There are so many questions facing the Minnesota Twins this winter, it's almost mind-boggling. How do you handle impending free agents? How do you manage payroll, given all the state of it? Between free agents and arbitration-eligible players, which ones should be offered arbitration? When will Joe Nathan be ready enough to contribute? Is anyone over-valued on the market, or under-valued? Which in-house options are the best bets for a rebound? I don't envy Bill Smith's job this winter, because there aren't a lot of easy choices.
As we move through the winter and we get better ideas of how much players will make and how moves shake out, a lot of this will change. Chances are, by December or January I'm going to want to play this game all over again. But we have to start somewhere, and I'm starting by laying out a desire to build a team that can beat the Yankees.
In some ways, the Twins already had that team. Unfortunately we saw what happened: pitchers couldn't get big outs when they needed them, and the big bats went cold or wet themselves every time they stepped into the batter's box. Those pitchers and those hitters--they're good players, and they are all capable of doing their jobs against the Yankees. But they didn't. And as the Armchair GM it's my job to give us a better shot at it in 2011, payroll restrictions be damned.
Sticking to what we can control (as opposed to players going cold at the wrong time), what do we need to give us a better shot at beating the dreadnought Yankees? (Aside from being the Texas Rangers, naturally.)
- New Post-Season In-Game Strategies: This falls on the coaches. The playoffs are a small sample size, which means stats mean less and results mean more. Players and strategies which will play to your benefit over the long-term aren't always the best players and strategies in the short-term. Guys like Mark Lemke, generally terrible, can make legends of themselves simply by playing well over a small stretch of games. The same goes for in-game strategies. This means attempting a risky stolen base or two, calling the hit-and-run more often, pitching out, dusting a few chins with a fastball and, for the love of all that is good and holy, not bunting in the bottom of the first with one on and nobody out in game one.
- Strikeout/Power Pitching: The Twins need some. I'm not necessarily talking about bringing in a staff Ace to pair with Francisco Liriano, but the goal should be to bring in as many strikeout arms as payroll allows you to. Southpaws are prefferable, but the bottom line is that pitching to contact equates to playing with fire against teams with stacked lineups like New York's. If a hitter swings and misses, he can't do damage.
- Better Bench Options: I'll play fair and say that injuries played some part here. Jim Thome and Jason Kubel were each forced to play nearly everyday following Justin Morneau's injury, which meant the Twins didn't have a legitimate bat coming off the bench. Gardenhire said prior to the series that he could't imagine who he'd pinch-hit for, but that was before we saw Joe Mauer taking uncharacteristic swings and Jason Kubel leaving a puddle in the box. As we mentioned earlier, guys go cold. Having options in these situations, and having players available who can legitimately take advantage of terrible platoon splits such as Kubel's, is a necessity. Especially in the short-term, when every out and every loss has a massive impact.
- Right-handed Lineup Balance: The Twins have good left-handed hitters, this we know. If Michael Cuddyer is able to come back healthy next season, paired with a productive Delmon Young they make for a decent pair of right-handed sticks. A full season of a healthy J.J. Hardy would help, too. But there is some risk involved each of these guys, whether it's regression or health-related, so another option would be ideal.
Of course, all of this has to be done while keeping a close eye on that payroll, which we've discussed at-length the last couple of weeks. We'll look at the specifics of my blueprint this afternoon. See you then!