Monday, February 1, 2010

Are the Twins Done? - Tolleson Update

UPDATE, 12:52pm Monday - MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Oakland Athletics claimed Twins' minor league infielder Steven Tolleson off waivers, meaning that the Twins gave his spot on the 40-man roster to newly-signed Jim Thome. Tolleson was expected to be potentially in the mix for an appearance in Minnesota this year and was ranked by Aaron Gleeman as the Twins' 37th-ranked prospect in his post just this morning.

With TwinsFest in the rear view mirror, spring training is right around the corner. It's always nice to think about baseball in the depths of winter here in Minnesota, especially with the knowledge that pitchers and catchers report for duty in a few short weeks.

With that said, the off-season still moves on and the Minnesota Twins still have some perceived holes in their lineup. Jim Thome was signed last week to bolster a weak bench and provide some late-inning pop in a pinch-hitting role. The Twins got him for an affordable price ($1.5M plus incentives) and are assured to break camp with a payroll of at least $90M in their inaugural season at Target Field.

Still, one cannot help but think that the Twins may be done with free agent signings this winter. There are still huge question marks at third base and second base, as well as the absence of a true #2 hitter in the order. It's almost certain that Nick Punto will be penciled in as the starter at either second or third base, regardless of whether the Twins bring in a free agent or not. As I've stated here and elsewhere many times, I'm fine with that, provided that Matt Tolbert is not the starting third baseman and Punto starts at second, as the team did so effectively down the stretch last season when everyone was playing out of his mind.

The obvious choices at second base are the usual suspects: Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez. Both are still out there and apparently both still making multi-year demands. Hudson's reported contract demands were somewhere in the three year, $9M range, which seems reasonable, other than the fact that he is already 32 years old and no team wants to go that deep with Hudson. The Twins should try to split the distance with the O-Dog, and offer him two years at $6M plus an option for a third. That would seem a reasonable price to pay for a Gold Glove second baseman who can hit a little. The article linked above mentions the Twins as a possible fit, but to my knowledge, no discussions have occurred between the Twins and Hudson's representatives.

Lopez is in a similar position. He is coming off a fine season in 2009 where he made $3.5M between the Diamondbacks and Brewers. He is more versatile than Hudson in that he has experience at second, short, third, and the outfield. Still, he is still hunting for a job. The Twins have not been mentioned in the Lopez discussions, but he seemingly would be a good and affordable fit for the team at second base.

Of course, the Twins' could choose to stand pat and try to fill the third base position internally. Minor league prospects Luke Hughes and Danny Valencia will both be in big league camp this spring with chances to win the job. Tolbert is in the mix at third, and the Twins still have Alexi Casilla at second base. Giving the job to either of those guys is not likely to excite Twins Territory, especially if the team decides not to pursue Hudson, Lopez, or someone like Adam Kennedy. Hughes and Valencia are going to have to hit their way onto the team this spring, and manager Ron Gardenhire is not going to hand either of them the job if neither one proves he can catch the ball at third.

The Twins are in a somewhat enviable position this winter. They are set in the starting rotation (with a plethora of candidates to fill the fifth starter's spot), around the diamond (except at second and third), in the outfield, the bench, and the bullpen. One hopes that either Hudson or Lopez finds his way onto the roster this spring, or that either Hughes or Valencia hits .500 this spring to force the Twins' hand.

With a payroll of $90M, the prospects of the Twins digging deep to sign a free agent to play either second or third base seem remote. That may prove to be enough this season to win the AL Central, but won't likely translate to post-season success.

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