January 5, 2005

There Is No Next

I've been getting a ton of e-mails lately basically asking some variation of "what are the Twins doing next?" The answer, of course, is nothing. As is the case each offseason, the biggest moves the Twins make are re-signing their own players and, in rare cases, trading away some of their own players. The team is just not a player in the free agent market, unless you know of some bizarro world free agent market where signing Juan Castro and Mike Redmond makes you a player.

The Twins re-signed Brad Radke, offered arbitration to every eligible player, gave a minor-league contract to Terry Mulholland, and let Corey Koskie leave via free agency. Those were not the moves that make up the first stage of the team's offseason plans, those were the offseason plans. What that means is that the roster is more or less set, with a few decisions yet to be made at the bottom of the depth chart.

Here's the 25-man roster I anticipate the team opening the season with if everyone stays (or gets) healthy between now and then:

     LINEUP                        BENCH

C Joe Mauer C Mike Redmond
1B Justin Morneau 1B/C Matthew LeCroy
2B Luis Rivas IF Nick Punto
SS Juan Castro IF Augie Ojeda/Terry Tiffee
3B Michael Cuddyer OF Michael Restovich
LF Shannon Stewart
CF Torii Hunter
RF Jacque Jones
DH Lew Ford

SP Johan Santana CL Joe Nathan
SP Brad Radke SU Juan Rincon
SP Carlos Silva SU J.C. Romero
SP Kyle Lohse RH Jesse Crain
SP Joe Mays RH Grant Balfour
LH Terry Mulholland

The bench looks a little strange because the team's "fourth outfielder," Lew Ford, is penciled in at designated hitter, which leaves Michael Restovich as the only outfielder on the actual bench. If you move Matthew LeCroy into the starting lineup at DH (which could happen), then the bench has a backup catcher, two backup infielders, and two backup outfielders -- a typical alignment.

Jason Bartlett could force himself into the picture with a phenomenal spring training, but I doubt it. I would bet on him starting the year back at Triple-A and Castro starting the year at shortstop. Similarly, Luis Rivas isn't quite a lock to start at second base, which would then set off a whole chain of events that involves Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto, Augie Ojeda, and Terry Tiffee, but I would bet on him beginning the year there like he has every year since 2000 (especially now that the team is paying him $1.625 million for his meager contributions).

Aside from the off chance that the Twins decide to keep their Rule 5 pick, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Joe Mays is the only real question mark on the pitching staff. If he is ready to go, he'll get every opportunity to serve as the team's fifth starter. If he is injured or awful, Mulholland would be first in line to step in, followed by the team's top starting-pitcher prospect, J.D. Durbin.

So, as you can see, there are a few different ways things could go regarding the last men on the bench, rotation, or bullpen, but for the most part things are pretty well set. In looking over that roster, there is no doubt in my mind that it is a group capable of winning the American League Central again, but it seems obvious to me that the team has not improved itself in some very fundamental ways.

At some point the sort of thinking that brought Jacque Jones, Rivas, and Mulholland back but said goodbye to Koskie and is reluctant to give a chance to Bartlett is going to come back to bite the team in the ass. It will happen, I don't think there is even a question about it. The only question in my mind is when. Right now, on January 5th, considering the offseasons the White Sox and Indians have had, I don't think it'll be this year. On some level I suppose you can't fault the Twins for not making bold, outside-the-box moves when their rivals (I'm looking at you, Kenny Williams) have given them no indication that they need to.

Today at The Hardball Times:

- Blast From The Past: Virgil Trucks (by John Brattain)

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