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

19 thoughts on “JC’s Twins Offseason Blueprint: Zack Fever

  1. This is the best blueprint I have seen so far because it shows payroll increasing (I have yet to hear a valid reason why it should not increase, atleast somewhat), Thome staying (for a reasonable price) and the Twins going after a legitimate starting pitcher (that is not 35 and named Jarrod Washburn).

  2. “I’ll send Kevin Slowey (though they’ll push for Brian Duensing)…”

    If they don’t get what they ask for, they won’t trade him. Plain and simple. So if they want Duensing, they will get Duensing.

  3. AW and geo, thanks for the comments.

    AW, on the “increasing salary” issue, I was encouraged this evening to read that the Twins at least put in a posting bid for Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. While Oakland got the winning posting bid (the contract would be over and above the posting bid), it at least tells me the Twins appear willing to spend money. If they were willing to pay $10+ million just to have the rights to Iwakuma, you’d like to think they would be willing to put that money in to payroll (for the right players, of course) instead. Guess time will tell.

    geo, you’re right… at least to a degree. The Royals will have no shortage of bidders for Greinke and if they are set on Duensing, then they may not have to come down from that demand. However, it wouldn’t be impossible for the Twins to put together a package around Slowey and Hicks, instead, by adding other prospects. I think the Twins’ biggest competition for Greinke could come from the Rangers if (when?) they lose Lee to the Yankees. How much leverage the Royals ultimately have could largely be determined by who the teams are that are on Greinke’s “no trade” list. The possible additional competition from Texas or other teams that lose out on one of the top free agent pitchers is also good reason for Smith to hit KC hard and early with a solid offer and a short deadline to accept (similar to what they did with the Brewers last November when they didn’t give Milwaukee long to ponder the Hardy/Gomez trade).

    IF the Twins have to include Duensing in a trade for Greinke, then it’s quite possible they’ll still have to find a trade partner for Slowey (in return for prospects) and replace Duensing in the rotation with another minimum wage starting pitcher (Gibson, perhaps?) to make the money work out.

  4. I agree that this is the best speculative post of the off season so far. I will be following your webpage this winter. Please keep posting.

  5. Do the Royals REALLY want to trade their best pitcher for what will you are offering in return? A #4 starter and a non-ML-ready outfielder, plus a reliever? I’m not pulling the trigger on that deal if I’m the Royals, especially because Greinke is the ONLY name that sells tickets on that team. If the Royals braintrust has brains (which is uncertain at this point), shedding payroll doesn’t get you anywhere, especially if the trade return is Slowey or Duensing, Aaron Hicks, and a couple others. It’s got to be MUCH higher than that.

  6. Thanks, Rick… while the offseason means we won’t be posting daily as we tried to do during the season, we plan to keep throwing stuff up here as often as we can come up with something at least mildly interesting to talk about. In fact, I think Babs is working on her “blueprint” as we speak and I’m curious to see how we compare.

    Steve, note my further comment about how 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.” The exact “pieces” are impossible to guess… just depends on the Royals’ own perceived needs. But Hicks is the guy I’d build my offer around.

    Buster Olney wrote a piece a few weeks ago about what it will take to get Greinke and which teams have the combination of need and prospects to get him. The Twins were certainly on the list as having both, provided they’re willing to part with someone likes Hicks (who supposedly wasn’t available for a Cliff Lee rental).

    What I’ve read coming out of KC is that the Royals feel they have finally put together a solid group of young talent that’s currently hitting the AA and ‘high A’ levels… and they feel they are 2 years from seeing their efforts pay off. Will it happen? Who knows… Royals fans have heard this before. But that doesn’t matter… what matters is that their front office believes it will happen. That means they have no need for Greinke and his remaining $27 million contract over the next 2 years. Their attendance sucks with him and it will suck without him. He’ll become a free agent when they think they’re going to be competitive. It also means they’re going to want to accomplish two things with the trade: (1) fill Greinke’s spot in the rotation with someone who’s got a couple of years of MLB experience, but is still affordable and under team control for a while, and (2) get the best prospects they can pull from any potential trade partner who are as close to sure things as possible and will be ready to hit the Majors in about two years. If the Royals want Hicks and the Twins are willing to part with him, there’s no reason a deal shouldn’t be able to get worked out. My biggest concern is that they’ll want Kyle Gibson, rather than (or in addition to) Hicks. I’d hate to lose Gibson.

  7. Great post JC, really like the Grienke trade. I think this is by far the number 1 priority this winter. We need to have the pitching that can beat the best (Yanks, RSox, Rays i.e. AL EAST) Keep up the good work. THanks!

  8. Dang… post the blueprint one day and just a day later, I’m already wrong.

    How the hell did I not see Eric Hacker as a target of Bill Smith and the Twins? Seriously?

