Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Parallel Universe: The Present

Last month I detailed how things would have gone differently for the Twins in 2008 and 2009 if I had become the GM instead of Bill Smith. We're coming off back-to-back Central Division titles, with each team winning 92 or more regular season games. This was the roster we took into the playoffs:

1. Denard Span, LF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
5. Jason Kubel, RF
6. Matt Kemp, CF
7. Jose Morales, DH
8. Andy LaRoche, 3B
9. Jason Bartlett, SS

Mike Redmond, C; Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, IF, Bobby Kielty, OF

1. Roy Halladay
2. Scott Baker
3. Nick Blackburn
4. Carl Pavano

Joe Nathan, CL; Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, RHP; Dennys Reyes, Craig Breslow, Jose Mijares, Brian Duensing, LHP

We're once again well-positioned heading into 2010, with only Redmond, Keilty, and Pavano eligible for free agency. Lots of guys can get arbitration, however, so we're expecting to see a hefty rise in payroll from the $71M we began with last season. However, the budget formula says we can afford something around $93M for this year, and the money we saved over the previous 2 seasons may enable us to extend beyond that if necessary. But I like to stay on budget, so I'm prepared to do some pruning.

The projected payroll, replacing the free agents with serfs, and guessing at the arbitration salaries, could run over $98M. The easiest way to pare that down is probably to trade Punto, whose versatility is very valuable (and who is due to have the see-saw swing back to another productive year offensively). But he's set to earn $4M; Tolbert can do just about the same thing for 1/10th the price. Alternatively, I could move a couple of the pricy middle relievers (Rauch, Guerrier or Crain) and save $5M-$6M. I'm comfortable with offering everyone contracts and seeing how things shake out in spring training - I'll plan to make a trade in late March.

I can do that because the return of Kevin Slowey, Boof Bonser and Pat Neshek from the the 60-day DL should add tremendous depth to what is already a pretty solid pitching staff. Liriano didn't even make the post-season roster, but I'm still hopeful he can regain at least his 2008 form. We're returning our entire playoff lineup, and it's a good one. The only place I'd look to upgrade is on the bench, but we can see about that late in the spring. I'd also like to add a bit more OF depth at the upper levels, find a C that can hit for at least one of the full-season teams, and I'm always on the lookout for a starter with ace potential, especially since Halladay is going to walk after the season. Basically, I'd like to find a way to replenish what I gave up in that trade.

Shortly after the World Series, I have to make a decision about Cuddyer's $10.5M option for 2010. He's certainly earned it based on his 2009 performance, yet I'm hesitant. Looking ahead to 2010, the people we have under team control will most likely be commanding over $83M in salaries, not including Cuddyer. The way free agent salaries have been going lately, $10.5M might be overpaying him, making him difficult to trade. And if he has another strong season in 2010, earning Type A or B free agent status, we'll definitely offer him arbitration. If he accepted and wanted to come back on a 1-year deal, it likely wouldn't be for much more than the original $10.5M . The downside to that scenario just isn't that low. I decline the option.

I'm anticipating that David Winfree and Brock Peterson could have some use next season as RH bats to provide depth at the corners. I add each of them to the 40-man roster, along with Alex Burnett, Loek van Mil, Brian Dinkelman, and the 3 DL guys. I don't leave any space - the Rule 5 draft looks to be pretty lame this year, and there's no position I really have to fill with a free agent. I head to the Winter Meetings feeling as though, at the Major League level at least, I'm pretty well set.

I'm shocked out of my comfort zone when Pavano decides to accept our arbitration offer (he was a Type B - I wasn't going to pass on the draft pick...). Now I have to devote a roster spot and somewhere around $7M to him. That puts the projected payroll at about $105M, substantially beyond the budget. It's starting to look as though I'm going to have to think about dealing Punto and a couple of relievers, or perhaps not tendering some contracts at the end of the week. Meanwhile, I've got to clear a roster spot for Pavano. I remove Boof Bonser, who is out of options and no sure bet to make the bullpen anyway. Boston agrees to trade RHP Chris Province, a AA sinker-ball specialist, for Bonser.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. approaches me about dealing for Halladay. I tell him he'd have to be willing to give us 3/4 of what we gave up last summer: our #2-#5 prospects. In their case, that's SP Kyle Drabek, RF Michael Taylor, and C Travis D'Arnaud. That's an intriguing package: it basically solves all of my minor league depth problems. Drabek should be ready to join the rotation by some time in 2011. Taylor should be ready to contribute by mid-summer, and certainly looks like a fitting replacement for Cuddyer in 2011. D'Arnaud is a RH hitting catcher with good receiving skills and gap power - he could be ready to take over as Mauer's caddy by the time Morales hits arbitration. It's tempting - I ask Amaro for a few days to think it over.

When I get home from the meetings on Dec. 10th, I see a report that Liriano has delivered 3.2 scoreless IP, allowing 1 H, 0 BB and 5 K for his Dominican Winter League team. His fastball is reportedly up to 92-94 mph. Intrigued, I book a trip to the DR to see his next start on the 16th. He is every bit as good, allowing 0 ER on 3 H, 1 BB and 6 K in 5 IP. He won't be Roy Halladay, and there's no guarantee that he'll keep it up, but there's at least a reasonable chance that he'll deliver on his potential as a top of the rotation starter in 2010. That production, plus the money savings, plus the prospects - the deal fixes everything. I call up Amaro and pull the trigger. He insists on some cash considerations as well. He wants us to pay $6M of Halladay's salary; I talk him down to $5M.

With that speed bump out of the way, we are once again set roster-wise. The projected payroll looks to be just a bit under $95M. I'll probably find a way to trim that last $2M in the spring, but management can live with it if I don't. Nothing to do now but cheer on the Vikes and wait for spring training.

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