More Serious Stuff – but good news!

This is pretty amazing and scary goings on but I know you all will be glad to hear that Wilson Ramos has been rescued and is in good health. I simply can’t imagine what he must be feeling right now and I’m sure that mentally, it’s going to take awhile for him to fully recover but I wish him the best. I’m glad to know that he’s back with his family and I hope he can put this experience behind him.

Here’s the story!

As long as the athletes are seen as “the ones who make it” out of the regular life in these countries, I’m sure they and their families will always be targets. It really does change the dynamic of what it means to be a professional baseball player from what we know here in the US.

 

Venezuelan Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos embraces his mother Maria Campos as he arrives home after being rescued in Valencia on November 12, 2011. Ramos, whose kidnapping in his native Venezuela has anguished sports fans around the world, has been rescued alive, government officials said. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Veterans Day! (11-11-11)

First, it must be said: Thank you to all of you who have served or are serving in America’s military. No matter the theater you served or generation of action, your sacrifice is much appreciated.

 

Secondly, today’s date has special significance to some of us – it’s 11-11-11!!! That makes it CUPCAKE DAY! (Cupcake Day as defined by the inestimable Batgirl is where the date is comprised of the same numeral!)

So treat yourself with a cupcake to celebrate. Even better? Give a cupcake to a Vet or Active Duty personnel and you’re a superstar!

Twins Regime Change: Winners and Losers

You may have heard the news… the Twins fired General Manager Bill Smith Monday and replaced him with his predecessor, Terry Ryan.

The news has been received well among most Twins fans. That’s not surprising. Most of us had lost much of whatever confidence we may have once had in Smith’s talent as a GM and what better guy to replace him with than the GM who gets most of the credit for molding the Twins in to a contender for most of the past decade? It does seem pretty convenient though, doesn’t it, that fans tend to overlook the fact that he also failed miserably at the GM job during his first half dozen or so years in the GM chair. Then again, he was barely over 40 years old when he first got the job and we all know that nobody under 50 knows a damn thing, anyway.

In any event, I’m certainly not disappointed to see Ryan back in charge. It was a good and necessary move by the Twins ownership and top management.

But make no mistake, this move means things are going to be done differently and there will be changes, both at Target Field and across the Twins organization, from the minor leagues to the international scouts and beyond. You might not think that someone with merely an “interim” GM title would have the clout to turn an organization on its head, but this is no ordinary “interim” GM. There is nothing “interim” about his level of authority.

All of this has me thinking a bit about who the potential winners and losers are likely to be when the dust settles on this little internal drama that’s playing out within the team’s front office.

WINNERS:

Twins prospect Aaron Hicks

Minor league prospects: If you’re a prospect in the Twins organization and were starting to get concerned that the Twins might go out on the open market and sign a free agent to a multiple-year contract that could essentially block your path to the Big Leagues, you’re a winner in this deal. It wasn’t all that likely to happen in the first place, but now, those chances are considerably smaller.

By association, our friend Seth Stohs over at SethSpeaks.net is a winner, too. Seth lives and breathes minor league baseball and nobody knows that stuff better. I doubt that Seth was ever too concerned that the Twins might become a “trade all your prospects for old guys” organization, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Terry Ryan will make improving the Twins minor league organization a high priority. That’s going to make Seth (and, eventually, the rest of us) very happy.

Ben Revere

Ben Revere: Terry Ryan made perfectly clear on Monday that the Twins need to improve their defense. There are questions about whether you’ll ever be a Major League hitter, but if Ryan truly believes that better defense will lead to better pitchers, I think you just got locked in to a starting spot in the 2012 Twins outfield.

Talented prospects buried in other organizations: Terry Ryan’s forte is identifying young talent, whether in his own organization or others, and bringing that talent to the Twins where they get a chance to prove themselves worthy of a shot at the big time. If your organization has been holding you back, there’s a decent chance Ryan already has a file on you that’s about an inch thick. Make sure your agent has Ryan’s number on speed dial.

