Last offseason, and in fact most offseasons in which he’s been at the helm, Terry Ryan has made full use of minor league free agency. Last season’s prize was Jared Burton, and with this offseason off to a robust start in terms of bucks handed out, Ryan figures to dip into this market at least as extensively this offseason.
Today, let’s take a look at the possible players TR could be looking at. Let’s keep a few positions in mind, as it would seem the Twins would target any sort of pitcher, probably a decent number of middle infielders, and maybe a catcher. I’m using Baseball America’s list, from which some players may have already signed. In that respect, I may suggest a player who still has wet ink on a newly-signed deal, and for this I preemptively apologize. Similarly, there are plenty of high-ceiling arms in the lower levels that I’m not acquainted with, so with 550ish players to sift through, you may have to excuse if I miss a guy from Double-A with something like 13.0 K/9 or something. Yes, I do in fact want the Twins to chase those sort of arms, of course.
SP Andrew Brackman - After a pair of dreadful minor league seasons, there’s a chance Brackman is irreparably broken. But this is just two seasons after he was ranked in the top-100 prospects from Baseball America, and he’s still only 26. Attempts to make Brackman a reliever weren’t all that great, and his return to the rotation was even uglier, but he’ll still probably get another chance or two in someone’s minor league system before he hangs it up for good.
RP Jonathan Albaladejo - J.A. turned 30 around Halloween, and has some success in the major leagues with the Yankees. Last season, he pitched well in the PCL for Reno, a vaunted hitters league dominated by big bats. Albaladejo is a huge guy (6’5" 255 via Fangraphs) who spins a pretty good curveball but doesn’t have ideal velocity.
3B Josh Bell - TR has said on numerous occasions that he’d like to bring in someone to compete with Trevor Plouffe at third base. The only real option I can see among major league free agents would be Jeff Keppinger, and he’ll certainly have no shortage of suitors. So if the Twins have to look to the minors, Bell would probably be somewhat high on the list. Bell is shaping up to be a Quad-A player -- quite the fall from the 37th-ranked prospect a few years ago -- but he still should be worth a look as he just turned 26 about a week ago.
SP Joel Pineiro - The former groundball wizard was healthy enough to make a handful of appearances in Baltimore’s organization, and quite frankly didn’t disappoint. Granted, Norfolk and the Gulf Coast Orioles are a long way from the big leagues, but Pineiro has been there before and succeeded. I would be surprised if he signed with a big league team not named the Twins in the offseason, assuming he still has the desire to play. He’d possibly make a nice number five starter.
3B Andy LaRoche - See Bell, plus a few years.
MR Jairo Asencio - Asencio throws hard, got a good share of K’s in the minors, and has some big league experience. He’s no Jared Burton, but he’ll probably be a popular option among teams looking to fill a bullpen cheaply.
P Ryan Rowland-Smith - A former Twins Rule-5 rental, Rowland-Smith spent 2012 in the Cubs organization, where he pitched a bit as a reliever. The potential interest in RRS would be purely from a ‘he once pitched in the big leagues’ standpoint. He doesn’t seem to offer much else.
IF Adrian Cardenas - Cardenas has always carried a pretty good stick -- .302/.369/.417 minor league line -- but his defense has usually lagged behind. At one time, Cardenas was a well-regarded prospect in plenty of lists, but now at age 25 he’s looking like he might only be a low-end utility type. His very small cup of coffee -- let’s call it a tall in Starbucks terms -- was uninspiring, but 67 plate appearances tell you as much about a player as a bite of food tells you about a country’s cuisine. He’d be an intriguing option, as it looks like second base is his best spot.
IF Chris Valaika - Like Cardenas, Valaika has virtually no big league service time. But unlike the former Cub, Valaika is sort of a mixed-bag in the minors, with some seasons of veritable competence, and other seasons where he fights a wet paper bag and the bag stands triumphant. Triple-A has sort of defeated Valaika, who hit pretty much everywhere else. Position flexibility does help him, however, as he’s played extensively at second and short with a good amount of third base mixed in.
RP Collin Balester - More revered for his terrific mustache than his pitching, Balester his minor league free agency after spending the season in Detroit’s organization. Actually, Balester is quite a good reliever -- minor leagues, at least -- but his mustache just is/was that terrific. In the big leagues, Balester has racked up almost 200 innings, fanning about a league-average 7.0. The trouble with him is the WHIP, as his walks tend to be on the high side and he’ll usually give up a hit per inning. At times Balester has been known to dial it up, peaking at 94.1 miles-per-hour on his heater for a couple of seasons -- career mark 92.5 is still well above average. He’ll probably be among the most sought-after relievers in MLFA, whatever that amounts to.
RP Aneury Rodriguez - Part of being an intriguing arm is what permitted Rodriguez to be selected in the Rule-5 draft in 2011, where he spent the entire season with the Houston Astros. Rodriguez spent most of 2012 in Triple-A, where he was pretty good on strikeouts, but struggled with walks and permitting too many baserunners in general. Rodriguez doesn’t throw particularly hard, but everything I’ve heard about him in the past was that he had a live arm. Does that still apply? I couldn’t tell you for sure. Still, with bullpens league-wide looking for filler, I’m sure he’ll turn up someplace.
C Lucas May - At one point May looked like he might have some steam as a catching prospect. However, the past two seasons -- oddly, his 26 and 27-age seasons -- pretty much sunk him as any sort of prospect, just like his age did. May has decent pop, but doesn’t appear to offer any extraordinary value behind the plate. True story: May has more big league HBP (1) than walks (0).
RP Manny Delcarmen - For a number of years, Delcarmen was one of the front guys to a pretty good Boston Red Sox bullpen. Manny himself was pretty good, typically whiffing just under a guy an inning while keeping his walk rate just under disastrous. As the walks and whiffs converged, Delcarmen stopped being a preferred option and found himself with a disastrous half season in Colorado and has since not resurfaced in the major leagues. It almost feels like a Juan Rincon-esque situation. Anyway, Delcarmen has been relatively unable to recapture any semblance of his early career glory. I doubt he’ll but much of a big league factor again.
RP Rich Thompson - Thompson has been very effective in the big leagues throughout his big league career, but had a brutal outing in 2012 -- as I recall, it was against the Twins -- and was DFA’d shortly thereafter. Strangely, despite how good Thompson was in 2011, he only pitched another two-thirds of an inning in the major leagues thereafter. Thompson threw hard (though he’s on a four-year free fall and is now in the high-80s), gets strikeouts, and doesn’t seem to have any other red marks. I’d have to guess there may be an underlying injury or something, otherwise he’d have more steam.
1B Kila Ka’aihue - Ka’aihue is just a Quad-A bat that might be worth a look. Probably won’t happen, but he’s hit very well in the minors.
RP Daniel McCutchen - McCutchen is an extremely low-end starter/reliever option that wouldn’t stun me if he ended up in Twins camp.
RP Stephen Marek - Marek is simply another possible bullpen arm. Big strikeouts, big walks, and at times, big ERA’s.