Terry Ryan and the Twins were aggressive in the opening weeks of the 2015-2016 off-season, and things were fantastic. Almost before we could blink, the club had traded from a position of depth to shore up one of the most shallow positions on the roster by flipping Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for serial killer John Ryan Murphy. Minnesota also signed the best international hitter on the free agent market to an exceptionally team-friendly contract.
It was that aggressive nature that took us all off guard, and perhaps it's part of the reason we've found the club's lack of movement since so hard to take. Teams moved like predators to snap up relief targets during the Winter Meetings, while Minnesota stayed silent. After so much unexpected but positive news in the early going, these last few weeks have been frustrating.
The frustration stems from the fact that Minnesota was a borderline contender coming out of 2015, only being eliminated from post-season contention with one game to go, and that their checklist of ways to improve for 2016 was relatively short. Catcher? Check. Right-handed power bat? Check. Reliever? Not yet.
But the club also hasn't addressed their fourth outfielder situation. Shane Robinson was outrighted in October, and he chose free agency before signing with Cleveland. Publicly known target Rajai Davis also went to the Indians. To date, however, there is no obvious fourth outfielder in the Twins organization.
Let's take a spin through the players currently eligible for the role.
Santana has been playing with the Aguilas Cibaenas this winter. In 25 games he hit .305/.320/.411, making good, quality contact while taking a rare walk; all more or less as expected. But he's been moved around defensively, getting a number of innings at second base - where he's struggled a bit - and prolonged looks in the outfield. As a player who is out of options, Santana seems likely to get a first crack at being Paul Molitor's versatile bench option. He could certainly serve as an interim fourth outfield option, perhaps play that role permanently if he can be more effective at the plate than he was for the Twins in 2015, but he isn't a natural outfielder. Even if the Twins plan on using him as a super utility player, which seems likely, finding a player whose natural position is outfield is going to be a preferable option.
If Byron Buxton doesn't make the opening day roster, Santana could be one of the alternative candidates to start in his place. Eddie Rosario would also be in the mix, but either way every other player below Santana on this list has his chances improve should Buxton start the season in Triple-A.
He's more comfortable in left field than in center or right, but technically - technically - he's spent at least a little bit of team at each position over the last couple of years. This would be a backup option though, as Escobar is likely to be the Twins' opening day shortstop and would only lose that job weeks into the season...which we obviously don't want to happen. And we really don't want another infielder-in-the-outfield situation anyway.
At 31 and without a Major League plate appearance in 2015, Sweeney carries a solid defensive reputation and is serviceable at all three outfield positions. Once a promising prospect, his offense deteriorated to the point where he couldn't earn regular playing time as he hit just .261/.321/.371 between 2011 and 2014. It's not terrible, but it's a sub-.700 OPS. And his form clearly wasn't good enough to garner interest in any role in Major League Baseball in 2015; regular hamstring issues kept him from consistent opportunities to get better. The Cubs released him prior to their 2015 season.
A second-round pick by the Twins in 2006, he finished among our top prospects in the early years of our voting system: 16th in 2010, 6th in 2011, 5th in 2012, and 11th in 2013. He had a cup of coffee with Minnesota in 2011, but was unable to earn a regular roster spot and bounced between Texas, Miami, Atlanta, and the New York Mets since 2014. With more than enough tools to play all three outfield spots, Benson's offense just never really took off the way baseball thought it would. He's a .202/.288/.302 career hitter at Triple-A. He may not seem like the most likely option here, but considering the options in front of him he could end up being one of the better bets for the fourth outfielder role unless the club finally brings in a legitimate candidate.