This offseason is definitely one centered around offensive improvement. As Nelson pointed out yesterday, third-base is in desperate need of improvement. So is the outfield. Last year, we lost the "Soul Patrol" early and saw much more of Lew Ford out there when we need to. All he did was show 2004 was more of a fluke and that he is a better support guy then anything else. So what options do the Twins have for improvement?
The idea of trading Torii Hunter has been thrown around, but its a bad idea for this very reason. We already have issues in the outfield and its doubtful Hunter could allow the Twins to acquire a good player like Robinson Cano. Even if it did, we would then need another outfielder and Ryan would probably foolishly resign Jacque Jones. And we'd have an inadequate second baseman who would struggle on defense.
Hunter should, therefore, most certainly be our opening day center fielder. What about Stewart? Instead of getting rid of Hunter and his contract, Stewart seems to make more sense. $6 million is a lot for the Twins to shell out for a guy cleary nearing the twilight of his career. Stewart migth not be embarrassingly awful, but his lack of defensive prowess is showing and his power outage made him one of the worse leadoff men last year. If we could, trading Stewart would be a good option, if we could pick up a decent veteran infielder or an outfield prospect, which we are now short one.
Otherwise, there is Lew Ford. But last year, Ford showed us that he may not have the skills to compete everyday. His lapses in defense and base-running can be awful on a Manny-level and he lacks any consistent offense to make up for it. Jason Kubel seems geared to take one of the positions, but his knee is questionable and he may not be at full-speed when spring training starts. Of course, if he is, he's an excellent option. He can hit for average and some power and seems like an excellent replacement for Stewart's role on the team.
For free agent options, the Twins have had rumored interest in Reggie Sanders. Despite a postseason that started well, Sanders is getting old and has had a long career of injury problems. He isn't Juan Gonzalez, but he is no guarantee for 4 or 5 million. On the other hand, if healthy, Sanders could give the Twins the kind of year he gave the Pirates in 2003: 25-30 HRs, .270 average, 90 RBIs. That would certainly make the Twins far more potent for not too high of a price.
Brian Giles' name has also been floated around, but for a guy who managed a big contract before, its unlikely. Giles would be great, because he is a good hitter with lots of patience who has power (which was certainly hurt by San Diego's spacious park) and whose presence would help a swing-happy Twins lineup.
Rondell White is a possibility, but he's more of a DH and thats for a different discussion and time. White can provide good offense, but I don't think the Twins are willing to sign such a defensively-challenged player right now. Bobby Higginson is another free-agent from Detroit, but he doesn't look to have anything left in the tank. Juan Gonzalez, too, is an option, but it seems he'll never be fully healthy again. Juan Encarnacion, Preston Wilson, Jeremy Burnitz, and Jeff Conine are all also good options. Wilson and Encarnacion are unlikely because they'll demand high salaries and Burnitz doesn't seem likely to consider Minnesota in his options. Conine, though, seems realistic. He's a good, solid veteran who could give the Twins a patient hitter with some power left in his bat. (No signs of a Molitor-esque year at 40, but hey its worth a shot)
What, therefore, is the best course of action? Keep Hunter, hope Kubel is healthy, trade Stewart, and try to sign Conine or Sanders. If not, we'll probably end up with Jeffrey Hammonds and a crew of minor league castoffs. Lets hope Ryan does something at least a little above that.