Apparently, I misspoke in my post on Friday regarding the Houston Astros. The Minnesota Twins (63-99) also finished the season winning less than 40% of their games (.389). It was their first losing season since 2007, the first time they’ve finished in last place since 2000, and the most losses they’ve had in a season since 1982. Not a great year for a team that has been a consistent division winner over the last decade+.
The good news for Twins fans for next year is that their two primary offensive weapons (Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau) were both plagued with injuries this year, and neither played in more than half the team’s games this season. So, in order to be ready to compete for a spot in the postseason in 2012, I would say Minnesota is the most prepared of all the teams that finished in last place. I’ve admired how the Twins have won so much over the last decade, while operating in one of the smaller markets in baseball (#15 television market in the US). What you might not expect is that they actually had the 9th highest payroll in 2011 (over $112 million). So, they certainly aren’t resting on their laurels financially speaking.
As far as their offense is concerned, they’re in good shape, if everyone can stay healthy. Mauer and Morneau are the anchors of the offense, and they have Span locked up through 2014, batting leadoff & playing CF. They only have $68 million spoken for next year, and they have 3/5 of their starting rotation accounted for in that (Pavano, Blackburn, & Baker). So, even if they took a bit of a step back in payroll for 2012, they still could have $35-40 million to spend. However, pitching should be a higher priority for Minnesota in 2012. Cuddyer is probably going to have to be let go to free agency, due to how much he would cost, but Kubel (who could play left or DH) is worth resigning, since he should cost about half as much ($6-7 million).
Minnesota has 3 prospects in the top 50 in all of baseball, but only one of those (Kyle Gibson, a RHP) should see any time in the majors in 2012. But, OF Joe Benson, their #5 prospect, could take over in RF in 2012, after an impressive 2011 season in the minors. This would fill the final spot in the outfield, and he could fit well into the #2 spot in the lineup, as he looks to be a 20/20 kind of player. The Twins are also stuck hoping second baseman Nishioka progresses the way they expected him to when they signed him to a 3-year, $9 million deal. So, the spots where they may need to spend some money are at SS, 3B, and an OF/DH spot. Guys like their old SS, Nick Punto, would be a reasonable choice – or other similar options. Valencia played well enough for a bottom-of-the-order third baseman for them to resign him at a fair price. At DH, there are a plethora of reasonable options (I might throw in the name Jorge Cantu for consideration). Ultimately, the Twins wouldn’t need to add much more than $10 million in payroll to shore up the offense.
Which brings us to their dismal pitching staff. Their starters had the 3rd worst ERA in the AL, while their bullpen had the worst ERA in all of baseball!! So, they need players in both places, but only have about $25 million to spend. That means either Joe Nathan is going to have to be willing to take a serious pay cut, or they just can’t afford to pay him (because there’s almost no chance they would pick up his $12.5 million option). They could invest in one of the solid #2 starters that may be available this offseason (Edwin Jackson, CJ Wilson, etc.), and add rookie Kyle Gibson to the back of the rotation, and they could be okay if the guys they already have signed do well enough. This would only consume around $8-10 million of that payroll.
So, the bullpen needs multiple arms for reasonable prices. Options to consider should be Rafael Betancourt ($3-4 million), Joel Peralta ($1-2 million), Heath Bell ($7-8 million), and Frank Francisco ($4-5 million). It wouldn’t shock me if Minnesota signed 2 or 3 of these guys, considering how badly they need to improve their bullpen. Throw in a couple left-handed guys that are $1-2 million each, and you should be in much better shape than you were in 2011 – and the payroll would remain about the same, or just a little less.