Thursday, December 16, 2010
2010 Off-Season Thoughts
With the MLB off-season in full swing and some major signings that have already taken place, the Minnesota Twins are sitting still for the moment. After extending Joe Mauer’s contract last off-season and bringing in Jim Thome, just to name a few of the moves from 2009, you may be thinking, “wow, now the Twins are actually going to sign some well-known free agents due to all the money they will make from Target Field”. Well, thus far, the Twins haven’t done a whole lot, but that is just how the Twins work as an organization.
The Twins have been known to wait until later in the off-season schedule to begin their activity, as they rarely attempt to sign the big name players at the start. On the other hand, over the last few years, the Twins have really showed the rest of the MLB that they will be players in the International Free Agent market for years to come. After signing SS Miguel Sano last year, they went out this year and bid on and won the rights to Japanese middle infielder, Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Nishioka led the Nippon Professional Baseball League with a .346 batting average and racked up 206 hits during the 2010 season. He is a switching hitter, one of very few switch hitters in Japanese professional baseball, which will help the Twin lineup as he will be in the lineup much more often then. Despite his strong 2010 season and being just 26 years old, there are questions about how he will adapt to Major League Baseball in the US.
With the imminent signing of Nishioka, the Twins had a decision to make. Do they move Nishioka to second base or keep him at his natural position at short stop? Well if they want to keep him at short, then they will have to make a decision on J.J. Hardy. It didn’t take the Twins long to make their decision, as they traded J.J. Hardy and Brendan Harris to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. If this was the best that the Twins were able to get, then maybe there is something wrong with Hardy or that he needs to prove that he can stay healthy before other teams were to go after him.
With the departures of Hardy and Harris, the Twins infield depth is very limited. As it looks, the Twins will start Alexi Casilla at second and Nishioka at short stop. This raises the question of “Who do we have to come off the bench?”. As of right now, the Twins would likely use Trevor Plouffe and/or Matt Tolbert. The Twins appear to be looking for infield depth over the next few weeks and heading towards Spring Training. So look for them to sign a less expensive option for the backup role.
The main area the Twins need to address before pitchers and catchers report is the bullpen. With the loses of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch, there are some major holes in the Twins bullpen. Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain have signed with other teams within the last 36 hours, so you can forget about a potential return to the Twins. Right now, the bullpen consists of Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Pat Neshek, Alex Burnett, Jose Mijares, and Glen Perkins. They have a few options at the Triple-A level in Anthony Slama, Rob Delany, Kyle Waldrop and Jeff Manship.
Some free agent names that come to mind are Juan Cruz, Kevin Gregg, Chad Qualls, J.C. Romero. Now, would any of those names be affordable enough? Only one way to find out, but it is important that the Twins get their bullpen figured out, otherwise it could be a long season and long games come the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.
So, despite the Twins looking for bullpen help and infield help, I have full confidence that the Twins will get everything figured and will make a run at another American League Central crown despite what the White Sox and Tigers have done thus far this off-season; White Sox adding Adam Dunn and the Tigers adding Vic Martinez. It may be too soon to predict how the division race will end up, but this has the looks of another last day battle for the Central title.