The Twins don't really have a shortage of money to spend this winter, but between the desire to spend money wisely and the necessity to not overpay for production that could be had for a lesser cost, there could be an additional tender deadline casualty or two (or three) for Minnesota. Who could join Anthony Swarzak in the ranks of the non-tendered?
Casey Fien (estimated salary $1.1 MM)
Tommy Milone (estimated salary $2.8 MM)
Trevor Plouffe (estimated salary $4.3 MM)
Fien has been one of the more reliable and effective relievers in the American League over the last two seasons, and he's earned a spot on the roster setting up Glen Perkins. With one more good season under his belt, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Twins go after a contract extension. Heading into his age-31 season, this would be a good of a time as any to buy out his arbitration years. A three-year deal worth something in the neighborhood of $5 million would be fair (plus an option for that fourth year), if you're into keeping Fien in the fold. If not, he's under team control through 2018 anyway.
Tommy Milone, a Super Two like Fien, didn't have the best numbers with the Twins after his arrival from Oakland, but we also didn't see him at his most able. Whether it's as a valuable trade piece, a potential back-of-the-rotation starter, or as Swarzak's replacement in long relief, there's every reason to tender the lefty a contract.
And then there's Trevor Plouffe, whose offense and defense both took steps in the right direction this year. He was worth 3.5 fWAR in 2014, which is the ninth-best mark in all of baseball among third basemen and topped household names like Evan Longoria, Pablo Sandoval, and Aramis Ramirez. It's been fashionable to hate on Plouffe, possibly because of his status as a first-round draft pick and possibly because he never displayed the power he flashed early in 2012, but make no mistake: he's a valuable part of this team right now.
Brian Duensing (estimated salary $2.5 million)
Eduardo Nunez (estimated salary $1.2 million)
The issue with Duensing is that, at his best, he was a left-handed reliever who was really good versus left-handed batters and could pick up a few strikeouts. That advantage returned in 2014 after disappearing entirely in 2013, but spending $2.5 million on a LOOGY seems a superfluous spend on the 2015 team. The bullpen will already have Caleb Thieldbar coming from the left side, and potentially other arms like Milone, Logan Darnell, Aaron Thompson, or even down the line, Jason Wheeler. If Duensing were a shut-down reliever then of course $2.5 million isn't more than a drop in the bucket. Sadly that's not the case, and for a pitcher whose ability to miss bats fell off the table this season it's money that can be funneled elsewhere.
Nunez, meanwhile, could be kept on as a backup infielder if the Twins would choose to send Danny Santana back to the outfield and therefore start Eduardo Escobar at second base. That doesn't sound like Paul Molitor's plan, however, putting Escobar into a backup infielder spot and leaving Nunez as a rarely-used utility player. Without the ability to hit well, nor the ability to play good defense, keeping Nunez would be a dubious prospect anyway. The Twins can get similar production offensively, and probably better defensive contributions, from someone else already in the system.
Jordan Schafer (estimated salary $1.5 million)
I'll admit that Schafer seems like a relatively safe option, and he could be. The real question is whether or not he fits into the front office's plans for next season, be it as a short-term starter in left or center field, or as the proverbial fourth outfielder who can play any position. Because for $1.5 million and considering Schafer's skill set (and ignoring the unrepeatable good finish he had with the Twins) it nothing. You should absolutely keep Schafer around for that cost.
On the other hand, if the Twins plan on bringing in one or two outfielders they could yet end up believing they'd be better off with someone else taking Schafer's roster spot - not because of the money, but because they would prefer someone else's skill set.
My guess is still that Duensing and Nunez get the chop, although knowing the Twins they could find reasons to keep them both. Do you think there will be any surprises?