An official list of things to look forward to, until Opening Day next spring. It's going to be a long winter.
I think we were spoiled last winter. Just a little bit. For years we were sort of lulled to sleep through the off-season, waking up a week after arbitration raises and forgetting about Winter Meetings like some sort of drunk bear. Then Terry Ryan retires, just so happens it's the same year one of the team's most popular and long-standing players, who also happens to have a room full of Gold Gloves and some pop in his bat, is becoming a free agent.. Oh yeah, also the same off-season where the Twins trade one of the game's best starting pitchers, sign three players to long-term contracts, trade an ace-in-the-making starter and acquire a promising young hitter. Sure, it may not have happened like we wanted it to, but there's no doubt that for the first time in as long as I can remember, Minnesota was a prime player in baseball's "down" time.
So now do we go back into hibernation? A lot like the girl who follows "the one who got away", where's the interest? Well, if you're like me, this is when it pays to just really like girls. Or, in this case, baseball.
Free Agent Filing Period: This happens the 15 days following the wrap of the World Series. For the Twins, these players are Nick Punto, Adam Everett, Eddie Guardado and Dennys Reyes. Also of interest, Livan Hernandez, Craig Monroe and Juan Rincon are all free agents as well. Of all of them, I think only Reyes would qualify for draft pick compensation if the circumstances allowed.
General Managers Meetings: This happens November 3 - November 6, and while nothing really happens here concretely it's the first opportunity after the seaon for the GM's to butt heads and start to get ideas of where other teams are going over the next few months...and if any of them can be of any use.
Off-Season Awards: November 10 - November 18. These are great, but don't really mean too much to me. Mostly it's a way to pass the week while I'm busy speculating about what could happen in December.
Arbitration Deadlines: December 1 is the last day for the Twins, and the rest of baseball, to offer their free agents aribtration...and those players have until December 7 to accept or decline their offer. If a player isn't offered arbitration, or declines it, they become a free agent.
If they accept, both team and player get another month to work things out for 2009. They have until January 15 to file their arbitration, with figures being exchanged the following week (January 19 - January 20). If no middle ground is reached, arbitration hearings will take place throughout February. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Winter Meetings: December 8 - December 11, and even last year nothing really happened. But we'll have constantly updated threads again this year, just like we did last year. It's a time of rampant speculation and (whether it's warranted or not) optimism. With me, it's usually optimism. Or at least, tempered pessimism. Usually.
After the jump, some Twins specifics...
Free Agents: Nick Punto, Adam Everett, Eddie Guardado and Dennys Reyes
The only two with any real chance of returning will be Punto and Reyes, but depending on who you talk to all four might get their walking papers. If you listen to me, which isn't alway a good idea, I listed both Punto and Reyes when mentioning a short-list of player who "for sure" won't be coming back.
Arbitration Eligible: Scott Baker, Jason Kubel, Matt Guerrier...Pat Neshek?
I'm not sure if Neshek will be eligible or not, but all of these guys will be up for raises. Scott Baker and Jason Kubel had good years, and with a bit of extra payroll flexibility the Twins might try to lock them into multi-year deals if the money is right.
The primary area of concern for Minnesota's front office over the next couple months will be how to construct a bullpen for 2009. There will be a desire for a strong right-hander who can take on some leverage innings, and a decision will need to be made on which southpaws will make the 25-man roster. Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek will back up Joe Nathan, but if the Twins wanted to make a one or two-year splash on a righty like Kyle Farnsworth or Juan Cruz, they probably could. I like Cruz, but the reality of the situation is that the Twins already have more arms than available spots. Nathan, Neshek, Crain, Guerrier, Humber, Breslow, Mijares, Bonser...that's eight already.
Everything tapers off from there, and you get into the muddle of solving third base on an everyday basis, finding a solution for all the guys who will be vying for time in the outfield (including possible trade scenarios for Delmon Young), and deciding whether Punto, Brendan Harris or Matt Tolbert will be the starting shortstop.
Being proactive is an important part of the business of baseball, and the Twins might have tripped onto an efficient way of holding onto talent cheaply last year when they signed Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to long-term contracts. Popular candidates this off-season will be the aforementioned Baker and Kubel, but also Francisco Liriano. Also, while he just won his second batting title in three years, Joe Mauer shouldn't be overlooked either. His current contract expires after 2010, and instead of worrying about getting something done 12 months before free agency and billions of dollars of temptation, the Twins might be well served to re-evaluate his deal. A multi-year extension for Mauer shouldn't be inconceiveable at this point.
That's all for now, I'll catch you back here tomorrow.