The baseball off-season is like a heavy train that takes a while to get going and eventually builds momentum as it goes roaring down the track towards its final spring training destination. Mid-November is right at the beginning of that journey; where players have just begun to file for free agency and teams are mostly trying to re-sign their own guys while testing the market to see what the worth of some players will be. No doubt, trades are being discussed, payroll shuffled around and countless backup plans drawn up. For the most part, all that is left for fans is the agony of speculation of what will happen. Most of what is discussed at this time of year will never come to fruition.
Take the idea of using Luis Rivas at shortstop. This is just one of the possible replacements for Cristian Guzman next year. Rivas would fill the gap between Guzman and the time it takes Jason Bartlett to become a major leaguer. He has played the position in the minors and could prove a relatively cheap option depending on the direction the team goes. Ultimately, it would mean re-signing Corey Koskie to play third base with Michael Cuddyer retaining the second base position. If the team failed to resign Koskie, or a veteran replacement, an infield of Terry Tiffee, Rivas and Cuddyer might be too much of a step back for a team trying to make the playoffs a fourth straight year.
In the meantime the Twins should continue to explore the free agent market at shortstop, third base and starting pitching. Last year they had a backup plan when Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins left. Joe Nathan became an All-Star. To compete again next season the Twins will have to be equally as creative. They got a little lucky when Carlos Silva pitched as well as he did. Next season J.D Durbin and Scott Baker will need to step up if called upon. The key to the off-season is creating depth should things not go well. The Twins had planned on Rick Hulling being their fifth starter last year and when he went down it took them 2 months to find someone to replace him. With the other teams in the division improving each year the margin for error becomes smaller.
The Indians, Tigers and White Sox are all trying to make their respective off-season splashes. The White Sox are trying to acquire Randy Johnson, but it will undoubtedly cost them dearly to do so. They are minor players in the free agent market but have limited money. The Indians and Tigers seem more willing to open their pocketbooks and both teams’ number one priority seems to be Troy Percival. Since the Indians are closer to competing it would be more harmful for the Twins if they were able to sign him. He is a notorious Twins killer. The Tigers cannot be counted out as long as they have Ivan Rodriguez. They made some major strides last year and could be a surprise team this year. They have young good young players and are willing to augment their talent by signing veteran free agents. Ideally, the Cubs would swoop in and wrest Percival away from both teams.
As things begin to fall into place the picture will become clearer. It may take a couple of weeks for the big free agents to start signing. Scott Boras represents many of the better players out there and that will indirectly affect a team like the Twins. His clients will be some of the last to sign, so teams may grow tired of waiting and turn to players such as Radke and Koskie as secondary options.
That is why it is so important to try to sign them early. It is okay to overpay for a player like Radke because he is the closest to a "sure thing" when it comes to pitching? Unfortunately, other teams are aware of that fact as well which drives up his price. If the Twins are going to take the kind of hit that Rivas would be at short they should be willing to make a strong effort to sign Koskie while not being irresponsible. They must remember they have another great group of young players coming up that will allow them to compete for years if they make good decisions now. Loyalty to players that have been with the organization should not prevent them from being creative out on in the market. There is both a pressure to win now and to work successfully work young players onto the roster.
Rivas is likely to get a raise in arbitration. He will not be spectacular in the field and everyone knows what he can do at the plate. That money can go toward increasing offers to Radke and Koskie or trying to bring in a free agent who is going to put up similar numbers to Rivas at a fraction of the cost. Any player can fill a position the Twins may be looking to punt as they wait for Bartlett to develop. A name like Jose Valentin has already been brought up as one possible semi-regular player. The Twins can also look to someone like Barry Larkin who can play multiple positions and be able to step aside when asked. The one thing the Twins have had in the past is patience. They also have the luxury of waiting another month to make the decision on Rivas before they have to offer him arbitration. Most fans would agree that the best thing at this point is to cut the line and go with another option.
The one thing that is hard to have at this time of year is patience as we all wait to see how the dominoes fall into place. If the above scenarios seem a little convoluted that is because they are. There is so much uncertainty and every move can change the makeup market. All the Twins can do is not miss the boat. For now we all wait and hope everything works out for the best.