Two Weeks May Determine Twins’ 2012 Fate

Now that the Twins front office has had a chance to let their Thanksgiving feasts settle, it’s time to go to work. The next two weeks should pretty much let everyone know whether the Twins will put a competitive team on the field in 2012 or whether Terry Ryan has opted to go in to full “rebuild” mode with his sights set on 2013 and beyond.

The atrium of Dallas' Hilton Anatole will be buzzing next week

MLB’s Winter Meetings kick off next Monday, but as FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi indicates in his November 28 column, the week before the Winter Meetings are often just as critical as the few days the meetings are held.

Of course, this period is not traditionally a busy period for the Twins’ front office. Their reputation is one for sitting out the swap meet that the Winter Meetings can become for many teams, in favor of picking over the Free Agent leftovers after the first of the year.

Then again, it hasn’t been often that the Twins have had so many needs to fill.

Projecting a 25-man roster from the players currently holding spots on the Twins’ 40-man roster is all but impossible. It would appear, however, that Ryan currently has at least nine spots that are completely up in the air. Based on existing contractual obligations, projected salaries for arbitration-eligible players, and ownership’s contention that payroll should be slashed more than 10% to somewhere south of $100 million, the GM would appear to be heading in to this critical two-week period wearing some pretty tight financial handcuffs.

If we assume the Twins will carry 13 position players and 12 pitchers on their Opening Day roster, I count four open pitching spots and five open position spots to fill… with about $13 million with which to do so.

Mauer, Morneau, Casilla, Valencia, Carroll, Span, Nishioka and Doumit will collectively pull in just over $53 million, while leaving two starting OF spots and three bench spots yet to be filled.

The pitching corps looks like Pavano, Baker, Liriano, Blackburn, Slowey, Perkins, Duensing and Mijares. Those eight arms account for just over $32 million. Tack on the $2 million the Twins paid to buy out Joe Nathan’s 2012 option and you’ve got $34 million committed to pitching with four more spots to fill.

To my mind, this leave Terry Ryan with two current options:

  • He can spend the next two weeks making deals to shed enough of his existing contractual commitments to be able to afford to add, either through trade or free agency, an outfielder or two that can hit and a couple of pitchers who can miss bats; or
  • He can sit back and wait while those teams who expect to contend in 2012 fill out their rosters with the best players available, then sign a couple of leftovers to compete with the large group of “may or may not be ready for the Big Leagues” prospects that we all watched try to fill Twins uniforms toward the end of the 2011 season.

It’s a tough choice for the GM to make. It’s made even more dicey by the reality that the chances of the Twins being competitive, regardless of which path Ryan chooses, are going to be determined more by the health and productivity of half a dozen or so core players already wearing Twins uniforms than by the players who fill those final nine spots on the active roster.

The question we’d all like an answer to, I think, is, “what do the Twins really believe they’ll get out of Mauer, Morneau, Baker, Span, Liriano, etc.?”

So far, we’ve heard the Twins brass say they haven’t given up on fielding a competitive team in 2012. Of course, they’re still trying to sell season tickets, so they wouldn’t say anything else.

As is almost always the case, actions will speak much louder than words… and actions (or lack thereof) over the next two weeks may speak loudest of all.

– JC