Wayne Krivsky: It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride for you over the past week. A week ago, you were a frustrated, seldom listened to, advisor in the Mets front office. Then you got the good news… the Twins GM wanted you back in the organization in an advisory capacity. Then you got the bad news… the GM who wanted you back was being canned. Then you got more good news… the new interim GM is your old buddy Terry Ryan and now you’re close enough to sniff your next opportunity to become a Major League GM, once again. That is, if you’re the one person on the planet who actually believes that Terry Ryan is just the “interim” General Manager of the Twins.

LOSERS:

Twins Medics: You may have breathed a sigh of relief a while back when Bill Smith stated publicly that there would be no blood-letting among the organization’s doctors and trainers. Better get back to work on those resumes, folks.

Cuddyer, Nathan, Kubel (assuming any of them wanted to return to the Twins for 2012 and beyond): Bill Smith grew to genuinely like certain players and some feel that he allowed those feelings to affect his decisions. Terry Ryan isn’t heartless, but he is first and foremost an evaluator and appraiser of baseball talent. The next time he overpays for the declining years of a player who’s productivity level has arguably peaked will be the first time.

Mike Radcliff: A week ago, you were being mentioned as a possible GM candidate in Baltimore, then the Twins declined to allow the Birds to interview you. Now, your new boss is publicly talking about how you’ve been spread too thin and will have some of your responsibilities reassigned. Word is that you decided you weren’t interested in their job and the Twins “declined permission” for the Orioles to talk to you merely to allow them to save some face. If that’s the case, you may be regretting that decision. Now, instead of the organization’s highest ranking player-personnel guy and heir apparent to Bill Smith, your new boss is twice the baseball man you are and he’s bringing back his former right-hand man in Krivsky. Ouch.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Tsuyoshi Nishioka: There is absolutely no way Terry Ryan would have committed $15 million to acquire you a year ago and given that you embody everything that Ryan feels is wrong with the current roster, your already meager hopes of ever playing another inning of baseball for the Twins just became virtually non-existent. I don’t know where you’ll be playing ball in 2012, but it won’t be in the Twin Cities.

Trevor Plouffe: Did you hear what Ryan said about needing to improve the Twins defense? Yeah… he was talking about you, Trevor. You’re still inexpensive, so if you’ve been improving your glovework, you may get a shot at redemption in Ft. Myers, but you’d better demonstrate marked improvement or you’re going to be the “throw in” player in one of Ryan’s inevitable trades.

Anyone who pitched for the Twins in 2011: Glen Perkins might be the only pitcher on the roster who’s spot is relatively safe. The rest of you, either by virtue of your performance or your contract (or both… see: Blackburn, Nick, et al), are just as likely to be playing elsewhere in 2012 as playing on a Terry Ryan team.

Carl Pavano

Carl Pavano: I don’t believe for an instant that Ryan would have re-signed you to a two-year deal last offseason. If he can find someone willing to take on most of your remaining salary, I believe you’ll be wearing another uniform in 2012.

Bloggers who spent time assembling a 2012 “blueprint” (unless you didn’t really like your blueprint, in which case you’re in luck because now you can start over and do a new one): Back to the drawing board. Any of us that still want to spend $35 million on free agents need to get creative about figuring out how to cut $15 million from the existing commitments. Then again, we can pretty much rule out the Mark Buehrles and anyone else likely to get several million dollars for multiple years.

TOO EARLY TO TELL:

Ron Gardenhire

Ron Gardenhire: You didn’t see eye-to-eye with Smith on a number of personnel issues, so you’re probably feeling pretty good about things right now. But keep in mind that Terry Ryan just actively participated in the firing of one of his best friends. He says he’s going to assemble a team that he thinks should be competitive in 2012. If it isn’t, he’s not going to hesitate for a moment to send you packing, too.

