It may be nothing more than wishful thinking considering how little the Twins have been involved in the free-agent market over the years, but I've been thinking about who the team should target to improve the lineup this offseason. Obviously someone like Brian Giles would be a great fit, but that's almost completely out of the realm of possibility.
But what if the Twins actually commit to signing a mid-level free agent or two this winter? Who would be the best options? Well, it's tough to say until all the contract options and arbitration-eligible cases have been dealt with, but The Roto Authority had a nice list of who he considers to be the top 50 free agents for this offseason. Some names I think could help the Twins at a relatively reasonable price ...
Nomar Garciaparra: He'll likely come cheap and/or for a one-year deal after spending most of the year on the disabled list, especially considering he signed a one-year contract with the Cubs for this season. Nomar hit .283/.320/.452 in 62 games, spent time at third base down the stretch, and would break up the young lefties in the lineup nicely.
Reggie Sanders: After spending the first eight years of his career in Cincinnati, Sanders moved around on a yearly basis until sticking with the Cardinals in both 2004 and 2005. He turns 38 years old in December and is injury prone, but Sanders is a plus defender in either outfield corner and hit .271/.340/.546 in 93 games this year.
Matt Lawton: After spending parts of seven seasons with the Twins, Lawton is becoming a left-handed version of Sanders by playing for five teams in five years. Like Sanders he's also a little old and a little injury prone, but Matty Law still gets on base (.356 on-base percentage this year, .366 last year) and has quality at-bats.
Mike Piazza: I doubt Piazza would leave New York to come play for the Twins, but he'd certainly be a nice fit as the starting designated hitter for a season or two. Plus, if he still wants to get some time behind the plate, Piazza could start in place of Joe Mauer when the Twins face a tough lefty.
Erubiel Durazo: Durazo had his season wrecked by injuries, but he was one of the better hitters in the league in 2004, batting .321/.396/.523. Even during an off year in 2003, Durazo hit .259/.374/.430, drew 100 walks, and smacked 21 homers.
Mark Grudzielanek: Another guy who is a little old and a little injury prone, but Grudzielanek is a solid defensive second baseman and hit .294/.337/.407 for the Cardinals this season.
Tony Graffanino: One of the better utility men in baseball until the Red Sox decided to give him an everyday job this year, Graffanino responded by hitting .309/.366/.425 in 110 games between Boston and Kansas City.
Joe Randa: Randa is a decent option at third base, but I fear the Twins are too infatuated with him. He is an average defender and average hitter, batting .276/.335/.452 this year after a great start with the Reds. He'll also be 36 in 2006 and hit just .256/.303/.395 after a midseason trade to the Padres.
Bill Mueller: I was against dealing for Mueller at the trade deadline, but I'd be all for signing him to a reasonable one- or two-year deal as a free agent. After a slow start away from hitter-friendly Fenway Park this year, Mueller ended up hitting a solid .307/.380/.410 on the road. He'd plug in nicely in front of Mauer in the #2 hole.
Jose Cruz Jr.: His game is walks and power, which means the Twins probably won't be interested, but Cruz is a good defender and above-average offensive player at either outfield corner. There was talk of him being limited by back problems when the Diamondbacks let him go at midseason, but Cruz hit .301/.391/.532 in 47 games with the Dodgers down the stretch.
Rondell White: A slightly younger version of Sanders, White has bounced around from team to team over the years while spending too much time on the disabled list. He has played for Detroit over the past two seasons, hitting .270/.337/.453 in 2004 and .313/.348/.489 this year.
It's nearly impossible to say which of the above free agents would be the best signing for the Twins, in large part because we don't know how much money they'll command or how many years it will take to sign them.
For two years and a total of $6 million, most of the players listed above are good buys. For three years and $15 million, I'd probably pass on every one of them. Everything being equal -- and all of these guys being available on the cheap -- I'd go after Mueller, Garciaparra, Sanders, and Durazo. For the right price, however, they'd all help.
Today's Picks (124-105, +$1,915):
Florida +155 over New Jersey