The off-season is an opportunity to improve. The decisions a team makes now will determine how far they get next year. One good move can make the difference between going home early and winning it all. Last year at this time, many Twins fans had never heard of Joe Nathan; they only knew Lew Ford as a mid-level prospect and had heard Justin Morneau had some pop in his bat. This year it is no different as the Twins, once again, have some work to do to go for their fourth straight division title. During the off-season they must continue to develop their lifeline of young players. They also need to get healthy from a long season and look at what free agency has to offer. They must explore trades, decide whom they are going to re-sign and think about what other changes need to be made to next year's team. Add it all up and you get the keys to a successful off-season for the Minnesota Twins.
Continued Development –
The Twins are a small market team and as such their lifeline is their farm system. Players such as JD Durbin, Scott Baker, Jesse Crain, Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett are playing in the Arizona Fall league right now. These players need to continue to improve because they need to play a big part in the Twins success next year. Kubel will probably start in right, Crain will be a vital part of the bullpen, Baker and Durbin will both compete for spots in the rotation and Bartlett might have to replace Cristian Guzman at short. These players need to take advantage of the winter so that they are ready to contribute next year otherwise the Twins will have to scramble to find alternatives to fill the voids.
Getting Healthy –
Imagine what the lineup would have looked like with a healthy Joe Mauer against the Yankees. In his brief time with the club this year, Mauer looked like a patient, polished hitter. He will make a great 2nd or 3rd hitter if healthy. Joe Mays is another player who can contribute. He is coming off of Tommy John surgery and had several set backs this past season. He may not be worth the 7+million he is making but he will add needed competition to the rotation and is capable of being a solid third starter when healthy. Grant Balfour is another pitcher whose injuries prevented him from showing what he could really do; an off-season of rest should fix that. Louis Rivas was also injured at the end of the year but it makes no difference, his job should and will belong to Michael Cuddyer next spring and Rivas might not even be with the team.
Going After Free Agency –
The Twins need to identify their needs. If they decide not to bring back Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman or Brad Radke they will be looking outside the organization for some kind of replacement. The reality is that Carl Pohlad is not going to increase the payroll and once again Terry Ryan is going to have to be creative. This means you aren’t going to see Edgar Renteria or Roger Clemons in a Twins uniform. It does mean the Twins will probably add bit players, they think can help, like they did with Henry Blanco and Joe Roa last year. Any trades they make could also define what they go after. As it stands, they could be in the market for a left-handed reliever, players for the right side of the infield and if Radke walks, a modestly priced free agent pitcher.
Resigning the Right Players –
Which of course brings us to the determination of which players to resign. Brad Radke is a must. There is no other pitcher out there who will bring as much to the table for the price the Twins should be able to get him for. He is the heart and soul of the pitching staff. Johan Santana is more dominant but Radke has been eating innings for years and keeps the rotation consistent. He is a well respected team leader and gives the team a chance to win almost every time out. The decisions on Koskie and Guzman are a little more difficult. Koskie is a big part of team chemistry but also has had health problems. The team has a replacement waiting in Terry Tiffee but can’t expect him to duplicate his numbers from early September. Guzman is probably not worth his 5+ million option but might be a bargain if brought back at a reduced price. Jason Bartlett does not appear ready to take over with the glove at this time and there are not a lot of better, cheaper options in free agency. Other players, such as Henry Blanco, Joe Roa and Jose Offerman, the team will have to make a decision as to whether to bring back as well.
Dealing With Changes –
The team knows that Jacque Jones will not be back next year. There is no way the Twins will pick up his option with several replacements waiting in the wings. Their lineup will be different with Joe Mauer back. They need to decide where they want to bat him. They will probably base his placement in the order on how often he is able to be in the lineup and catch. The lineup is always changing and the Twins will have to settle on what they believe will work best next year. If Brad Radke leaves it will leave a huge void in the rotation that someone will have to step up and fill. Some players will step up while others will inevitably regress.
Those, friends, are the keys to the 2004-2005 off-season for the Twins. This year may not have has much turmoil as last year but some changes are afoot. It will be interesting to see what kind of trades go down, who is brought back and how some players progress during the off season. It is a wild time in baseball and although the Twins are not the biggest players they seem to always make a splash.
(Note that Baseball Reference has updated their stats for 2004. You can check them out by clicking the link on the left of this site.)