Danny Valencia: On the one hand, Danny, you’re young and cheap and you hit the ball a little bit. On the other hand, your defense is not good and some reports indicate you’re not exactly the prototypical “Twins guy” in the clubhouse. That may not have been a big deal a week ago, but there is absolutely nobody in the organization that’s more of a believer in the “Twins Way” than Terry Ryan. If you thought Gardy was anal about that kind of thing, you’re REALLY gonna love the new sheriff in town.

Denard Span

Denard Span and Alexi Casilla: I’m honestly not sure what Terry will do with you two. You’re not gold-glovers in the field, but by comparison to almost everyone else the Twins have on defense, you almost look the part. I suspect he will start his purge elsewhere, but your salaries are getting to the point where Ryan starts to think he can find someone comparable for less money. Not to mention, you may be two of the few members of the current roster with actual trade value.

Fans: I stand by my previous statements that fans should not accept a slashed payroll without loud objection. We can hold out some hope that Ryan was just tossing out numbers during the press conference and, by the time spring rolls around, the payroll is pretty close to the 2011 levels. At any rate, if (and this is a very big “if”) Ryan can actually unload some dead weight and replace it with players who can actually… you know… play baseball, then fans may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

What are your thoughts? Who do you project to be the big “winners” and “losers” under the Terry Ryan Regime, Part Deux? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

-  JC

Be Careful What You Wish For, Twins Fans

We got what we wanted, right? Bill Smith is history as the Twins’ General Manager. Not only that, but he’s being replaced by Terry Ryan, the man credited with turning the Twins in to a contender through most of the past decade. All’s well in Twinsville, right?

Not so fast.

Before everyone spends the next week partying in celebration, I think we should look a little deeper in to what led to Smith’s departure.

Sure, the JJ Hardy trade, itself, was probably grounds for dismissal and there were plenty of other questionable personnel decisions to build a sound case for “termination for cause.” But that’s not why Smith is no longer the GM. Not according to Dave St. Peter and Jim Pohlad anyway.

No, they essentially trotted out the, “we just weren’t on the same page,” cliche. I’m beginning to think that means Smith wasn’t going along with the Pohlad family philosophy of, “slash the payroll.”

If Terry Ryan was replacing Smith because of Smith’s failings, I’d sponsor a little party, myself. I’ve always been a Terry Ryan fan. Like a lot of Twins fans, I’ve always wondered what Ryan could have done as a GM if he had been given some money to build a real roster with, instead of having to implement a system where he had to develop all of his talent internally, fully aware that he’d eventually have to watch every player worth a crap walk away as soon as they got the least bit expensive.

But that’s not why Ryan’s taking over and, based on what he’s saying, he’s not going to be given the same payroll that Smith had to work with.

Terry Ryan

In response to questions about payroll during the press conference, Ryan alluded to potential payroll levels between $90-$100 million. Those figures would be somewhere 10-20% LESS than the Twins’ 2011 payroll. Put another way, the Twins are going to let Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel walk away via free agency and use the money to bring in… absolutely nobody!

And we’re all supposed to jump up and cheer because it will be Ryan overseeing this crap instead of Smith?

It amazes me how so many Twins fans take the BS that the front office hands out, without a question.

Toward the end of the season, a lot of people were talking about what the Twins could do to rebuild their roster if the Twins payroll was allowed to grow just a modest amount… say from $115 million to $118-120 million.

Then Jim Pohlad was quoted in media reports as saying the 2011 payroll was a bit higher than he was comfortable with and likely would be just a bit lower in 2012. Fans and media didn’t seem to bat an eye. Everyone just accepted what Pohlad said and started looking at what could be done with a $112-115 million payroll.

Now, not-exactly-new GM Terry Ryan says the payroll will probably be in the $90-100 million range and again it’s just going to be accepted with little question? Why?

Throughout this whole process, I’ve yet to read or hear a single member of the media ask the Twins WHY they feel payroll should be reduced. Not once. If someone can show me a link to such a question, I’d be grateful, but I’m not holding my breath.

