T-Minus 30 Days And Counting

Yes, we are now under a month before Twins pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers for Spring Training. It won’t be long now, gang, before we’re seeing pictures of our guys in uniforms on real baseball diamonds and we’re reading media reports straight from their complex on Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan seems to be pretty much done with his off-season shopping. Whether he SHOULD be done with his shopping is another question entirely and I tend to agree with John Bonnes’ take, which he posted over at his TwinsGeek blog. With so many serviceable and quite affordable veterans still on the market, the Twins are flat out of their minds if they don’t take advantage of the depressed marketplace to pick up some more help.

Todd Coffey and other similar relief arms have to be starting to get pretty anxious about where they’re going to be pitching in 2012. Joel Zumaya may be a low risk-high reward signing, but you certainly can not be serious about counting on him to throw 50 Major League innings this season.

And then there’s Justin Morneau. As TwinsGeek points out, there’s nothing warm and fuzzy feeling about Doc’s comments to the media lately. He certainly doesn’t sound like a guy who’s feeling top of the world and ready to hit the field. I’m not sure a guy like Derrek Lee would be desperate enough to sign on to be the Twins’ fallback option in the event Morneau can’t answer the bell, but there are plenty of other players out there who aren’t going to have many other options.

There’s no rush. The remaining players on the market are largely interchangeable and the prices are only going to go down over the next 3-4 weeks. This is what the Twins are supposed to be good at… scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel and coming up with something worthwhile. Orlando Hudson was barely signed in time to show up for the first workouts of Spring Training a couple of years ago and that turned out pretty well. They don’t need a critical starting infielder this time, just a couple of reliable spare parts.

On the other hand, if the Twins really want to add one more front line player, not many of us would complain. One rumor that’s gotten a little traction has involved starting pitcher Roy Oswalt. Oswalt was never on my list of preferred targets for the Twins this off-season, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if they could sign the guy.

Roy Oswalt (Photo: AP)

He and his agent had reportedly been looking for a multi-year deal for more than $10 million per year after the Phillies bought out his option rather than pay him $16 million for 2012. He had some back problems which certainly would be considered a red-flag, but word is he’s been considering one-year offers lately, with the hope of re-establishing his value and taking another run at a bigger contract next off-season.

The thing is, I really just can’t figure out what the market for Oswalt is. I get the feeling that he’s one of those second-tier pitchers that had to wait until the top-tier guys landed before he would see what the true level of interest in him would be. The problem is, those top-tier guys still haven’t all landed. Edwin Jackson is still out there.

But now that the Rangers have signed Yu Darvish for megabucks, that’s probably one less team that will be willing to throw $8-10 million at Oswalt.

We do know that Oswalt is nearing the end of his career, so you have to figure he wants to play for a legitimate contender if all things are equal. That wouldn’t seem to bode well for the Twins, but speculation seems to be that Terry Ryan might be willing to take a walk up the street to ask Jim Pohlad for approval to exceed that $100 million payroll limit in order to lure Oswalt to Minnesota by offering a multi-year deal.

I honestly think it’s a long shot, but it gives us something to chatter about anyway.

Over the past few years, the final month before Spring Training starts has seen a lot of usable veteran free agents scrambling for jobs and there are bargains to be had out there. Most years, the Twins would be sifting through that bargain bin and picking up a couple of useful parts.

This season should be no exception.

After all, we have another month to kill before we get to actually see baseball. We need something more to talk about!

- JC

Is Twins GM Terry Ryan Bluffing?

It was just one small line in a Pioneer Press article, but it caught my eye.

John Shipley’s article was primarily about Twins GM Terry Ryan going on record as stating his starting pitchers need to get away from the expectation that once they’ve completed six innings of work, they’ve done their jobs and can hit the shower. But there it was, in the next to last paragraph, a quote from Ryan to the effect that the Twins rotation was set unless someone, “fell in to our lap.”

Terry Ryan is a smart man… certainly smarter than I am. That certainty has had me wondering lately whether I’ve been wrong all along in my view that the Twins need more significant help in their rotation than what Jason Marquis, alone, is likely to provide. Pretty much since taking back the GM chair from Bill Smith, Ryan has insisted that the Twins just needed to get more healthy innings out of the starting pitchers they already have on staff, with perhaps the addition of another potential innings-eater at the back of the rotation (which turned out to be Marquis).

So the plan has apparently been to assume that Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn would all be much healthier and much better than last season AND that Carl Pavano would at least replicate his 2011 performance level.

Despite being fully aware of Ryan’s superior baseball knowledge, compared to my own, I’ve remained skeptical.

So I’m grasping on to that tiny quote as a glimmer of hope that maybe… just maybe… Ryan knows his team needs more significant help. Maybe, faced with a restrictive payroll limit, he just knew all along he’d need to wait until the starting pitching market matured to the point where bargains could be had. Maybe, as agents bloviated about how magnificent their pitching clients were, he just shrugged and told them that their clients were indeed such gems that there was no way he could afford the salaries they could get elsewhere… then handed out his business card, you know, “just in case.”

Rich Harden (Photo: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Now, with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training in five short weeks, there’s a pretty sizable number of remaining free agent pitchers on the market and a shrinking number of teams with rotation spots available. The Twins clearly will not be signing guys like Edwin Jackson or Hiroki Kuroda, but let’s take a look at some of the other names that still don’t know where they’ll be calling home this season (click names for Baseball-Reference.com pages):

Bartolo Colon

Jeff Francis

Jon Garland

Rich Harden

Kevin Millwood

Roy Oswalt

Brad Penny

Joel Pineiro

Joe Saunders

I’m sure there are some guys on that list that you or I might differ on regarding how much we’d like to see them join the Twins’ rotation, but the chances of one or more of these pitchers “falling in to the lap” of Terry Ryan isn’t completely beyond the realm of possibility, at this point.

Todd Coffey (Photo: Gene J Puskar/AP)

Of course, it’s still probably more likely that Ryan adds a bullpen arm than a starting pitcher. If Ryan is waiting for a reliever to fall in to his lap, as well, there are plenty of those still looking for work and they’re probably getting even more nervous.

Conventional wisdom is that the Twins would want to add a right-hander, so for our purposes, let’s just glance at the… um… “northpaws(?)” Ryan Madson is off the board, now that he’s signed with the Reds, but he wasn’t going to be an option for the Twins anyway. I think we can also assume the Twins won’t be the organization signing Kerry Wood, or even Francisco Cordero, but maybe there’s someone else useful on this list:

Luis Ayala (OK, just kidding… we’ve been there, done that)

Shawn Camp

Todd Coffey

Brad Lidge

Scott Linebrink

Chad Qualls

Dan Wheeler

Michael Wuertz

Joel Zumaya

I can’t help but notice that two guys who were on my “blueprint”, Rich Harden and Todd Coffey, are both still available. I wonder if, perhaps in another week or two as the anxiety levels of the players and their agents rise, Ryan’s budget… or his lap… might have room both.

- JC