Loaded farm system has Twins optimistic for 2014
Offseason questions linger, including how to reshape pitching staff
MINNEAPOLIS -- With a farm system that's regarded as perhaps the best in baseball, the Twins know help is on the way.
But the question now becomes how quickly they can come up and help a club that has now suffered three straight seasons with more than 90 losses.
The Twins are confident they can turn around the club in the long-term but many pressing questions remain on how to fix the team in the short-term, given their lack of quality starting pitching and an offense that failed to produce with runners in scoring position.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan, who was the architect of the club's success in the 2000s, knows it won't be an easy task to turn around the team quickly.
"We haven't had the success we've been looking for," Ryan said. "No one is passing the buck other than that we know where we're at and we know where we want to get. And unfortunately, we're just not there.
"But we're closer than people believe. But it's tough to explain that in September when we're 25 games behind the Detroit Tigers."
One thing working in the Twins' favor is payroll flexibility, as they only have roughly $60 million in commitments for 2014. It's a large drop off from 2011, when they entered the year with a record $113 million payroll.
But it remains to be seen how willing the Twins will be to spend on the free-agent market, as they've never really been players on that front. The largest free-agent contract the franchise has ever handed out was a three-year deal worth $21 million to Josh Willingham.
Ryan said he doesn't believe a team can be built on the strength of free agency but will explore all avenues to improve the club, especially the starting rotation.
"We'll address that free agent list but it's not a good way to build," Ryan said. "It's a good way to supplement a roster. We're certainly going to look. There's going to be a lot of competition for quality starting, and we'll be in the mix. We certainly need to address the pitching staff."
Free agents: Mike Pelfrey, RHP
Eligible for arbitration: Brian Duensing, LHP; Vance Worley, RHP; Josh Roenicke, RHP; Anthony Swarzak, RHP; Trevor Plouffe, 3B
A position-by-position look at where the 2013 roster stands going into '14:
Catcher: The catching situation is a bit murkier for the Twins than usual, as star backstop Joe Mauer saw his season cut short when he suffered a concussion on a foul tip while catching on Aug. 19. He's vowed that he'll return as the club's starting catcher next year but it remains to be seen how much he'll catch next season. The Twins have no shortage of backup catchers, as Ryan Doumit and Chris Herrmann both can catch and play outfield to give the Twins versatility. Josmil Pinto also had a very strong September, and appears primed to be the catcher of the future for the Twins, should they decide to move Mauer off catching. The Twins could look to deal Doumit, who is due $3 million in '14.
First base: The Twins have an opening at first base after Justin Morneau was traded to the Pirates on Aug. 31. (He's set to be a free agent this offseason.) It's still not out of the question that the Twins try to bring Morneau back on a new deal, but the Twins could be ready to move on. Mauer should play more at first because of his concussion but the other candidates to see time at first struggled in 2013, such as Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello. So the Twins could look to the free agent market for help at first base this offseason.
Second base: Brian Dozier established himself as a solid second baseman in a bounce-back campaign after struggling in his rookie season. He provided impressive defense to go along with extra-base hit power. Dozier's emergence creates a good problem for the Twins to have, as top prospect Eddie Rosario could make his debut next year but has transitioned from the outfield to second base. The Twins could decide to move Rosario back to the outfield or trade one of the two players for pitching help.
Shortstop: Pedro Florimon had a great year defensively at shortstop but struggled to hit, especially in the second half of the season. The Twins like his defense enough that he's expected to start at shortstop again, as they don't have any top shortstop prospects to take over just yet. Eduardo Escobar will remain the club's utility player, seeing time at shortstop as well as second base and third base.
Third base: Plouffe was inconsistent again in 2013, as he showed flashes of power but still couldn't put it all together offensively. His defense was better but is still a work in progress. Top prospect Miguel Sano, who is ranked as MLB.com's No. 3 overall prospect, is expected to make his long-awaited debut next year, but should start out the year at Triple-A Rochester. So Plouffe will have to figure it out in a hurry, as Sano could be ready to take over at third base by May or June.
Outfield: The Twins have plenty of outfielders on their roster but none of them had a standout season in 2013. Left fielder Josh Willingham is under contract for one more year but didn't come close to repeating his impressive '12 season, when he won a Silver Slugger Award. Oswaldo Arcia had a strong rookie year and projects to bring plenty of power moving forward but needs to work on his defense in the outfield corners. Center fielder Aaron Hicks had a forgettable rookie season, and is likely to start out at Triple-A Rochester to continue to get more seasoning. Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni figure to add depth as fourth outfielder types, although Mastroianni could lose his spot on the 40-man roster this offseason.
Designated hitter: The Twins like to use the designated hitter to give players the day off from the field, so players such as Mauer, Doumit, Willingham and Arcia will see time at DH. The Twins don't figure to add a DH-type player this offseason.
Rotation: The rotation remains the club's weakest link, as they have plenty of rotation candidates but all project as back-of-the-rotation starters. Kevin Correia, who was the club's most dependable starter, is under contract for one more year and should keep his spot in the rotation. After that, several pitchers such as Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, Andrew Albers and Worley will compete for spots in the rotation. Gibson has the most upside among that group but struggled in his first taste of the big leagues. The Twins need to add at least two or three starting pitchers via free agency or trade, as the rotation remains a major work in progress. Prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May could also make their debuts next season, but both will start out at Triple-A Rochester. And Pelfrey is set to be a free agent but has expressed interest in re-signing.
Bullpen: The bullpen was a strong point for the Twins, as they logged the most innings by relievers but still managed to post a respectable ERA that finished in the top half of the American League. Glen Perkins is an elite closer, and the Twins have options for setup relievers in Jared Burton and Casey Fien. The Twins will likely add a few bullpen arms this offseason in minor deals but won't be looking to add any major pieces to an already strong bullpen.