I'm a firm believer that the Minnesota Twins front office recognizes the situation that it's in. In the past there have been points where that may not have been true, but when you're staring the at reality of three 90-plus loss seasons in a row, things get hard to ignore. The Twins, however, are typically known to be a slow-moving organization - whether that's deserved or not.
To be fair, baseball is a slow-moving game: twenty seconds between pitches, three hour games, six-month long regular season. Player evaluation is almost always a slow process. The draft changes an organization, but slowly and over many years, because player development is also a slow process. You can say the same thing about a vast majority of international signings.
Yet every once in a while, things can move rather quickly: a second year player turns the corner and suddenly just "gets it", a three-run home run turns a sure defeat into a walk-off victory.
I feel like the Twins are doing some of the slower, long-term things well. They've drafted better talents the last few years (drafting so highly certainly helps), they've signed some great international free agents not named Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and they made two long-term investments when they traded two outfielders last winter. What I'm hoping they do this winter, however, is make a handful of immediate impact investments.
I'll go into more detail about what exactly I mean soon enough, but their ability to make those moves will depend entirely on whether or not they have flexibility with roster spots. With that in mind, here is how I think the Twins may set up their 40-Man roster after the season is over.
In: Andrew Albers, Jared Burton, Kevin Correia, Samuel Deduno (60-Day DL), Scott Diamond, Casey Fien, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Glen Perkins, Ryan Pressly, Anthony Swarzak, Caleb Thielbar, Michael Tonkin, Vance Worley (13, not including Deduno)
Out: Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, Liam Hendriks, B.J. Hermsen, Pedro Hernandez, Shairon Martis, Mike Pelfrey, Josh Roenicke
Burton, Fien, Perkins, Pressly, Swarzak, Thielbar, and Tonkin will be the basis for the bullpen next season, although, just like everything else, subsequent signings or trades could change that. Correia and Gibson will be two of the five-man rotation. Albers, Deduno, Diamond, and Worley will be competing for the three other spots, although I don't expect there to be three spots to compete for when all is said and done. May will, hopefully, be at Triple-A next season.
On the other side, Pelfrey will be a free agent. He may return to the Twins, but sentiment seems to be against it at the moment. Duensing and Roenicke are both arbitration eligible, but Duensing, while he's had a good season, is not an elite reliever and it would be difficult to justify giving him a raise from his current $1.3 million dollar salary. As a left-handed specialist, the $2 million he'd likely be due through arbitration (give or take a couple hundred thousand dollars) can be better allocated elsewhere. Roenicke, meanwhile, has had an ERA that's looked better than his actual performance for most of the season. Any one of De Vries, Hendriks, Hermsen, Hernandez, and Martis could opt to re-sign with the club on a minor league contract, but the only one two I'd give a reasonable shot of that happening to are De Vries and Hermsen. Hendriks will intrigue someone else who will be willing to give him more opportunities than will the Twins, Martis was a non-entity before his odd addition to the roster, and Hernandez has already proven himself to not be a part of Minnesota's rebuild.
In: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Josmil Pinto (3)
Out: Chris Herrmann, Eric Fryer
Provided he recovers, Mauer will still be the Twins primary catcher in 2014; I do expect that to change sooner, however, rather than later. Doumit and Pinto are both likely to make the team out of spring training next year, with Doumit's defensive versatility (I use that term loosely) making it easier to justify carrying three catchers on the 25-Man roster.
Herrmann, I suppose, could be kept on the 40-Man as a "break glass in case of emergency" catcher, but that's an issue that could be resolved when necessary during the season. It would be a better use of roster spots, as far as I'm concerned, to give his spot to someone else. If he gets selected off waivers by another club so be it, but if not he's the perfect guy to have sitting at Triple-A. Fryer, meanwhile, is unlikely to be claimed and could very likely end up back in Rochester next season anyway.
In: Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, Pedro Florimon, Trevor Plouffe, Daniel Santana (5)
Out: Doug Bernier
Dozier and Florimon are this team's middle infield of the present. Until players like Santana, Jorge Polanco, Niko Goodrum, or Eddie Rosario force the Twins' hands, those two seem pretty well established. Plouffe will likely stick around, thanks to at least showing at times that his bat can play. Santana is one of the organization's top middle infield prospects so of course will not be removed. Finally there's Escobar, who I'm not entirely sold on sticking around but is a guy who Gardy loves for his defense. While Santana continues to develop in the minors next season, the other four players could be the Twins' infield - minus whoever eventually takes over first base.
Bernier, unfortunately, hasn't shown enough for the Twins to keep him around next season. If he goes unclaimed, I could see him returning to Rochester along with guys like Herrmann and De Vries.
In: Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Darin Mastroianni, Chris Parmelee, Alex Presley, Josh Willingham (6)
Out: Chris Colabello, Wilkin Ramirez, Clete Thomas
This is the area where I had the most debate, with guys like Parmelee and Colabello kind of sitting in the middle a bit. Arcia, Presley, and Mastroianni would be my starting outfield next season, with Willingham as the designated hitter, just based off of these options. Hicks will be given more opportunities, as he should be, and hopefully this time around the Twins are a little more patient and give him more time in Rochester to start the season.
Ramirez and Thomas are both replaceable parts in terms of defensive capabilities and production at the plate. Both have been around a while, so niether should have a problem finding a minor league job elsewhere if they think it gives them a better step ladder back to The Bigs. Colabello is on the flip side of Parmelee, in that it's feasible to see him being kept on the roster a bit more than the other two guys.
Whether you agree with the personnel projections or not, the number we come up with above for the 40-man roster after the season is 27. Even if some of the names end up changing around I could see that number dropping to 25, but in terms of available roster spots after the season I think we're pretty accurate. That way, even if the Twins add six to eight minor league players to the roster prior to the Rule 5 draft, the front office will still have six to eight spots with which to add talent via trade and free agency.
Is having, say, seven spots available for free agents going to turn the Twins around in one season? Absolutely not, but it's a process. Adding the right players this winter means it's easier to continue the rebuild going into 2015, by which point we might be able to dream about contention again...provided things work out.
The goal needs to be for talent to be in place with the Twins by the time that fantastic farm system starts paying dividends. For that to happen, the front office will need to focus on a few more short-term investments this winter. But that's something else we'll get into soon enough.