As the free agent market continues to dwindle by the day, and as the Twins remain typically silent in terms of rumors, now is a good time to sift through the remaining "cream" of the free agent crop to determine if there are any good fits. By my count, the free agent market still contains seven Type-A free agents. Three of them were offered arbitration. We'll begin with those three, and take on the remaining four after the jump.
Type-A, Offered Arbitration
Grant Balfour, RP (RHP)
2011 Age: 33
2010 Salary: $2,050,000
Balfour has really come into his own over the last three years, showing that we was able to overcome the injury that helped him miss all of 2005 (not to mention all but nine minor league innings in 2006) to become one of the game's premier strikeout bullpen arms. Control issues were still there, but over the last three seasons he's averaged 60 appearances, 60 innings, 69 strikeouts, just 43 hits, four home runs and a 2.98 ERA. That's quality.
Unfortunately, he probably hurt his value by declining the Rays' offer of arbitration. This market was flush with relievers, and while it started quite promising the cost for quality relievers has swung away from the free agents and into the favor of the teams. Combine that with an asking price that teams clearly though was too high in terms of dollars, and that Balfour would cost a draft pick, and he's suddenly being forced to reconsider what he's worth if he wants to play for a contender.
The Twins haven't been mentioned in any rumors for Balfour, and because of the aforementioned draft pick I doubt they will show any interest in him at all. Most likely, Balfour will either return to the Rays or be forced to take a job with a team that finished in the bottom half of the league in 2010 and therefore would not have to sacrifice their first rounder. Sorry, Grant. Good luck.
Carl Pavano, SP (RHP)
2011 Age: 35
2010 Salary: $7,000,000
Other than Jim Thome, Pavano is the only free agent of note that we know Minnesota has expressed interest in. It seems inevitable at this juncture that he does return to the Twins, meaning they won't reap the benefit of his declining their offer of arbitration. Luckily, he can't cost Minnesota their own pick. My estimation: Pavano signs with the Twins by Friday.
Rafael Soriano, CL (RHP)
2011 Age: 31
2010 Salary: $7,250,000
Another Rays relief pitcher (another Rays elite relief pitcher) who declined arbitration, but wasn't able to cash in on the early winter gold rush. He's been a high-strikeout, low-hit reliever for a vast majority of his career, and I do believe that he will eventually find a suitor who will be happy to give up their first (or highest ranked) pick in order to land him. Suffice it to say, it won't be the Twins. Any bullpen help Minnesota brings in isn't going to cost them their first rounder.
After the jump, the other four Type-A ballplayers.
Type-A, Not Offered Arbitration
Vladimir Guerrero, DH/OF (Bats R)
2011 Age: 36
2010 Salary: $5,500,000
Texas declined Guerrero's option because they weren't prepared to pay him more money than they paid this season, especially while he would be another year older, which also meant they weren't going to offer him arbitration. He's one of the, if not THE, best bat remaining on the market, however, and in spite of a pool that's still flush with designated hitter options he's been tied to a few teams recently including the Rays, Angels and Orioles.
We've talked at length around the site about how Guerrero would fit with the Twins, and if he'd be a good fit. My conclusion is that, for the right price, he'd be an ideal fit. If Minnesota thought they would be able to find enough plate appearances for Thome last season, they'll find them for Guerrero, who would allow Gardenhire the option of platooning Jason Kubel (versus right-handed pitchers) with Michael Cuddyer (versus left-handed pitchers). An expensive platoon, absolutely, but a very good one.
As good of a fit as he'd be, however, it seems highly unlikely that Guerrero lands in Minnesota. Another team will be willing to commit more dollars and years to him than the Twins.
Bengie Molina, C (Bats R)
2011 Age: 36
2010 Salary: $4,500,000
Molina is actually a very interesting option for me. Pavano has a solid relationship with Drew Butera, and I know Stu forbids any other backup catcher lest he need to come up with a new sidekick, but Molina is a consumate professional who's been handling Major League pitchers for 13 seasons. He's not going to give you much offensively, even if it's still more than what Butera is likely to give, but as a veteran Molina can provide the kind of leadership Mike Redmond gave the club.
Still, it's highly unlikely that the Twins target Molina, as they have shown over the past year their committment to Butera, as they've shown numberous times over the years their committment to young players who have come up through their system.
Andy Pettitte, SP (LHP)
2011 Age: 39
2010 Salary: $11,750,000
Manny Ramirez, DH/OF (Bats R)
2011 Age: 39
2010 Salary: $18,695,006
It's not his Type-A status that's kept him from finding a job, because he wouldn't cost his signing team a draft pick. I have a hard time believing it's his performance, because in spite of his (thankfully) pathetic performance with the White Sox down the stretch last summeer (.261/.420/.319 in 88 plate appearances), he preceeded that with a .915 OPS with the Dodgers over 232 plate appearances. Even for a guy who will be 39 in May, you'd think somebody would want his services based on his abilities.
My guess is that Manny has burned a few too many bridges by now, and that his suitors will be few and far between as we get through spring training. If he doesn't retire somebody might take a flyer, but there's no reason to think he won't go the same route as Jermaine Dye did last season. Dye still doesn't have a job, either.
Even if Manny were about to be 29 instead of 39, with his attitude and work ethic I still wouldn't want the Twins to pursue him. Thankfully he's not the kind of guy the Twins want, either.
There aren't many real options here. Pavano is the only realistic target, even though I'd call Molina and Guerrero good fits who simply won't come on board because of how the Twins operate both in terms of personnel (Molina) and market demand (Guerrero). Balfour and Soriano cost draft picks, and would likely cost too much in terms of dollars anyway, so they're out. Pettitte and Ramirez fall under the same category as the Twins organization isn't a good fit for either.