Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Minnesota Twins' Offseason: Part 1 of 4

By Matt Tschida

In the coming weeks, I will look ahead to the 2012 season and discuss how I think the team will (or should) handle each of four positional groupings: C/1B, 2B/SS/3B, OF/DH and the pitching staff. Payroll will obviously be a consideration, and I'm speculating that the Twins will have around $22M to spend before trading away any of their current players ($83M is already going towards their current roster for 2012, and I'm budgeting approximately $105M).


Starter: Joe Mauer
Backup: Drew Butera, Rene Rivera

Starter: Joe Mauer/Free Agent
Backup: Free Agent (Butera/AAA as third option)

Ideally, the Twins could trust Joe Mauer to catch 135+ games, but having only done that five times in his eight-year career, it’s not wise to bank on that. Instead, the Twins should sign a veteran catcher who can hold his own at the plate. The Drew Butera experiment should be over. A position player (whether he's a defensive gem or not) who can’t hit above .200 shouldn't be in the lineup, even for 20-25 games. If the Twins can sign someone who wouldn’t be an embarrassment at the plate, he could also be mixed in at DH occasionally. This section will dive deep into the free agent pool, as I believe it sets up the rest of the lineup for the Twins. A solid offensive catcher who can occasionally be a capable DH would give the Twins most for their money.

Below is a list of free agents to consider. Obviously, there are other options, but given the Twins struggles against left-handed pitching this list probably makes the most sense.

Ramon Hernandez (Reds) – This would be the ideal signing. He could catch half the games (or more depending on how healthy Mauer stays), and DH the other half. He's been a half-time player the last three years, splitting time with Ryan Hanigan, so he'd likely would be fine splitting time in Minnesota as well. Despite limited playing time, Hernandez is still projected to be a Type A free agent. This could be a factor—the Twins wouldn’t even attempt to sign him if he was offered arbitration, but the Reds will likely just let him walk with Hanigan already on board and top prospect Devin Mesoraco ready for the big show. Hernandez may have a few suitors, but considering he made only $3M in 2011, signing him to a one-year, $4-5M deal could be a bargain if he was also the Twins DH against LHP (he hit .323 vs. LHP in 2011).

Rod Barajas (Dodgers) – Barajas is an average to below-average hitter and would be an average signing for the Twins. Barajas may want to look elsewhere and try to be a team’s starting catcher instead of backing up, since he was the Dodgers' primary catcher in 2011. Barajas wouldn’t be a huge upgrade over a Butera or Rivera at the plate vs. RHP, but he did hit .267 against LHP. He also has decent power, hitting 16 HR in just over 300 ABs. Personally, I would pass on Barajas, but the Twins may have interest.

Ramon Castro (White Sox) – Castro is another catcher who is a back-up candidate, as he’s only caught more than more than 57 games once in his career. The Twins are familiar with Castro—he backed up A.J. Pierzynski with the White Sox for the past 2-1/2 seasons. If Mauer could stay healthy for an entire season, Castro would fit nicely as he hit LHP in 2011 at a .289 clip with 3 HR in just 45 ABs.

Jason Varitek (Red Sox) – This signing is clearly a long shot, but it's interesting to ponder. I predict Varitek either retires and is hired as a bench coach for the Red Sox, or returns as their backup for one more season. Hit .264 vs. LHP, but only .200 vs. RHP, so he's nothing more than a backup at this stage of his career.

Ryan Doumit/Chris Snyder (Pirates) – Doumit would likely be my second choice for the Twins to sign after Hernandez, but Snyder could be an option as more of a backup if the Twins go that route. Each has a spendy club option (Snyder at $6.75M and Doumit at $7.25M) so it will depend on which (if either) the Pirates decide to re-sign. Doumit has been more consistent at the plate thoughout his career hitting, .271 compared to Snyder who is a career .231 hitter. Doumit also has more positional flexibility, having played at both 1B and in RF for the Pirates. Doumit could fill in at 1B, RF, or DH against LHP when he’s not catching—he’s a career .262 hitter vs. LHP, but did hit .315 against lefties in 2011.

Jose Molina (Blue Jays) – Molina had a solid 2011 season for the Blue Jays, hitting .281/.342/.415 in 55 games. If he could repeat these numbers it would be another ideal signing for the Twins. He hit LHP about the same as he hit RHP, so filling in as a starter for a longer period of time wouldn’t be a huge burden on the offense. That is a big "if," though, as Molina has hit over .260 only one other time in his career.


Starter: Justin Morneau
Backup: Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Luke Hughes, Chris Parmelee

Starter: Justin Morneau
Backup: Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer (if re-signed), Chris Parmelee, Luke Hughes

This is another area where the Twins have to hope that health conditions are on their side for 2012. Ideally, they would like to count on Morneau to play 1B for 150+ games next season. If he can’t stay healthy, you’ll likely see quite a bit of Mauer at 1B. As mentioned above, the hope is that the Twins can sign a catcher capable of playing every day. This would allow Mauer to step in at 1B when needed if Morneau got hurt or couldn't play, and it would also allow Morneau to DH if Mauer plays 1B. If (another big "if") Cuddyer returns, he can also fill in at 1B when needed. Chris Parmelee showed signs that he might be closer to MLB-ready than most people thought, but the Twins would like to have him play at least half of next season at AAA instead of making the jump directly from AA. Luke Hughes can fill in some also at 1B, but is below average offensively and doesn’t have experience defensively at 1B.

Up Next: 2B/SS/3B

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