We’re working our way through the list of potential free agents, with an eye toward helping our friend and Twins GM Bill Smith fill out his shopping list for the upcoming offseason.
Since the Twins’ first round draft choice is protected, thanks to the lowly position they are all but assured to claim in the final standings. That, combined with the Target Field revenue stream and the not-insignificant amount of money scheduled to come off their payroll books after 2011, leave the organization with a lot of opportunities to improve the team on the field.
In Part 1, we discussed the catching position and in Part 2, we looked at 1B, OF and DH, in Part 3, we examined the rest of the infield. In Part 4, we’ll try to figure out what to do with the pitching staff.
First, the bullpen. Ugh.
Glen Perkins was a pleasant surprise this season and likely double his $700,000 salary via arbitration, but even he hasn’t looked as good lately as he did earlier in the year.
Joe Nathan’s $12 million option can be bought out by the Twins for $2 million, making him a free agent. That essentially makes the Twins’ cost of retaining Nathan just $10 million, since the other $2 mil is going out the door, either way. Still, I’m not convinced he’s worth that right now. I’d certainly see if he could be retained for something a bit less, but I would expect another team to be willing to overpay for his high career save numbers.
There are six relievers who will be getting screwed by their Type A status, assuming their teams offer them arbitration. One of them is the Twins’ own Matt Capps. Capps is probably the one member of this group least likely to be offered arbitration. Then again, we know the Twins front office have liked Capps more than the fans have, so maybe they will end up offering him a deal. If they offer arbitration, he’ll take it in about 2 heartbeats.
I suspect all of the other five will get arbitration offers from their current teams, with two possible exceptions. I’m not positive San Diego will risk offering arbitration to Heath Bell, given their financial restrictions and the Red Sox may think twice about offering arbitration to Jonathan Papelbon. He’s bounced back this season after a lousy 2010 (for him anyway) or there wouldn’t have been any doubt about them NOT risking an arbitration raise from his current $12 million salary. But now… I just don’t know. In any event, I don’t see the Twins bringing in either guy anyway. I’d rather spend the money to keep Nathan than spend it on either Bell or Papelbon.
The other three current Type A bullpen arms are Ryan Madson (Phillies), Takashi Saito (Brewers) and Darren Oliver (Rangers). Those guys need to just sign extensions with their current teams and be done with it because not many teams will give up a draft choice to sign them. On the other hand, if the Twins have already signed about three other Type A guys, why not give up their 5th round draft pick for one more, right? I wouldn’t mind seeing Madson in my bullpen.
There are four Type B free agents. I see no value in the Tigers’ Joel Zumaya (the Twins don’t need another guy who lives on the DL) or Javier Lopez. But Frank Francisco (Blue Jays) and Kerry Wood (Cubs) have both had 3-4 pretty consistent seasons in a row out of the pen and miss bats better than pretty much anyone the Twins currently have. I’d place a call to their agents.
Most of the Twins’ bullpen next season is going to come from within or from the free agent bargain bin. Some will be guys who had relief roles this season and some may be guys who spent this year in the minor leagues, but there’s also a pretty good chance that one or two guys who spent most, if not all, of this season in the rotation will find themselves with relief roles in 2012.
Ah yes… the rotation.
A year ago, most of us wanted the Twins go add someone at the top of their rotation. This year, arguably, they need to add someone legitimate to the top TWO spots in their rotation (unless you’re one of the diehard “Liriano could still be an ace” folks… I’m not).
So dammit, why don’t the Twins just go out and spend money on an “ace” or two?
The answer is easy, really, there probably won’t be an ace or two on the market.
There are six Type A starting pitchers that could be free agents. Three of them have club options that could be exercised, one has a player option he may or may not exercise, and one of them, CC Sabathia, has a player option that would allow him to void the rest of his contract if he thinks he could command more than the $23 million/year he’s due from the Yankees over the next few years. I think we can assume Captain Cheeseburger won’t be wearing a Twins uniform.
The one guy who may actually hit the market is CJ Wilson of the Rangers. He’s going to get a nice raise from the $7 million he’s getting this season. You have to figure he’ll at least double that figure and get a long-term deal. I like Wilson, but I don’t believe in giving pitchers big contracts for 5+ years. I’d kick the tires on him, but I wouldn’t get in a bidding war… and there will be a bidding war.
That leaves…um… nobody? Just about, yeah.
Just for fun, let’s look at the guys with options to see what might be available.
There’s Roy Oswalt. The Phillies aren’t likely to pick up his $16 million option, but last we heard he was thinking his career may be over. Cross him off the list.
Then there’s the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster. His $14 million option is actually a PLAYER option, not a club option. That means it’s up to Dempster whether he returns to the Cubs for that figure. I doubt Dempster would get $14 from many teams for 2012, but I wonder if he’ll opt out and look for a 2-3 year deal for less money per year, but more money guaranteed over that period. He’s 34 years old and his numbers this season haven’t been what we’ve seen the past couple of years, but they aren’t far off from his career lines and he’s still striking guys out at about twice the rate of most of the Twins pitchers. If Wilson is the only other comparable pitcher on the market, someone might overpay for Dempster, but if not, I wouldn’t mind taking a chance on him for a couple of years.
The other two Type A possibilities are Cardinals and they present the Cards with some interesting challenges. While they ponder what to do about Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, the Cardinals also have Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright to think about. They’ve got a $15 million option on the 36 year old Carpenter (with a $1 million buy out) and they have to decide whether to pick up Wainwright’s 2012 ($9 million) AND 2013 ($12 million) options. Wainwright had Tommy John surgery in February.
Media reports indicate the Cardinals will exercise Wainwright’s options, but the situation isn’t quite as certain with Carpenter. I don’t know where they’ll find the money to keep all these guys, but what would 1-2 seasons of Chris Carpenter be worth? He still has his velocity, strikes out over seven hitters per nine innings and will throw over 200 innings again this season. Again, if you can get him on a 1-2 year contract, would he be worth taking a shot?
The Type B free agent market starting pitchers are then and if you insist on an “ace”, you don’t find them on the Type B list. It looks to me like the best you could do on that list would be guys like Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson. They are not aces.
One way or another, the Twins need someone new to plug in to the top spot in their rotation. I’m not sure the minor league organization is deep enough to trade for someone better than Carpenter or Dempster. Let’s hope so.
Next, we’ll wrap up this little exercise by trying to actually assemble a 25 man roster for 2012 that might allow us to pretend 2011 never happened.