Maybe the Twins project revenues to drop? Not likely, given that they’ve got enough of a waiting list for season tickets to more than make up for the number of people who were so disgusted by what they saw on the field in 2011 that they couldn’t stomach the thought of watching something similar in 2012 and there’s been no hint of a drop in broadcast rights fees or any other revenue source.

Is it asking too much of the organization to suggest that slashing payroll after just two seasons in a new ballpark (largely publicly funded) should warrant some sort of explanation to the fan base? Shouldn’t they at least offer some kind of reason?

Apparently not.

Some people are suggesting that cutting payroll is fine because it reflects an acknowledgment that 2012 will be a rebuilding year and the focus will be on building a team to compete a couple of years in the future.

Seriously?

You’re paying Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau a total of $37 million a year and you’re not even going to try to put a team around them to be competitive for a couple of years (by which time Morneau will be gone, by the way)? And that’s OK with Twins fans?

The Twins are just one injury-plagued season away from having won the AL Central Division. Explain to me again why the organization shouldn’t spend the money coming off their books on players that could propel them right back up in to contention if some of the health issues work out better next year than in 2011.

Because they may be losing Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan? Nathan wasn’t even on the field in 2010 when they won their division, while Kubel and Cuddyer both had pretty mediocre seasons, posting almost identical OPS figures at around .750.

Don’t get me wrong… the Twins have significant holes to fill. Smith’s mistakes need to be corrected.

But if Terry Ryan, Dave St. Peter or Jim Pohlad use the misguided roster moves of Bill Smith as an excuse to slash payroll, they’re doing it for one reason and one reason only… to prove that this generation of Pohlads is every bit as cheap as the last.

And from I’m reading from various blogs and other social media responses, most Twins fans are just fine with that.

I’m not.

- JC

 

Twins “Structural Reorganization”

HOLY COW!

Yeah, so you know how there were rumors that there was going to be some reorganization going on but then somebody clamped down and said, “no, we don’t know what they’re talking about..”?

Uh… yeah.

Step 1: Fire Bill Smith.

wow…

They did it – no seriously! Terry Ryan is back as interim GM until they get the rest of this stuff figured out.

You didn’t think they’d actually do it, did you? Color me pink & purple and call me a pachyderm. I’m pretty shocked.

What do you think Step 2 should be?

Bill Smith Out, Terry Ryan In, as Twins “Interim” GM?

Perhaps now we know why the Twins didn’t give the Orioles permission to interview Mike Radcliff for their GM position last week.

The Twins will be holding a 4:30 pm CT press conference to announce that Terry Ryan will take over as interim GM of the Twins, replacing current General Manager, Bill Smith, according to Tweets from mlb.com Twins beat reporter Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger).

We’ll update this post as more information becomes available, but in the mean time, if you aren’t following Bollinger on Twitter (which you should already be doing, by the way), now would be a very good time to start!

- JC

Friday Twins Baseball Oddities

A couple of peculiar items have captured my attention today. One involved MLB as a whole and the other the Twins, specifically.

The latter was the news from Phil Mackey at 1500espn (referring to a Tweet by Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports) that the Twins have denied the Orioles permission to interview VP of Player Personnel Mike Radcliff for the Birds’ vacant General Manager position.

Mike Radcliff (photo: Minnesota Twins)

That kind of thing doesn’t happen often. While it wouldn’t be ideal to lose your VP of Player Personnel just as the free agency market opens, it would still be odd for a team to deny one of their people an opportunity to even interview for a bigger, better job with another organization. On top of that, Mackey reported that the reason was due to, “internal reorganization and promotions.”

The thing is, the Twins haven’t announced any kind of internal front office reorganization or promotions.

Typically, teams don’t refuse other teams to interview their people if the open position would clearly be a step up. One could certainly argue that Radcliff’s current position with the Twins has more authority than what the eventual Orioles GM will have, given their “hands on” owner and a manager who’s been given an awful lot of authority over player personnel decisions. It might be the worst GM gig in baseball.

