With all this recent talk about Gardenhire's remarks that he's leaning towards Punto at 2B to begin 2008, I thought it might be fun to take an early look the possibilities for the 25-man roster come April. The way I see it, there are 17 players on the current active roster that are virtual locks (unless they get traded). Here they are:
Johan Santana [SP]
Matt Garza [SP]
Scott Baker [SP]
Boof Bonser [SP]
Juan Rincon [MR]
Matt Guerrier [SU]
Pat Neshek [SU]
Joe Nathan [CL]
Position Players (9):
Joe Mauer [C]
Mike Redmond [C]
Justin Morneau [1B]
Nick Punto [2B/IF]
Alexi Casilla [2B/IF]
Jason Bartlett [SS]
Jason Tyner [OF]
Jason Kubel [LF]
Michael Cuddyer [RF]
That leaves a number of uncertain roster spots...
The 5th starter spot should be easy enough to fill with any of several young pitchers including Slowey, Perkins, and Blackburn. The Twins may also re-sign Carlos Silva, but I think this is less likely due to the large number of young, talented starting pitchers. There's also some guy named Francisco Liriano who, if healthy, is most likely to end up in the rotation. However, the Twins may begin him in the bullpen to ease him back, and that would open the door for someone else. It is very unlikely that the Twins will go outside the organization to sign or trade for starting pitcher.
The bullpen seems to have several spots open. If you figure for a 12-man pitching staff, that leaves 3 holes to fill. Jesse Crain will likely take 1 of those spots if he retuns healthy. The Twins will want at least 1 lefty and a long reliever. If Liriano begins the season in the pen, he'll satisfy the need for a south paw. The Twins maight even decide to re-sign Dennys Reyes at a LOOGY, but this seems less likely. Another left-hander who probably has the inside track at the long relief role is Glen Perkins. The Twins might also give guys like Cali and DePaula a shot at making the roster. It is unlikely the Twins will trade for or sign a reliever from outside the organization unless it's a situational lefty.
The biggest holes that need filling are unfortunately in the starting lineup. Obviously, there's the question of who will be playing at second base. This has been a hot topic as of late because of Gardenhire's comments about Punto having the inside track. Either Punto or Casilla will be starting at second base, and the other will be a utility infielder. So the spot is currently filled. Sort of.
The other big hole in the infield is third base. Right now, it looks like the Twins are leaning towards Brian Buscher (or at least giving him a long look). Still, Bill Smith might well look to sign someone like Mike Lowell to play third for the Twins on an everyday basis in '08. There could also be a trade for a third baseman; the Twins have a number of starting pitchers they could deal. The most likely to be delt would probably be Bonser. The Twins might also give Watkins a look at third or maybe even Punto again (gasp!), but both seem highly unlikely.
There is also possible a need for another back-up infielder. Luis Rodriguez is likely gone, so that leaves Watkins, Buscher (if not the 3B), and Alejandro Machado (if he's healthy). The Twins seem unlikely to look elsewhere for a utility infielder due to the fact that they're drowning in the. Some are even in the starting lineup.
The Twins could solve a lot of their lineup problems by re-signing Hunter. However, if they don't, they'll have to sign someone else to play center. Jason Tyner is not an everyday player. Other free agent center fielders include Aaron Rowand, Andruw Jones, and Mike Cameron. You might prefer Rowand or Jones if Hunter leaves, but let's face it, the most likely player for the Twins to sign there is Cameron. The possibility of trading for a center fielder is far less likely because of the large market for them this offseason.
With CF solved by signing (or re-signing) someone, that still leaves a 5th outfielder or DH. I really think that could be Garrett Jones. He's shown a lot of power in the minors, and he can play the corner outfield and first base (to back-up Morneau). Ron DL is going to be gone, maybe even from the majors. Other options for another outfielder are Lew Ford and Josh Rabe, but they are not ideal. There is also the possibility that the Twins could sign or trade for a bat simply to DH. In my opinion, Mike Piazza would be a good choice except for his injury risk. He could help Gardy get over his nervious 3rd catcher twitch as well. The options for signing/acquiring a DH are really wide open, though. So hopefully the Twins can find one.
At the end of all this, there's a 25-man, opening day roster in there somewhere. There will probably be only a handful of new faces to Twins fans, but let's hope they are the right new faces.