Last year for this exercise, I thought the Twins would find a way to trim their roster by 11 players. I wasn't far off, getting seven predictions right and four wrong. That's not bad for a guy who writes opinions on the internet.
To get better for 2016, to clear roster space for young and talented players, to clear space for Major League players who will aid in Minnesota's bid for post-season baseball this time next year, a few guys have to go. Here's the direction I see it going.
In: A.J. Achter, Tyler Duffey, Casey Fien, Kyle Gibson, J.R. Graham, Phil Hughes, Kevin Jepsen, Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Tommy Milone, Ricky Nolasco, Glen Perkins, Ryan Pressly, Ervin Santana, Michael Tonkin (15)
Out: Blaine Boyer, Neal Cotts, Logan Darnell, Brian Duensing, Ryan O'Rourke, Mike Pelfrey, Aaron Thompson (7)
Boyer, Cotts, Duensing, and Pelfrey can all be free agents. The others (Darnell, O'Rourke, Thompson) could be outrighted with the hope that the organization can keep them around, but that could be a decision that needs to wait until the club has a better idea of what its minor league depth will look like. Boyer and Cotts specifically could be asked to return. Boyer had a decent year, and Cotts could very well take the second left-handed pitcher spot behind Perkins in the bullpen. Neither feel like locks.
For the players being kept, the most scandalous will probably be Achter, Graham, and Nolasco. As much as I know a lot of fans just want to be rid of Nolasco, Minnesota's options are either trying to salvage any kind of value out of him or paying him not to play for the Twins. Terry Ryan paid Mike Lamb to not play for the Twins in 2009, but paying a player to play for another team isn't something Ryan has really done. Nolasco's contract is of course the issue here, since his $24 million over the next two years will be very difficult to move. As for Achter and Graham, they could go but the Twins seem to like Graham and Achter's minor league performance makes him an inexpensive option to follow.
Is this the end of Brian Duensing's tenure with the Twins? Other than Mauer he's been with the club the longest. It seems likely his days in a Minnesota uniform have come to an end.
In: Josmil Pino, Kurt Suzuki (2)
Out: Eric Fryer, Chris Herrmann (2)
I'm not sure what the Twins are going to do with Josmil Pinto. Maybe he sticks at catcher and maybe he doesn't; maybe he stays with the Twins and maybe he doesn't. I'd be willing to entertain any decent argument about Pinto not being in Minnesota next year and having his roster spot replaced by either of the two catchers I've written off.
Chris Herrmann has played parts of four seasons in Minnesota, but still isn't eligible for arbitration. But he's also out of options, which makes keeping a roster spot for a career .181/.249/.280 hitter all but impossible. Fryer has put together a .236/.323/.355 line in Minnesota, and the Twins have outrighted him in the past. I expect they'll do the same this winter. He'll probably pass through waivers again, and he can act as a security blanket in Rochester.
In: Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, Joe Mauer, Trevor Plouffe, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas (8)
Out: Eduardo Nunez (1)
Nunez is the first of the seven arbitration-eligible players I can see the Twins cutting loose. There are a number of mitigating factors here, the most obvious of which is that his fortunes could change depending on what the club does with Trevor Plouffe. If Plouffe isn't traded, Nunez's role seems superfluous and could be adequately filled by Danny Santana.
Even for the eight players I've chosen to be "In," there are decisions to be made. Perhaps Polanco and Vargas could start the year in Triple-A, but they could be considered trade chips as well. There's a not unbelievable scenario here where two or three of the "In" group just aren't with the organization next spring. It would require the front office to be aggressive in filling needs, but it's feasible.
In: Oswaldo Arcia, Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks, Max Kepler, Shane Robinson, Eddie Rosario (6)
Out: Torii Hunter (1)
I think Hunter retires. But that's just me. What he decides to do will have a significant impact on how the Twins approach their other, younger outfielders over the winter.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Buxton and Kepler start 2016 in Triple-A, leaving the Twins with a starting outfield of Arcia, Hicks, and Rosario (left to right) with Robinson as the fourth option. There's a play to be made for Arcia being the club's designated hitter as well. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Long story short: the Twins have five young and very talented outfielders. They will all require full-time Major League plate appearances in the next 12 months. How the club chooses to go about finding the necessary balance is one of the more interesting sub plots I'll be holding onto.
I've chosen 11 players that I think could be taken off of the Twins' 40-man roster at some point before next spring, but because two players have been on the 60-day disabled list it means that only nine roster spots are available. Roughly six of them, if you believe Terry Ryan, will be used to protect young players from December's Rule 5 draft.
This exercise is a bit about roster construction, but it's also about estimating the number of roster spots the Twins could have to work with. Some of these spots will become available sooner than others, so we certainly won't see all nine spots come available at once.
How do you feel about the outline above, and do you think it's aggressive enough for roster turnover? Leave your thoughts and your own estimations in the comments.