But the Twins aren’t saying that (at least not publicly). They’re saying the refusal is due to internal reorganization and promotions. The only promotion I’ve read about lately is Tom Brunansky getting the Rochester hitting coach gig. Hard to imagine that affecting Radcliff’s responsibilities, isn’t it?

Could it be that there’s some sort of succession plan in place whereby Radcliff will be taking over for GM Bill Smith in the relatively near future? Stay tuned… maybe someone in the Minnesota media will track down an answer from the Twins.

UPDATE: Subsequent media reports indicate there’s no plan to change Radcliff’s title, but the Twins are looking at bringing Wayne Krivsky back in to the front office as a Special Assistant to GM Bill Smith. Krivsky had been an Assistant GM for the Twins before taking the GM job with the Reds a few years back. He lost that job a couple of years ago and has held lesser jobs in the front offices of other teams since then.

The other odd item today was courtesy of ESPN’s Jayson Stark.

We’re well aware that MLB and its players are trying to work out a new collective bargaining agreement (does this sound familiar, or what?). What little has been written about the negotiations, however, has largely focused on two things… MLB’s desire for a hard slotting system for draft picks’ salaries and vague assurances that neither party sees it as being at all likely that this process will become as problematic as the NFL negotiations were and NBA negotiations have been.

What Stark points out, however, is that the MLB luxury tax system ended with the end of the 2011 season. There’s an assumption that some sort of luxury tax system will be included in whatever new CBA is ultimately adopted, but in the mean time, none exists.

That has to make it pretty difficult for some teams to figure out what they can afford for a 2012 payroll, which in turn makes it all but impossible for some of them to get very active in the free agent market.

Big market teams won’t be significantly affected. If you were going to be paying in to the system, you can just assume you will be under the new system, as well.

If you’re a team that neither pays in nor receives significant luxury tax dollars, you really aren’t affected either. The Twins probably fall in this category.

But if you’re the Tampa Bay Rays or Kansas City Royals, you’ve got to be just a little nervous, don’t you? Even if you are very certain that there will continue to be some form of luxury tax, you can’t be sure of the amount. If you can’t be sure of the amount, it’s kinda tough to put together a budget.

Not only does that prevent you from diving in to the free agent pool (even to try to retain your own free agents), but in some cases, teams need a significant amount of luxury tax money just to be able to afford to keep the players they have under contract. In a worst-case scenario, a lack of luxury tax money could force some teams to hold some interesting fire sales.

At the very least, it seems to me that the low-revenue teams are going to have to hold off on making significant roster decisions until there is some finality on the CBA. That won’t affect the market for high-end free agents (let’s face it, the Royals were not going to be bidding for Prince Fielder anyway), but it may mean a team like the Twins would have less competition for more moderately priced free agents, such as Ramon Santiago, if they act earlier rather than later. That’s not exactly the Twins MO, of course.

Maybe these two items aren’t ultimately big deals. But with Spring Training still over 100 days away, we have to talk about SOMETHING, don’t we?

Finally, speaking of Spring Training, our friend Paul Caputo (from InterpretationByDesign.com) has started a new Facebook page that’s worth checking out. “Countdown to Spring Training” gives us one more option for discussing any manner of Hot Stove issues. Check it out!

With that, I’ll call it a day. Have a good weekend, all!

- JC

Three “Golden Era” Twins on HOF Ballot

On the heels of Bert Blyleven’s induction in to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, three more former Twins have renewed chances to join Bert, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett in Cooperstown. Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant have been nominated for consideration by the Baseball HOF’s new “Golden Era Committee”.

Tony Oliva

The Committee, made up of 16 voters consisting of executives, veteran media members and existing HOF members, will be choosing from among ten players and executives that made their greatest contributions to the game of baseball between the years 1947 and 1972.