  9. if the Royals want Brian Duensing and Kevin Slowey in a trade, go ahead and do that. Grienke is an upgrade for both of those players combined
    (Although I am still not convinced the Royals would trade Grienke to Minnesota)

  10. James, giving up Duensing would leave the Twins with just Liriano as a lefty SP and that would concern me, especially since the best starting pitcher coming up in the organization, Kyle Gibson, is right-handed, as well. I guess there’s always Glen Perkins (gulp). I think Liriano, Duensing and Gibson could form a solid core of starting pitchers for several years to come (and if Greinke is added and can be signed to a reasonable extension, that’s even better). Most of the rest of the Twins’ pitching staff and pitching prospects are, as far as I’m concerned, placeholders and potential trade bait.

  11. I guess I dont see Duensing as more of a 5th man in the rotation. However, I think he could be a stellar bullpen guy. If the Twins lose both Crain and Guerrier I could see him being as that 7th inning guy. It would also open up a rotation spot for Gibson/Manship/cheap free agent
    so my pitchers would looks like: Lirano-Baker-Pavano-Blackburn-Gibson/Manship/Cheap Free agent. Pen of Nathan-Capps-Duensing-Mijares-Neshek-Burnett/Manship/cheap free agent guy

    Or if a trade for Grienke happens (again I say its a 0% chance): Grienke-Liriano-Baker-Blackburn-Manship/Gibson/Cheap free agent guy. Pen of Nathan-Capps-Mijares-Neshek-Burnett/Manship/2 Cheap free agent guys/acquired in trade guy

    I think Gibson is either the 5th starting spot at the start of the year or starts the season in Rochester. No bullpen for him. I also think if there is a trade for Grienke, there will be no Pavano. I think there is no Glen Perkins next year (although I have been thinking that for the last 2 offseasons LOL)

    I do have a quibble with your offense, you have Melky as a 4th OF. I dont think the Twins would get a guy like that because he is left handed. The Twins need right handed bats (especially if Thome comes back). Listening to an interview Bill Smith gave on Election Day, its sounded like he really liked what Repko did so I wouldnt be shocked if he came back and was the 4th OF again. Or Ben Revere takes over that spot (but again he is LH), but both are cheaper than signed Melky

    oh gosh, this turned long. LOL sorry bout that. But you and I have said it many times, its going to be an interesting offseason

  12. oh, I do have a suggestion for the site during the offseason. If someone makes a post, its goes to Twitter. But it would be helpful if it gets twittered 12 hours later or the next day as a reminder that there is a post up for reading/commenting. In the offseason, I dont usually check out that many baseball blogs because there really is no news. I stumbled across this because I was looking back at some old twitter stuff

  13. No offseason news? Of course there is!! :) I leave the technical stuff like the twittering, etc., to Babs. I’m too old to understand that stuff (or at least that’s the excuse I use to keep from having to learn it).

    As for Melky Cabrera, he throws lefty but he switch hits. That’s one of the things I liked about him as a 4th OF. It provides versatility not otherwise there, not only in the OF, but also in the event Thome can’t be re-signed. In that case, the Twins could go after lefty or righty hitting bench/DH additions.

    As for Gibson, I understand the Twins might prefer to have him starting in Rochester over sitting in the pen in Minnesota, BUT… since Nolan Ryan doesn’t run the Twins, you have to figure they’re going to be watching his innings closely. By starting the season in the pen, he’ll not only be available to step in to the rotation when needed, but will also not be using up (one could even say wasting) precious innings in Rochester. We don’t want to see him do well and then in September have everyone worried that he’s been overused.

  14. I will ponder that for a bit – as a person who actually reads EVERYTHING that comes through my twitter feed, I actually despise retweets of old posts without a specific reason to do so. They clutter up my feed with information I already have.

    But, my personal feelings aside, I’ll put some thought into whether it would be of use to retweet posts after their intitial offering.

    Have you tried subscribing to the RSS feed instead of just relying on twitter?

  15. The problem with your Grienke proposal is that it’s simply preposterous from Kansas City’s standpoint. You’re offering only one player with any sort of upside, and two back of the rotation guys? It’s simply not remotely realistic. I mean, it’s like a few years ago when I wandered into some RedSox forum where everybody thought that if you threw enough C+ prospects at the Twins, they’d somehow end up giving up Joe Mauer.

    If you’re serious about landing Zienke, your final offer to the Royals is going to have to look a lot like this:
    Pick Two:
    1) Aarron Hicks
    2) Miguel Sano
    3) Kyle Gibson

    Pick another Two
    1) Billy Bullock
    2) Ben Revere
    3) Brian Duensing
    4) Liam Hendriks
    5) Angel Morales
    6) Oswaldo Arcia
    7) Adrian Salcedo

    Also, what excatly would Jessie Crain’s motivation be to sign a contract laden with save-oriented incentives if he’s not guaranteed the closer’s job?

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