Less than two days into the official off-season, and before there was any time to look at the team’s options, the Minnesota Twins made a move. With the acquisition of shortstop J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee, the team set the tone for what could be a busy off-season in Minneapolis.
The trade for Hardy did many things: it took the number of infield question marks from three to two, it cleared up an outfield logjam, and it created an opening for a fourth outfielder.
Second base and third base remain open, the bench remains unsettled, and the rotation has openings too. So while the Twins put a dent in their to-do list, more is expected in the next three-plus months.
With Hardy at short and Morneau at first, the Twins have half of their infield set for the 2010 season. Recent comments by management suggest Punto will too be part of the equation, either as the second or third basemen.
If Punto is indeed already penciled in to start to the left or right of Hardy, the Twins will need to fill the one remaining void via trade or free agency.
At second base, a good option seems to be Placido Polanco. The veteran doesn’t strikeout much, plays a good second base, and hit 10 homeruns and drove in more than 70 runners last season.
If third base is the void, Adrian Beltre has drawn interest from the team in recent seasons and recently qualified as a Type-B free agent, meaning the Twins wouldn’t lose a draft pick.
The bench has questions, but most, if not all of them, will be solved within the organization. There are likely to be four bench spots; one catcher, two infielders, and one outfielder.
A starting lineup with Punto would leave Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla as the three strongest candidates for two backup infield spots. Jason Pridie would be the leader to back up Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer, but a veteran leader and powerful hitter might help. The final bench spot, for Joe Mauer’s backup, is likely to be Jose Morales if the team moves forward without Mike Redmond.
If the team so chooses, the 2010 starting rotation could be filled completely in-house. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn seem to be locks, leaving two spots unfilled.
One or both of the spots could be filled with a combination of left-handed starters Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins or Brian Duensing. The Twins could use one or none of those options and fill the remaining openings via free agency.
Jarrod Washburn is a player the Twins have watched for the past few seasons, and the team reportedly claimed Rich Harden off waivers this past season. Meanwhile, a low-risk signing of Ben Sheets could pay big dividends, and the team is interested in re-signing Carl Pavano.
The rest of the pitching staff, which will likely consistent of twelve spots, will almost certainly be filled with current players. Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jose Mijares all seem to be locks, leaving three spots open for competition.
Among the competitors are Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek and Boof Bonser. A few starters may be in the mix with Liriano, Perkins and Duensing possibly moving out of the starting role.
Free agency is just days away and the Twins will undoubtedly be in the mix for infielders and starting pitchers. With the payroll likely to see and increase, the wait is on to see just how active the team will be.