The committee will be meeting during MLB’s winter meetings in December and each member can vote for anywhere from zero to five candidates. It takes being included on 75% of ballots cast to gain election. This committee will be holding similar elections just every three years, so anyone who doesn’t gain election this year will have to wait another three years just to find out if they’ll be considered again. Given the age of most of these guys, that could literally be a lifetime.

Jim Kaat (photo: S. Grile/Palm Beach Post)

Oliva, Kaat and Tiant are joined on the ballot by Ron Santo, Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and Allie Reynolds. For a fan in his mid-fifties like me, those names bring back a flood of memories and it’s hard to believe that none of them are in the HOF already.

Luis Tiant

Interestingly, the three former Twins all played together, along with Blyleven, Carew and Killebrew, on the 1970 team that won the AL West Division. Think of that for a moment… it could very well turn out that the 1970 Twins included SIX future Hall of Famers!

At a time when many of us are trying to figure out how the Twins should rebuild their roster in an effort to regain some level of competitiveness, take a look at some of the numbers that members of that 1970 team put up:

Tony Oliva: .325/.364/.514 .878 OPS, 23 HR, 107 RBI in 157 games.

Harmon Killebrew:  .271/.411/.546 .957 OPS,  41 HR, 113 RBI in 157 games.

Rod Carew:  .366/.407/.524 .930 OPS, 4 HR, 28 RBI, in just  51 games.

And just to prove they weren’t the only guys hitting the ball…

Cesar Tovar: .300/.356/.442 .798 OPS, 10 HR, 54 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 161 games.

The pitchers had some pretty decent seasons, too:

Jim Kaat: 14-10, 3.56 ERA, 34 starts, 4 complete games, 230.1 IP

Bert Blyleven: 10-9, 3.18 ERA, 25 starts, 5 complete games, 164 IP

Luis Tiant: 7-3, 3.40 ERA, 17 starts, 2 complete games, 92.2 IP

Not bad, but not one of those pitchers was even the ace of that staff in 1970. That honor went to…

Jim Perry: 24-12, 3.04 ERA, 40 starts, 13 complete games, 278.2 IP… and a Cy Young Award.

Congratulations to Tony-O, Kitty-Kaat and El Tiante on their nominations and here’s hoping the voters recognize that all three of these guys are deserving of the honor to stand with their peers as among the best to ever play the game.

- JC

JC’s Offseason 2012 Twins Blueprint

This is my second swing at trying to tell the Twins what to do this offseason. Actually, it’s my third, if you want to get technical.

Back while the season was still dragging to a painful close, I posted a multi-part series on changes I thought the Twins needed to make before 2012, which included specific names I thought were worth pursuing. Already a lot of things have changed, so that turned out to be just a premature exercise in futility.

So, now that the season is actually over and with the benefit of the TwinsCentric 2012 Offseason GM Handbook, I’m prepared to publish my “official” offseason blueprint to bring the Twins back not only to respectability, but to a level where they should be able to contend within the AL Central Division.

Of course, the Twins have so many needs this offseason, that it’s difficult to address all of them in a single blog post. That’s why this is actually my third shot at doing so. Not only did my in-season effort take several posts to complete, but my first draft at THIS blueprint was something close to 4,000 words. That’s too much. But, damn, there’s a LOT of stuff to fix this year!

To keep it all in one post, though, I’m going to focus on the players I’d like to see Bill Smith go out and get. If I feel compelled at another time to go in to greater detail as to “why” these players and not other players, I’ll do that another time. It’s going to be a LONG offseason, so there will no doubt be plenty of days with nothing better to write about.

First, let’s talk payroll. There’s been a lot made of owner Jim Pohlad’s comments to the effect that we shouldn’t expect an increase in the $115 million payroll that the Twins opened 2011 with and, in fact, the Twins may not be able to even meet that level.

