How the highly-touted have fallen.
When the dust settled after the Winter Meetings and the immediate aftermath, the Twins bench ended up remarkably thin. All the Twins have for certain is a back-up catcher in Drew Butera (and we know how much Gardy likes his three catcher/twelve pitcher roster), two utility fielders in Matt Tolbert and Jason Repko, and the newly-re-signed Jim Thome (who really should platoon with Cuddyer, but we know that won’t happen). Depending on Spring Training (only 32 days until pitchers and catchers report!) a few players from the minors could stick around, but a player like Ben Revere or Luke Hughes might be better served by spending another year in the minors where they are going to play every day. I never thought I’d say it, but the Twins are going to miss little Nick Punto.
Chance the Twins sign a free agent bench player: Over 50%. The only real roadblock is the lack of space on the 40 man roster. Tolbert is a decent defensive replacement, but you don't want him to be an everyday player. Another utility fielder to cover SS or 2b and even pinch hit or run would be a boon. The Twins also could use a 5th outfielder, but given the state of the market, they might be best served by promoting from within.
Felipe Lopez - Released by the Cardinals in September last season after putting up a disappointing .231/.310/.340 line and being consistently late to team functions, Lopez was claimed by the Padres and the Red Sox. Lopez rejected the Padres' claim, and signed with the Red Sox. At the time, he was strangely quoted as saying he didn't want to be part of a pennant race (he couldn't make the post-season roster). Lopez only played in four games for a loaded Red Sox roster that almost got into a pennant race anyhow, and the Padres missed the playoffs on the last day of the season, so his intentions were rendered moot.
Why the Twins would sign him: In 2009, he hit .310/.383/.427 in a full season with the Diamondbacks and Brewers for his best season since his career year in 2005. If he could split the difference between that and last year (and BABIP suggests he could), he would be a great signing for the bench. He's never been a great fielder, but he can play both middle infield positions without totally embarrassing himself.
Why the Twins won't sign him: One realization that all Twins fans have to make is that chemistry matters. It mattered with Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, it mattered with J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, and it matters with Glen Perkins and, sadly, Pat Neshek. It also matters with Lopez. Lopez is going to be on his 6th team in three years (twice with the Cardinals), and has been released twice in the same time-frame. I don't think he fits the Twins mold, even if he can still hit. Also, Lopez needs to sign a major league contract for the Red Sox to get a draft pick (The Rays did not get compensation for Brian Shouse last year, for example). Given that he strangely turned down their offer of arbitration, Lopez must be expecting a deal that doesn't look like it is coming.
How much will he cost?: Less than one million for one year, and a major league roster spot.
Scott Hairston - The last remaining free agent center fielder is Jim Edmonds, so you have to get creative if you're going to find a back up outfielder willing to play all three outfield spots. Hairston really had an awful year last year, battling hamstring injuries and putting up a .210/.295/.346 line in 336 plate appearances. He's not far removed from better stats, however, and is only age 30, so probably has a little more left in the tank.
Why the Twins would sign him: He can capably back up all three outfield spots and sports a decent career line versus left handed pitchers (.278/.331/.498).
Why the Twins won't sign him: He's been on the DL every year since 2005, which was his rookie season. If your back up is injured, he's not much help.
How much will he cost?: 1 year, $2 million
Jerry Hairston Jr. - If you're going to sign a Hairston, might as well collect the set. Jerry is four years older than his brother, but is a bit more flexible in the field, as he can play anywhere but catcher. He's also gotten a bit more interest during the off-season than his brother, so may not be a true buy-low candidate: the Yankees, Dodgers, Padres, Mets and Nationals have all expressed interest in signing him. On the other hand, he did struggle last year with a .244/.299/.353 line (although, he has been worse), and he ended the year with a broken tibia. I doubt even the high bidder in the Jerry Hairston Jr. sweepstakes is going to be breaking the bank.
Why the Twins would sign him: He's a versatile fielder who can provide a decent bat for a middle infielder. He's decent on the bases, although he hasn't stolen more than 10 since 2008. Plus, he might have intangibles like "veteran presence" and "grittiness."
Why the Twins won't sign him: He's old, and other teams probably want him more.
How much will he cost?: 1 year, $2-3 million.
Lastings Milledge - I know I said that chemistry matters, but hear me out. Milledge has had his share of on and off field troubles, but most of his troubles with the Mets seemed to stem from misperceptions of his attitude and recording a rap album at age 22. He was released by the Pirates this year, but there doesn't seem to be a reason behind it besides that the Pirates are terrible. Milledge is a young free agent at age 25, and he even has a couple years of arbitration left, making him a decent, cost-controlled bench option that happens to hit .289/.363/.435 against lefties.
Why the Twins would sign him: I know many Twins fans haven't judged the Delmon Young experiment a success, but he hasn't been a bad influence in the clubhouse like Batgirl hoped and feared. Milledge seems to be in a similar position to Young, except that he doesn't have that albatross of a contract. He can back up both outfield corners.
Why the Twins won't sign him: The Twins don't want another Delmon Young.
How much will he cost?: A minor league contract.
Gregg Zaun - If you're looking for a free agent catcher at the moment, it's a choice between Zaun and Bengie Molina. It's looking likely that Zaun will join fellow buy-low option Chad Qualls on the Padres, but maybe the Twins could still swoop in. It seems like his website is broken or hacked at the moment, but if you look at the Google-cached version, you can see why the Twins need to sign him. Bring your Z-game.
Why the Twins would sign him: He gets on-base at a decent clip (career .344) and as a switch hitter, wouldn't be a horrible option to pinch hit occasionally. You could do worse as a third catcher.
Why the Twins won't sign him: He wasn't great defensively before having arm surgery last year. He's bound to be worse, now. Also, if we don't sign a major-league ready third catcher, Gardy won't feel the need to put one on the roster, right?
How much will he cost?: 1 year, $1-2 million.