After a season in which the Twins returned to respectability, winning 83 games and finishing over .500 for the first time since 2010, this coming off-season would seem to be very important. With a few more wins, the team might make it back to the postseason. The truth is the team's roster is basically set for next season, although some improvements would be ideal.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a look at several key aspects of the Twins off-season, such as possible trade and free agent targets, next years potential rookies, etc.
Today, we'll take a look at what the team's projected payroll will be, based on their current commitments. This should allow us to make a reasonable guess at just how much money the team has to spend this off-season. We will also look at the team's upcoming free agents, and discuss who the team should look to bring back if possible.
Cot's Baseball Contracts was used for the player salaries, while MLB Trade Rumors was used for the arbitration projections.
Some of the players listed will start the season in the minors, but this is a fairly accurate prediction of the team's commitments for 2016. The Twins payroll was just over $108 million this past season. With the projected commitments around $105 million, there likely isn't a lot of budget room. Even if ownership has green lit a payroll closer to $120 million (which to me is unlikely) that doesn't leave a lot of money to play with. If Torii Hunter decides to come back, that will stretch the budget even more.
Thankfully, the Twins roster is mostly set, so they don't need to spend big. The team needs a better catcher, as Suzuki is best suited for a backup/platoon role and Hermann is not a major league caliber player at this point. Matt Wieters is the biggest name catcher available, but he'll be out of the Twins price range in my opinion and it's rarely smart to spend money on a catcher over 30, which Wieters will be in May of the 2016 season. AJ Pierzynski has been a popular name of late, as he's coming off another solid offensive season and the Twins wanted him before they signed Suzuki two years ago. The Twins could likely find room to squeeze Pierzysnki in, and ownership would likely be more willing to exceed the budget to bring back another former player. Minnesota fans love their reunions. There aren't a lot of good catchers in baseball, so Pierzynski would be a worthwhile addition. Of course, he's way older than most catchers, so a return to his 2014 form (.251/.288/.337 in 102 games) is possible. Suzuki hit .240/.296/.314 this season, so even bad AJ is an upgrade. I think the team will sign Pierzysnki.
Trading Trevor Plouffe is a possibility, as he's been a solid third baseman but with Sano waiting in the wings now would be the time to trade Plouffe if he's not going to be around long-term. The Twins continue to say they don't want to make Sano just a DH, so Plouffe needs to be traded unless the team is willing to use Joe Mauer in a part time role, which is highly unlikely. Trading Plouffe for a solid, cost-controlled reliever and a prospect or two would be a solid deal, although I'm just speculating.
With most roster spots accounted for, let's take a look at the team's free agents.
Free Agents: SP Mike Pelfrey, MR Neal Cotts, MR Brian Duensing, MR Blaine Boyer, RF Torii Hunter
Mike Pelfrey struck out just 86 batters in just under 165 innings. For someone who throws mid 90's heat, he doesn't miss many bats. With better in house options available, there's no reason for the team to even look at bringing Pelfrey back. It would be a waste of payroll space.
Neal Cotts pitched decently for the Twins after they acquired him in August, but he was still below average compared to relievers league wide. He made $3M last year, so he'll likely command a salary close to that to stick around. While the team is in need of a quality left handed reliever other than Glen Perkins, Neal Cotts isn't the answer. I think the Twins will look to bring Cotts back, but there are left-handed relievers like Cotts available every off-season. No reason to overspend for Neal.
Brian Duensing was horrible all season, striking out just 24 batters in 48 innings while walking 21. There's no way he will or should be back.
Blaine Boyer's ERA was very good at 2.49 this past season. That's a bit misleading, as Boyer allowed several inherited runners (runners on base when he came into the game) to score and he got lucky on balls put in play. With just 33 strikeouts in 65 innings, Boyer is likely to have a major regression in his ERA next season. Here's to hoping the Twins aren't paying Boyer next season.
Torii Hunter doesn't really have a spot on the team, as he'll likely be overpaid as a 4th outfielder and he's simply not good enough to play more than that. Usually teams like to have very good defenders in the 4th outfield role, but Torii Hunter is no longer a good defender. He's a below average hitter for his position and a below average fielder, so it would be in everyone's best interests if the former star would simply retire. If he doesn't, ideally the Twins would let him go elsewhere. "Veteran leadership" isn't something the team should waste payroll space on if the player is below average, no matter how great his smile is.
If none of the team's free agents come back and ownership green lights a $115MM payroll, who would you target with the team's $10MM remaining? Bullpen help? Catching? Both? Something else? Discuss in the comments if you'd like.