That’s crap… and I can’t believe the media and so many fans seem to be buying in to that line. There is absolutely no justification for the Twins to try to sell fans on a need to cut, or even just maintain, payroll. If GM Bill Smith doesn’t get at least $120 million to spend for his Opening Day Major League payroll, fans should bury the front office in mail, email, phone calls and any other manner of communication (“Occupy Target Field”, anyone?) to let the organization know how full of crap they are.

With that said, let’s fix this baseball team.

I can only find 11 players from those currently on the Twins roster that I feel relatively certain will be on the Opening Day active roster. Here they are, along with their projected 2012 salaries (where estimates are needed, I am using the estimates the TwinsCentric guys used in their Handbook, just to be consistent with what others are using… and to keep me from having to do as much independent thought):

Joe Mauer (23 mil), Justin Morneau (14 mil), Carl Pavano (8.5 mil), Scott Baker (6.5 mil), Francisco Liriano (6 mil), Nick Blackburn (4.75 mil), Denard Span (3 mil), Alexi Casilla (2.5 mil), Glen Perkins (1.8 mil), Danny Valencia (500K), and Brian Duensing (500K).

In addition, while I don’t necessarily believe he should be presumed to have a spot on the roster Opening Day, the Twins will be on the hook to Tsuyoshi Nishioka for $3 million.

That adds up to $74.05 million, leaving us almost $46 million to spend if we assume a reasonable $120 million cap.

First, let’s fix the rotation. One new starting pitcher is not going to do that. I want Mark Buehrle and Rich Harden added to Pavano, Baker and Liriano. Buehrle is not an “ace”, but I don’t even put CJ Wilson in that category and there really is no “ace” on the free agent market. Buehrle gives you 200+ innings of effective left-handed work every season and could be even better in Target Field than he’s been in US Cellular, if the Twins can put a decent defense behind him. Harden misses bats, when he’s healthy. Yes, I know he doesn’t stay healthy often, but that just means he’ll fit right in with the Twins. TwinsCentric projects Buehrle and Harden to get $10 million and $3 million, respectively (with Buehrle getting a multi-year deal).

If I can’t get Buehrle and Harden, a combination of Edwin Jackson and Paul Maholm would cost about the same, but I don’t like those options nearly as well.

The addition of two starting pitchers moves Blackburn and Duensing to the bullpen, where they join Glen Perkins. I really like the idea of Duensing as a strong lefty set-up/LOOGY option. We need four more bullpen arms, though.

People seem to think Joe Nathan would return for a 2 year deal at $7 mil a year. I have doubts that (a) he’ll sign for that little, and (b) that he’s really all that interested in returning to the Twins. If I could get him for $7 mil a year, I’d do it, but I think he’s gone.

So here’s the rest of my bullpen: Jonathan Broxton ($4 mil), Todd Coffey ($2.1 mil), and… wait for it… Matt Capps (3.1 mil). The last spot is opened up to competition among what’s left of the arms in the organization. Maybe it’s Alex Burnett, maybe it’s Anthony Swarzak, maybe it’s someone else. I’m not fixating on any of them, so let’s just pencil in Burnett.

Coffey could be the innings eater the Twins have missed since losing Matt Guerrier and I still believe Matt Capps had some health issues last year that played a role in his disappointing results. I think he still has some value in a set-up role at a reduced rate. Broxton, before his arm trouble, was awfully good over a number of years. Between he and Perkins, I think you’d find your closer.

You’ll note I did not mention Kevin Slowey. He’s projected to get $3.3 million if the Twins offer him arbitration. I don’t think they can do that unless they’re very sure they can trade that contract, along with Slowey, for something of value in return. You also don’t see Jose Mijares. It’s time to move on from Jose.

With the pitching staff patched together, here are the position players I’d go after:

DH: Derek Lee. Right handed and can play 1B well enough to be a legitimate fall back option if Morneau’s situation requires him to primarily DH.

