The biggest challenge for the Twins in getting better this winter had less to do with money than it had to do with the lack of positions available for upgrading. Unless the team could find good players on short-term contracts, somehow, outside of a starting pitcher and an outfielder there wasn't much Terry Ryan and company could do.
By those terms, we may have seen the team do most of its heavy lifting. Torii Hunter filled that outfield spot, Ervin Santana the rotation, and Tim Stauffer (in spite of the lip service by the front office) is likely to hold down one of the regular roles out of the bullpen. Between those three players the Twins have committed $67.7 million in payroll commitments, but more importantly: is there anything else left for the team to accomplish before Opening Day?
#MNTwins update: engaged in a few discussions regarding more player acquisition. But told nothing is imminent. Looking for depth all over.— Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) December 27, 2014
This is one of those positions that would be hard for the Twins to upgrade. With Byron Buxton possibly making his debut late in the 2015 season but certainly in the conversation for owning the job from Opening Day 2016, anyone who owns the role this year knows their days are numbered.
Right now that's a combination of Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer. While neither player offers much in the way of projection this year, they should provide adequate cover in the field. The Twins are also at a point where they really need to know whether Hicks can be serviceable as a starter or whether he'll become a toolsy fourth outfielder, and to do that they still need to commit to him with game time. As frustrating as Hicks has been, 538 plate appearances is nothing upon which to judge a player's future.
If the club wants to hedge their bets, or if they already know which way they're leaning with Hicks, Minnesota could still bring in someone else. Colby Rasmus has seemed destined for Baltimore over the last week or so, but the Twins aren't interested anyway (even though he's looking for a one-year offer). We've long been advocates of Peter Bourjos, who would be an elite defender to help make the most out of a revamped pitching staff that still has two below-average defenders in left and right fields. Jon Jay and Dexter Fowler don't bring Bourjos-level defense to the table, but they'd lend value as solid leadoff hitters. Cameron Maybin doesn't make much sense since he's just Hicks with more experience and a $10 million price tag.
Are the Twins done here? I think so. There wasn't any visible interest in free agent center fielders and we haven't heard that Minnesota is coveting anyone else's, and since the team has more or less 12 months left in which to judge Aaron Hicks' viability as a starter I think that's the avenue they'll take.
For those who bet on a Punto-#MNTwins reunion, still no interest. Still some trade interest in Escobar. Move him, sign Punto? Entertain me.— Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) December 30, 2014
Escobar tallied 2.3 fWAR in 2014 thanks to a good performance on both sides of the ball. His .275/.315/.406 triple slash is better than the league average .255/.310/.367 line from shortstops, which is exactly how the Twins should be marketing him. Essentially, in Escobar the Twins have a player who will be 26 in 2015, is under team control for four years, is a good in the field and - hey, you never know - could defy his Major and Minor league pre-2014 histories and continue to be a passable bat.
That profile should make Escobar a very valuable commodity. For the Twins he's a perfect luxury, being available to back up second, third, and short while also being wholly capable of starting for stretched at a time. Minnesota should have no reason to move him whatsoever, and certainly not for Nick Punto, but there's always a point at which his return in a trade would be more tantalizing than what he might be able to do on the field.
Are the Twins done here? Eduardo Nunez is still on the roster, and there are a number of infield prospects on the way. Maybe the club would be willing to let Eddie Rosario play a little second down the line, or maybe Trevor Plouffe would be a fantastic super utility player once third base belongs to Miguel Sano, or maybe Jorge Polanco can accelerate his timeline and be ready to contribute at the Major League level by the end of the season...but those are a lot of "ifs." In this situation I doubt the team would actively look to move Escobar, but they're in a good position to pull the trigger if somebody comes through with a good offer. So, no - not quite done yet.
Can we bring up too often how the Twins are spoiled for choice? Granted, there still isn't an ace on the staff in the truest sense of the label. But getting better is just as much about lifting the floor as it is raising the ceiling, and the front office has done well on that front. Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone, Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Mike Pelfrey; yes, the club can find five arms for the rotation from that group.
The problem here, if you can even call it that, is that all of these guys deserve a crack at a Major League job - even Pelfrey, who the team would like to pay to play for them, if at all possible, instead of paying him not to play for them. As things are, it feels like the rotation would be Hughes, Santana, Nolasco, Gibson, and Milone, with Pelfrey in the long relief role, and Meyer and May in Triple-A.
That's where the issue becomes clear to me. Because as good of an addition as Santana will be to the rotation, both Meyer and May are a part of this team's future, too. As a result, I can't help but wonder if the team will explore options via trade. The veterans won't go (Hughes is the team's best pitcher, Nolasco's contract is unmovable, Santana can't yet be traded), but the younger pitchers could. Milone has value in the same fashion as Escobar in that the team shouldn't try to move him but is in a good position to do so; Gibson has years of team control remaining; Meyer and May would be of interest to every team in the game, even if they probably aren't (and shouldn't be) available.
Are the Twins done here? No, but depth is a precious thing. Most teams in baseball can't get through April without putting at least one starter on the disabled list. If anything does happen on this front it would be at the end of March, when the club has a better idea of what it has in all eight pitchers and other teams might be more desperate. If Minnesota gets to the end of spring training and finds that they have everyone healthy and they feel compelled to roster May and/or Meyer, then sure - maybe they consider shifting Milone or Gibson. If if were me, I'd hold onto all of them, but we'll see how things shake out.
The Twins do have things they can do. They're quite handcuffed when it comes to position player depth on the 40-man roster, for instance, but I'll be touching on that later. But in terms of addressing the 25-man roster, yes - they're probably done for the time being. When we get to spring training and what we see on paper gets a chance to play out on the field, things could change. But until then there may not be much happening on the speculation front.