Normally a small-ball team, the 2009 season was an odd one for the Minnesota Twins. For the first time since 1987, the team had four players with at least 25 homeruns, and for the first time ever, four players climbed over the 90 RBI mark in a single season.
With Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel all back next season, the lineup seems to be in pretty good shape as the Twins begin the off-season.
The outfield is seemingly set with Denard Span, Cuddyer and a suddenly powerful Delmon Young. There will without a doubt be rumors involving Young yet again this year, but a move seems unlikely. Carlos Gomez meanwhile provides a fourth option off the bench and a solid defender for late-game situations.
The big question for what seems like the fourth consecutive off-season is the infield. Since the days of Corey Koskie, Christian Guzman and Luis Rivas, the infield has been a game of musical chairs.
Third base has seen Tony Batista, Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris and Joe Crede; shortstop has seen Juan Castro, Jason Bartlett, Punto, Harris, Alexi Casilla and Orlando Cabrera; and second base has seen Luis Castillo, Casilla, Punto, Harris and Matt Tolbert.
Uncertainty has been the name of the game when looking at the infield outside of first base and Justin Morneau. For yet another year the off-season will include deciding who will make up the three remaining positions.
Joe Crede hit 14 homeruns and drove in 40 runners, but another back injury ended his season early yet again. Another incentive-laden deal seems plausible, but other options might be more viable for Minnesota.
The free agent market isn’t the deepest, but names such as Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins, Melvin Mora, Troy Glaus, and Mark DeRosa make it interesting.
Beltre is a player the Twins have eyed for two seasons, but a steep demand for young talent has made him hard to get, Figgins is a speedy veteran who can play multiple positions, and the rest have, in recent years, had decent production.
The easy answer at shortstop would be to re-sign Orlando Cabrera. The veteran shortstop mentioned several times in his short tenure with the team that he’d be open to returning, and the Twins were undoubtedly happy with his late-season production. The big question seems to be what Cabrera will demand and what Minnesota feels he’s worth.
Outside of Cabrera and two Type-A free agents, Marco Scutaro and Miguel Tejada, the free agent market for shortstops is less-than-stellar. Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy’s name has been popular, and the 27-year old might be a nice fit.
Hardy was demoted last season in favor of prospect Alcides Escobar. Since being demoted, Hardy’s name has been popular is trade talk and many fans seem to like the idea. The Brewers would almost certainly demand pitching, but it’s uncertain how much.
Alexi Casilla was supposed to be the future of the position when Luis Castillo headed off to New York, but since that time it’s been a combination of Casilla, Harris, Tolbert and Punto at the middle infield spot.
If the Twins make moves with the left side of the infield, Punto might suffice as the starter on the right side along with Morneau. If not, there are a few options on the market.
Type-A free agent Orlando Hudson would cost a draft pick, but might be a player capable of filling the spot for more than one season. Felipe Lopez had a pretty good season, and a popular name early on is Placido Polanco. After playing for the Tigers he may be looking for a new home, and the Twins know first hand what he can do.
The top half of the lineup, filled with the mainstays of Span, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Kubel, seems set. Three primary openings remain however, and who the former MVP will play alongside is still very much uncertain.