Shortstop: Ramon Santiago. Just makes sense on so many levels. Improves the positon offensively and defensively, while being very affordable. Smith needs to move quickly on this acquisition, though. The Cardinals need a SS, too. If they lose Pujols, they will possibly go after one of the premier middle infield options on the market to try to offset some of Pujols’ offense, but if they re-sign Pujols, they’ll be looking for inexpensive SS options, like Santiago.

Back-up catcher: I thought about trying to get creative here. Cincy apparently has a bit of a surplus of highly touted catching prospects that are ready or near-ready for the Big Leagues and they need pitching. Maybe a Liriano or Baker deal for a catcher would be interesting to pursue. But in the end, it just seems so unlikely that I’m taking the easy way out and sticking Jose Molina. If I can get him for the $1.1 million that TwinsCentric projects, I sign him and be done with it.

As for infield back-ups, add me to the list of people who would be just fine with bringing Nick Punto back for $750K. I’d also keep Trevor Plouffe around in a bench role for the league minimum. On the other hand, if it turns out Luke Hughes is a better option than  Plouffe, fine, keep Hughes instead.

Filling in the outfield around Denard Span isn’t all that difficult to figure out. I’m not sold that Ben Revere has a long-term future in MLB, but after watching almost everything hit to the outfield off of Twins pitchers last season fall in for hits, I sure like the idea of Span and Revere covering 2/3 (or probably more accurately 3/4) of the Target Field grass. Rene Tosoni deserves a shot at the 4th OF spot and, yes, he’s still cheap to keep.

In RF, I want Michael Cuddyer back. $11 a year on a multi-year deal is more than his baseball skills are likely to warrant over the length of his contract. I know. I don’t care.

The Twins organization has touted loudly Cuddyer’s willingness to be an active presence on behalf of the team in the community. I guess I would argue that, if that’s the case, they should cough up a few bucks to compensate for that. If he’s worth $8 million a year as a player (which is what he was reportedly offered by the Twins during the season), write off the extra $3 million as PR expense.

It would be great if guys like Mauer, Morneau and maybe even Baker would take real leadership roles in the community and, perhaps more importantly, in the clubhouse. But since they haven’t at this point, there’s not much of a chance that they’ll do so going forward either. Someone needs to provide the intangible clubhouse “presence” that builds and maintains some level of team chemistry.

I know a lot of people laugh at that concept, but all you have to do is take a look at what happened in Boston this year to see that it can be an important factor. I think it will be even more critical in the Twins clubhouse in 2012, given that there are going to be so many new faces. Someone has to be the guy who says, “this is how we do it here.”

Maybe that should be Mauer or Morneau or even Gardy, but the fact is those guys DON’T do it. It appears that Cuddyer does.

Here’s my final “blueprint”. Even if you count Joe Nathan’s $2 million “buy-out” against the 2012 payroll (which you shouldn’t), I’m spending just $119.6 million. I don’t care what Jim Pohlad says, that’s not an unreasonable increase given the Twins current circumstances. They spent unwisely last year and there’s a price you pay for making bad decisions. Pony up, Mr. Pohlad. I think this roster could win some games. – JC

PLAYER Salary ($ mil)
C Mauer 23
1B Morneau 14
2B Casilla 2.5*
3B Valencia 0.5
SS Santiago 1.5*
OF Span 3
OF Revere 0.5
OF Cuddyer 11
DH Lee 5*
C J Molina 1.1*
4thOF Tosoni 0.5
UtIF Punto 0.75
Bench Plouffe/Hughes 0.5
SP-L Buehrle 10*
SP-R Baker 6.5
SP-R Harden 3*
SP-R Pavano 8.5
SP-L Liriano 6*
RP-R Broxton 4*
RP-R Coffey 2.1*
RP-L Perkins 1.8*
RP-R Capps 3.1*
RP-R Blackburn 4.75
RP-L Duensing 0.5
RP-R Burnett/Swarzak 0.5
Nathan (option buy-out) 2
Nishioka (Rochester) 3
  Total: $119,600,000 *estimates