With less than six weeks remaining before the Minnesota Twins play their first spring training game against the Boston Red Sox, let’s take a look at some roles that the Twins may still be looking to upgrade through free agency.
Agreeing to terms with reliever Matt Capps and DH Jim Thome definitely filled some needs for a team short on bullpen arms and pop off the bench, but there are still some areas that require attention as the team sets for battle against the much improved AL Central division.
Right-handed bat off the pine
Even with the Thome signing, I think it would be very wise to bring in a veteran right-handed bat off the bench that can back up at first base and play a little third base.
As of right now the Twins are looking at a bench of Thome, Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko(possibly Ben Revere if he has an impressive spring), Drew Butera and probably either Luke Hughes or Trevor Plouffe. Besides Thome, they all bat from the right side or switch hit, but not one of them will strike fear as a late game pinch hitter, not by a long shot.
Making it more ideal for the Twins to have a strong right-handed bat off the bench is the fact that Jason Kubel, the Twins everyday DH, is a left-handed batter that struggles against lefty pitching. So, it would be ideal to have a right-handed bat off the bench to pinch hit late in games or DH when the Twins face a stellar lefty such as CC Sabathia.
Being able to match up with a teams with ace lefties or that decide to bring out a slew of lefties to shut down the Twins lefty heavy lefty lineup late in the game requires a counter with a solid right-handed bat and right now the Twins simply don’t have that on their roster.
Now, just knowing the Twins will tell you Thome's decision to return greatly hinders any chances they will sign another veteran bat, but if they want to make the next leap and get past the first round of the playoffs these are the kind of signings they must make.
Back up third baseman and first baseman
Behind 1B Justin Morneau and 3B Danny Valencia the Twins have very little in the case that something goes wrong with either player. Most likely Michael Cuddyer would come in and take over first if Morneau goes down and Tolbert or Hughes could play third in the event that Valencia struggles or gets hurt.
Cuddyer made a fine first baseman filling in for the concussed Morneau last season, but his defense was really missed in right field and I think the Twins would ideally like to cement him out there. Tolbert, Hughes and Plouffe are back ups, not everyday players.
Now, the Twins can actually fill two needs with one player if they get the right guy. Troy Glaus and Jorge Cantu are both right-handed bats with pop who can play first and third base. Glaus may have injured and aged his way out of playing third at this stage of his career, but I’m willing to bet he could still do it.
The problem is will either player be willing to sign as a bench player? Both may want a guarantee that they will be on the field more often than not and the Twins may not be the team to provide that.
But, if Morneau has setbacks and Valencia hits a sophomore slump these guys could turn into everyday players. The scary thought is if the Twins don’t bring someone in and that does happen, do you really want to see an infield consisting of Tolbert-Alexi Casilla-Tsuyoshi Nishioka-Cuddyer? It could be worse, but I’m not a big fan. Outside of Cuddyer, not one of those players is much more than a singles hitter.
The Twins have a solid outfield of Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer returning, but is Jason Repko really the guy you want to back up and fill in for injuries? From within the organization, I like Ben Revere much more.
But another intriguing option is looking into free agent Vladimir Guerrero. Not only would he provide the team with a starting caliber outfielder and a dangerous righty off the pine, but the Twins really need a hitter like him when and if they reach the playoffs. He’s a seasoned veteran that’s been there and done that and that’s exactly what the team needs.
We all witnessed the Twins bats go cold again in the playoffs last season and maybe bringing in another veteran who can really hit would get them over the hump.
He will be 36 years-old when the season begins and may be realizing that his days as an everyday player are in his past and may accept a lesser role.
The Twins lost Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes this offseason, leaving huge holes in their bullpen.
The apparent plan is to promote from within, but I am very skeptical. Joe Nathan will be back, but will he come back as the Nathan we all have come to know? That remains to be seen, but history should tell the Twins that it’s unlikely he will come as the same pitcher in his first season following Tommy John surgery.
Pat Neshek and Glen Perkins are looking to revive their careers as Twins and they have the opportunity to do it this season with all the departures, but I am not sold on either.
Jose Mijares should be his usual inconsistent self, and Capps was just brought back for over $7 million this season.
I like bringing back Capps, but combine his salary with Nathan’s and the team has around $20 million invested in the back-end of their bullpen. That’s a ton of money and it leaves very little to sign other free agents.
They have some arms down on the farm that they are hoping will make a big leap this season, but it would be more than wise for the team to bring in a couple veteran relievers on the cheap to battle for spots.