When this offseason began, Twins fans as a whole were a fairly optimistic bunch. Things didn’t go according to plan in October, but there is no doubt that the Twins could have (or depending on your point of view, should have) beaten the Yankees. The Twins exceeded nearly all pre-season expectations in a year when many felt the AL Central champions would be lucky to scrape by with 85 wins.
Compared to last year, many Twins fans though, this off-season would be a relative breeze. Indications were that Brad Radke would sign early. Corey Koskie, who seems to enjoy living in the area, would also most likely be re-signed. Even Christian Guzman might find his way back into the fold at a reduced price.
Oh, how things change.
Things definitely aren’t looking so peachy these days. “Déjà vu all over again” might turn out to be the mantra of the 2004-05 offseason, and that isn’t a good thing. Just as like Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins left last year without so much as a goodbye, Radke, Koskie, and Guzy could easily do the same this year. Early reports indicate that there are numerous teams interested in Radke, and all of them could (and will) easily outbid the Twins. The Strib indicates that Koskie has sparked the interest of a few teams, none of them Minnesota. And everything indicates that Guzie is as good as gone (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing…).
We are now faced with the distinct possibility that seven or more Twins could be gone before the 2005 season begins: Radke, Koskie, Guzman, Rivas, Jones, Romero, and Blanco. I wouldn't lose any sleep over the last four, but a 30% roster changeover? From a playoff team? I know Terry Ryan can work miracles, but even he pull only so many rabbits out of that magical hat of his. There aren’t always going to be Joe Nathans out there to snatch up, or Lew Fords waiting in the farm system, ready to instantly become major contributors.
What will life be like if this worst case scenario comes to fruition? First of all, if the Twins can’t sign Radke, I think they’ll probably end up with another veteran innings-eater such as Jon Lieber. If/when Koskie signs elsewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised if TR winds up with a cheap third baseman like Joe Randa. Guzman can conceivably be replaced within the organization, although I actually wouldn’t be adverse to bringing him back at a more reasonable price.
This hypothetical version of the 2005 Twins would be so different they would almost be unrecognizable. The only players left from 2002 would be Hunter, Cuddyer, Santana, Lohse, LeCroy, and Juan Rincon (plus technically Restovich and Mays). I can hardly believe that myself! 2002 seems like only yesterday, yet here we might have a completely new team a scant three years later. Amazing.
That isn’t to say these new-look Twins wouldn’t be a force in the AL Central. Depending on what moves the White Sox make (Randy Johnson?), the Twins would probably still be favored to win the division over the Indians. But it wouldn’t be the slam dunk many of us believed it would be after 2004 ended. And advancing in the playoffs would be even more difficult.
Obviously all of this is merely speculation. It’s still possible that the Twins will sign Radke and Koskie, and maybe even Guzman. But that possibility is becoming more remote with every passing day.
Don’t despair quite yet, Twins fans, but do brace yourself for this possible reality. What would it be like?