy Ruiz presents another interesting question. Ruiz had a very nice year for the Red Wings, and he performed reasonably well after being called up at the beginning of August. However, he barely played in September and it's unclear what kind of future he has with the team. I'd like to see the Twins keep him around for another year, and I think the Twins will do so -- but I also wouldn't be surprised if his lack of playing time was indicative of the Twins intention to let him go.
Finally, the Twins need to make a decision on what to do with Sergio Santos, the middle infielder claimed from Toronto earlier this year. Santos is out of options going into next year, so he'd have to make the big league club out of spring training or be exposed to waivers -- but as with Chris Basak last year, it's unclear why the Twins claimed him or what role he really plays in the organization. He doesn't seem likely to play a significant role with the team, and so there seems to be a good chance that Santos will be removed before November to make room for someone else.
Rule 5 Additions
Since the deadline to add players to the roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft isn't until November 20, I'm not going to make my predictions on who the Twins will add for protection purposes until that date gets closer, so that I have a better idea of just how many slots they actually have to play with. Certainly, though, the Twins should have at least 4 or 5 spots open (even if they want to keep 2 or 3 spots available for potential free agent additions).