JC’s Twins Offseason Blueprint: Zack Fever

The Twincentric guys have challenged the rest of the Twins blogging community to come up with our own “blueprints” for the Twins off-season. Seth, John, Nick and Parker each have put out their own suggestions and included them not only in their excellent 2011 Offseason GM Handbook, but also in the Twincentric blog at the StarTribune site.

The goal is to assemble a 25-man roster that will maintain the Twins’ position at the top of their division while living within a reasonable payroll budget.

Conventional wisdom is that the Twins will have room to go up to somewhere in the neighborhood of $110-115 million to start the year, but I’ve got a hunch Bill Smith has the flexibility to go as high as $120 million.

So here’s Jim Crikket’s “blueprint”.

Priority 1: The top of the rotation

One widely held belief is that the Twins need someone that would be considered a good bet to fill a top-of-the-rotation role… and I totally agree. Some think Francisco Liriano is better than anyone reasonably available on the market. That may or may not be true, but either way, he’s already a Twin and you don’t improve your rotation by bringing back the same arms. If you want to improve the rotation, you have to bring in someone else with the potential to perform at or above Liriano’s level.

Zack Greinke has been the focus of trade speculation involving the Twins pretty much since the season wrapped up, but I’ve been coveting Greinke much longer than that.

Zack Greinke

The Yankees or Rangers will sign Cliff Lee. Whichever of those teams doesn’t get Lee is a good bet to sign Jorge de la Rosa, the second best starting pitcher on the free agent market. The third best free agent SP is Carl Pavano, so improvement must come via trade. I want Greinke and the Royals are going to trade him to dump the $27 million he’s owed over the next two years. They aren’t going to be competitive for the next two years, so they’re not going to hesitate to trade Greinke within the division. If I’m the Twins’ GM, I go get him. He and Liriano could form a formidable Righty/Lefty combination at the top of the rotation for the next couple of years.

You don’t get a guy like that for nothing, so the price will be high. The Royals will need an immediate replacement for their rotation along with a couple of near-ready prospects. I’ll send Kevin Slowey (though they’ll push for Brian Duensing) and they’ll obviously want the Twins’ top prospect, outfielder Aaron Hicks. Pitcher Kyle Waldrop would also make some sense because he’d have to be added to the 40-man roster by the Twins to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 draft anyway. He could contribute immediately in Kansas City. It may take some additional lesser pieces added to the deal on one side or the other (or both) to make everyone happy, but there’s a deal to be made with KC.

Some have suggested that now is the time to lock up Francisco Liriano for 3-4 years and while I have no objection to that (especially if they can get him at a discounted rate for 2011), I’d probably opt to wait at least until mid season. I want to see a bit more healthy consistency before I commit $20-30 million (or more) over the next several years.

Priority 2: Restock the bullpen

There are a lot of free agent relievers available, but I just don’t see the Twins dipping in to that pool, other than to make a serious run at retaining Jesse Crain. He’d like a shot at closing, but I don’t see anyone handing him that opportunity. In fact, his best option may be with the Twins. I see no way Nathan is ready to take back that role by the start of the season. That leaves Smith in a position to offer Crain a chance to compete for the closer spot with Matt Capps in Spring Training. I’d offer Crain a two year contract with performance incentives tied to saves. Say $3 million the first year and $4 million in 2012.

Rather than take Matt Capps through arbitration, where he’s likely to get something between $7-8 million. I think he’d be signable for two years with $6 million due in 2011 and $7-8 million in 2012.

The rest of the bullpen would consist of home-grown talent (except, of course, for Eric Hacker, a career minor-leaguer who the Twins will sign out of the Giants’ organization to a Major League contract, because, yanno, the Twins don’t already have enough AAAA level right handed pitchers in their organization). It seems like every year there’s one “surprise” rookie who earns a bullpen spot out of Spring Training. I’ll go out on a limb and say Kyle Gibson impresses the coaches enough to be that guy in 2011.

Priority 3: Sort out the outfield

I’m already on record as predicting the Twins will trade either Jason Kubel or Delmon Young. Unless it takes Young to get Greinke (and I don’t think it should), I’d send Jason Kubel to whatever team is willing to part with the most minor league talent in return. It allows me to shed his $5.25 salary and restock some of the talent lost in the Greinke deal.

Melky Cabrera

That leaves Young, Span and Cuddyer in my outfield and I go looking for a fourth OF that can play all three positions, switch-hit so he can hit against any pitcher, provide a bit better defense than the existing corner outfielders, and not cost me more than a couple of million dollars. I think a guy that could fit those criteria might be Melky Cabrera. I know, his defense is below average, but the Twins might be the only team he could sign with where he’d have a chance to actually improve the OF defense. Yes, the Twins OF defense is that bad.

Priority 4: Put together the infield

The infield is really not tough to address. I’d start by offering JJ Hardy a two year deal (say $5 mil per year), getting him to take a few bucks less in 2011 in return for an extra year of security.  The 2B job is Alexi Casilla’s to lose. If he loses it, it’s likely to be to either Matt Tolbert or Brendan Harris, who will get the utility roles. Danny Valencia’s playing 3B for the league minimum.

Priority 5: Decide who the backup catcher is

I can’t believe how much energy was spent on debating who the back up catcher should have been this season. That will probably continue, but I don’t see the big deal. I’d go with Drew Butera because he throws runners out better than Jose Morales, but if the organization goes another direction, I really don’t care. Whoever it is will make the league minimum.

The Thome situation

All of that adds up to a payroll of $115.15 million for 24 players. I stopped at 24 because I’d still like to find room for Jim Thome. There has been talk about him being able to command as much as $4 million for a full time DH job somewhere, but (a) he wants to play for a contender, (b) I’m not sure many AL contenders really want to give a guy who can play no defense at all a full time job, and (c) I’m not sure Thome even wants a full time job. If I can get him on a one year $2.35 million deal, it allows me to hold my payroll to $117.5 million.

If I can’t get Thome, I’ll talk to the agents of Marcus Thames and Eric Hinske about a deal in the $1 million neighborhood instead. Having the switch-hitting Cabrera on board allows me the flexibility to look at both left handed and right handed hitters to fill out my bench/DH spot.

JC’s 2011 Opening Day Roster (salary):

Starting Line Up:

C: Joe Mauer ($23 mil)

1B: Justin Morneau ($14 mil)

2B: Alexi Casilla ($800K)

3B: Danny Valencia ($500K)

SS: JJ Hardy ($5 mil)

LF: Delmon Young ($5 mil)

CF: Denard Span ($1 mil)

RF: Michael Cuddyer ($10.5 mil)

DH: Jim Thome ($2.35 mil)

Bench:

Drew Butera ($500K)

Matt Tolbert ($500K)

Brendan Harris ($1.75 mil)

Melky Cabrera ($2 mil)

Rotation:

Zack Greinke ($13.5 mil)

Francisco Liriano ($4.5 mil)

Scott Baker ($5 mil)

Nick Blackburn ($3 mil)

Brian Duensing ($500K)

Bullpen:

Joe Nathan ($12.5)

Matt Capps ($6 mil)

Jesse Crain ($3 mil)

Pat Neshek ($800K)

Glen Perkins ($800K) Eric Hacker ($500K)… seriously?

Jose Mijares ($500K)

Kyle Gibson ($500K)

TOTAL: $117.5 million Opening Day payroll.

- JC