Big names could be on the block for Twins
Willingham and Morneau potential trade chips at Winter Meetings
MINNEAPOLIS -- After finishing in the cellar in the American League for a second straight year in 2012, the Twins still have plenty of issues to fix in order to improve in 2013.
With baseball's annual Winter Meetings on the horizon, the offseason should pick up for the club and general manager Terry Ryan.
The Twins are on the lookout for starting pitching, as it was the club's weakest link last year and only left-hander Scott Diamond is guaranteed a spot in the rotation next year.
Ryan has stated that most of the club's available payroll will go toward improving a rotation that finished with the second-worst ERA in the Majors in 2012.
The Twins also have a few intriguing trade pieces -- such as Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham -- who could help them acquire starting pitching. On Thursday, the Twins acquired some pitching help, as Denard Span was dealt to the Nationals for Minor League right-hander Alex Meyer.
So next week's Winter Meetings could bring some clarity to the Twins' rotation for next year, as the club tries to get back to its winning ways after back-to-back disappointing seasons.
Below is a look at Minnesota's checklist for the Winter Meetings, which will be held from Dec. 3-6 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville.
Starting pitching: Even after trading for Meyer, the Twins still have four spots open in their rotation next year, as he's expected to start the year at Double-A New Britain. The Twins would still like to acquire at least two starting pitchers and possibly a third to help round out their rotation. With so many holes to fill, the Twins are more likely to go after affordable starters such as Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders, Brandon McCarthy or Joe Blanton. Minnesota has also recently been linked to pitchers Brett Myers and former Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Relief pitching: The bullpen wasn't Minnesota's main problem in 2012, as Twins relievers combined to post a respectable 3.77 ERA. But the club could still add a few arms to an improving bullpen that already includes top relievers Glen Perkins and Jared Burton. The Twins, though, aren't likely to splurge on an expensive reliever because it's not a major need.
Infield depth: The Twins have plenty of candidates to start in the middle infield next season, but outside of veteran Jamey Carroll, most of their options -- such as Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar -- are inexperienced. The club could look to add a veteran infielder to join the group, especially one who can play third base to create some competition for Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe showed positive signs in 2012, including hitting 24 homers, but he needs to improve his defense.
Who they can or need to trade:
Willingham: After signing a three-year deal worth $21 million last offseason, Willingham had a monster 2012 campaign, setting career highs in games played (145), homers (35), OPS (.890) and RBIs (11) en route to winning his first Silver Slugger Award. So while he remains the club's most potent right-handed bat, he could bring some much-needed pitching into the organization if the Twins find the right team looking for a power bat. But other teams could be wary of a few red flags, as Willingham is 33 and doesn't provide value defensively.
Morneau: Morneau is in the final year of a six-year, $80 million contract and could be dealt to a club looking for a power-hitting first baseman, as the Twins have Parmelee waiting in the wings. Morneau proved last year that his concussion-related issues are behind him, and played in 134 games with 19 homers and 77 RBIs. But as a face of the franchise along with Joe Mauer, the Twins would have to get a decent haul in return to deal Morneau.
RHPs Kyle Gibson, B.J. Hermsen, J.O. Berrios and Luke Bard; OFs Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton; INFs Chris Parmelee, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Travis Harrison and Daniel Santana.
The Twins are generally reluctant to trade away their top prospects, but if they find the right fit they could swing a deal, especially if it brings them top pitching in return. Minnesota could also build a package around Willingham or Morneau along with prospects to get a frontline starter such as James Shields they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford on the free-agent market.
Big contracts they might unload
Brian Duensing, LHP; Jared Burton, RHP; Drew Butera, C.
Ryan won't put an exact figure on what Minnesota's payroll will be in '13, but it's expected to be similar to the club's $100 million payroll in '12. With approximately $70 million currently committed to their roster after dealing Span, the Twins have about $30 million to work with this offseason.