One of Terry Ryan's hallmarks as a general manager has been getting something for nothing. This goes back as far as Johan Santana, but was also evident this past offseason with Jared Burton. This is of course a stark contrast to the man whose tenure was encapsulated by Ryan's in a move reminiscent of Grover Cleveland. Sure, Bill Smith did well to get Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, and Carl Pavano for peanuts, but his legacy -- if you can call it that -- will be the J.J. Hardy and Wilson Ramos deals.
With another lousy season now well into its third trimester, there are some very basic, foundational facts that must be faced:
1. The offense is pretty good, but probably needs one more league-average hitter.
2. The starting rotation is bad, and probably needs three new faces.
3. The bullpen is going to be fine as long as the assets are allocated properly.
4. The best strength to deal from on an organizational basis is the outfield.
Now the last point is one I want to focus on today. Presently, the Twins have three starting caliber outfielders, a very capable fourth in Darin Mastroianni, and a handful of guys that can stand out there in a pinch, including Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmelee.
That's a point of strength even before considering what lies beneath.
At New Britain resides Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks, and in some infirmary near there, Joe Benson as well. This trio represents the future outfield of the Twins, and perhaps in the case of Arcia and Hicks, the very near future. Arcia has been magnificent at pretty much every stop in his four years on the farm, save for a brief stretch at High-A late last year. The pummeling has continued this season as Arcia has been promoted relatively aggressively -- for the Twins especially -- but has rewarded the Twins handsomely with a .413 wOBA over 268 Double-A plate apperances. Keep in mind, Benson and Parmelee were promoted from Double-A in an equally cataclysmic 2011 season. I'm not saying anything is imminent, but Arcia is on the 40-man roster. According to prospect guru Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Propsectus, Arcia will "easily crack the top 101" on next season's prospect ranking list.
As for Hicks, who isn't on the 40-man but could easily slot into one of the spaces vacated by Nick Blackburn or Tsuyoshi Nishioka, it's been a season of validation/emergence for the switch-hitting soon-to-be 23-year-old. A poor May (.220/.330/.330) hampered Hicks' early-season stats, but he's been on-point since, registering OBPs of .377, .422, and .407 in successive months with OPS' exceeding 800 in each. His line drive rate has spiked in each month since May as well, with fly ball rate being the main counterbalance, leading to a very solid batted-ball profile for the fleet-afoot center fielder (31 SB/10 CS).
So what am I getting at here, exactly? Essentially, it's that the Twins need to deal from a position of strength to help build up a position of weakness.
A great deal hinges on exactly how TR portrays next season's team. If he figures they'll be lousy, he can build in one direction that would differ greatly from that which he may build in if he expects the team to contend. Either seems plausible to me, given the Twins assets and how they could be maneuvered.
But what it would take to make this team a contender in the near future may not be popular. My suggestion? Trade Ben Revere, and maybe Denard Span, too.
Now this is contrary to how most teams do business. Take, for instance, the Angels. They dealt Jean Segura and John Hellweg as part of a deal to land Zack Greinke. Now temper your expectations for a minute, and consider what the Twins ought to chase in today's market: young, affordable, and perhaps relatively underrated starting pitching. Guys like Bud Norris, Marco Estrada, and Carlos Villanueva would be on my short-list. Summarily speaking, strikeout pitchers. And by trading these proven, big-league assets, the Twins can reverse a troubling trend: selling low.
And let's face it, are we sure Revere is this good? Right now, he's at about a 600 PA-pace of 3.6 WAR. As a result, his free market value would be pegged somewhere in the low-teens in millions of dollars. He's young, cost-controlled, and as good as he'll ever be, most likely. He's not going to get faster, he almost certainly can't make more contact that he is now, and he's already a dynamic defensive player. There is someone out there that will be willing to give you a possible number-two starting pitcher for that, and possibly one who is still pre-arbitration, at least in my view. At a time when your best reinforcements are just in the offing, there's probably no better time to make a move.
Similarly with Span, he's still rather young, and despite having signed a contract extension, relatively affordable, especially relative to his skill level. And while his bat has regressed a bit from where it started out, he's still a great fielder, capable hitter, and one of the game's premier leadoff bats. Span is presently on pace for about a 4.0 win season, leaving the Twins with two valuable trading chips at a time when the rest of the cupboard is pretty bare, at least in the eyes of competing GMs.
So while it may seem drastic, the Twins have the pieces in the interim to make it work. Mastroianni is capable of handling center to start next season until either Hicks, or who knows, even Benson can emerge, and right field can be manned by any number of guys, or perhaps a cheap free agent signing (how about that Hunter guy?). Again though, this is contingent on TR's view of next year's club. Space-holders can be dispatched if the club resigns itself to being in a retooling/rebuilding mode -- which should in fact be a relatively quick period -- but if Ryan wants to push through and maybe win 85 games next season, this probably won't be the best course of action.
Regardless, the brass will have to be proactive in rebuilding a club that has an odd collection of assets and little to show of it on the field.