Thing is, our team won 94 games last year. We added a trio of players last offseason that either plugged gaping holes (Hardy & Hudson) or proved highly useful in an unusual role (Thome). Now that the bleeding has stopped, why rip off the scab?
I hate to spoil the ending, but you just aren't going to come up with two lineups within the $115 million limit that are gnarlier than these:
|Versus RHP||Versus LHP|
|5||Young (Cuddyer)||Morneau (Morales)|
Despite looking pretty familiar, this lineup is actually a lot better than last year's if:
1. the key players stay healthy (duh);
2. Kubel and Cuddyer are effectively platooned; and
3. Morales and Valencia are used instead of Butera, Harris, and Punto.
Platooning Cuddyer and Kubel more should be easier for Gardy this year with both coming off unimpressive years, which should have shattered the perception that both have earned everyday play. Cuddyer, despite getting the short end of the platoon will actually get plenty of ABs against the many lefty starters the Twins face, along with pinch-hitting and occasionally spelling whoever must be spelled against righty starters (Young, Thome, and Morneau--although preferably Thome and Morneau will take most of their breathers against LHP). Cuddyer doesn't kill you starting against righties like Kubel does with lefties, but he's not a useful player in that role. Minimize it.
My initial reaction was that Kubel and Thome are sort of redundant, but the more I thought about it, really they aren't. It's hard to fully exploit the platoon advantage if you just have one, given that we have 2 other corner outfielders that are both right handed. If you only have Kubel or Thome, you give up a lot of offense against RHP, and having both doesn't actually give up a lot of offense against LHP, as long as Kubel makes himself scarce.
Worried about corner outfield and backup catcher defense? I've got three responses: I don't care, I don't care, I don't care. We proved last year that you can have a good defensive team even with a couple of anchors out in the corners. Yeah, you could trade Cuddyer or Kubel (or Delmon) for speed, but you're just going to trade bat for glove and rob Peter to pay Paul. It's just not worth it. Let the corner outfielders do what they're supposed to do: hit. _If_ you effectively platoon them, they can all make up for their gloves by blasting the ball around the park.
These players, including Harris's salary, cost about $79 million (I put $10 million for Thome and Hudson combined).
I'm offering Pavano arbitration and watching him leave* (draft picks, cha-ching!). He's going to be a loss, to be sure, but I actually think that Slowey, Baker, and Blackburn are all good candidates to outperform their last seasons and we will have a full year of Duensing, who should be solid. I think Liriano's ERA might catch up to his peripherals and give us a Cy Young chance and Gibson is a good candidate to be this year's Duensing, filling in for someone midseason and really impressing.
This crew is both quite good and, just as importantly, quite cheap. It's really hard to trade up on one of these pitchers without adding a $10+ million player that's going to force you to play a AAAA scrub somewhere else. This is probably a 15+ WAR pitching staff for $15 million. Love it. Don't mess with it.
* I have to admit, if Pavano accepts arbitration, my plan is completely sunk. I guess Duesning goes to the pen and the money comes out of there. Maybe we have to trade Hudson if he accepts arb. I don't like it at all.
I don't care much about relief pitching. As I see it, we have Nathan and Mijares for just under $12 million. That leaves $9.25 million (115 - 79 - 15 -11.75) to fill out the rest of our bullpen, and I just don't care that much how we do it. Maybe two more good arms for about $3 million each (maybe Crain and someone?) and some minors guys or cheap free agents to round it out. Maybe you offer arb to Crain and Rauch and fill in the gaps based on what they do.
I probably am offering Hudson arbitration and if he declines I guess you get to use the money replacing some bullpen scrubs instead of Casilla, who I think is equally replacement level. I don't think there's another available second baseman out there who's worth going after. The other free agent second basemen are all either Nick Punto or some other team's Nick Punto.
Whichever spot (2nd or middle relief) doesn't get the money is probably going to be a little ugly, but you want what? Perfection? This team is going to again win over 90 games with premium offense, good defense up the middle, and solid pitching.