With the World Series in the rearview mirror and the time for off-season transactions steadily approaching, it's about time to start previewing the Twins' off-season needs and some potential targets via both free agency and trade. Today I will be taking a look at a list of players who have filed for free agency and may fit into the Twins' plans considering their needs and financial flexibility.
Unless something changes, there are three positions where Terry Ryan might be looking to shop during the off-season: SP, 3B, and DH. This list is, of course, liable to change.
For instance, the Twins might look internally for an answer at designated hitter, either by activating the 2007 option on Rondell White based on his good second half, or by bringing back Phil Nevin for another season. Ron Gardenhire might also opt to continue his trend of platooning Jason Tyner at DH next season, but let's hope not. Third base is also not necessarily a position where Ryan will aggressively look to upgrade in the coming months; Nick Punto had a good season there and deserves a lot of credit for the team's turnaround. With that said, his numbers outside of the month of July were not very good and it's unlikely he'll be able to put up such nice overall numbers next season. I think Ryan realizes that if he has the chance to get a good player there, it needs to be done.
Other positions might enter the off-season upgrade list as well. Left field is one that jumps out at me, because I'm not sure if either White or Tyner is really a permanent answer there. The hope is that Jason Kubel will be ready to take over this position in '07, but after the disappointing and injury-hampered season he had in 2006, it is far from a guarantee.
Looking through a list of potential free agents during the 2006-07 off-season, here are some names that stood out to me as possible targets for Ryan and the Twins:
Ted Lilly, 30
Lilly would be a nice southpaw to complement Johan Santana in the Twins' rotation with Francisco Liriano likely out for '07. Lilly has pretty good stuff and has posted a good ERA in three of the past four years. His peripherals aren't dazzling, but I could see him having Kenny Rogers-type success in the Twins' rotation.
Vicente Padilla, 29
Padilla has been a pretty good pitcher over the course of his career. Last year he gave the Rangers 200 innings at a 4.50 ERA, which would be more than sufficient for the No. 3 or 4 spot in the Twins' rotation. I have heard rumors, however, that Padilla might be looking for as much as $8-$9 million in free agency, which is far more than the Twins should or will spend.
Adam Eaton, 29
Eaton had a down year in 2006 when he was in Texas, but who doesn't? He was a solid pitcher in San Diego, and he strikes me as the type of pitcher Rick Anderson could work with. If his asking price is a little less than what he made in Texas last year ($4.65 million), I think he'd be a nice addition to the Twins' rotation. I'd certainly prefer him to Carlos Silva at that price.
Jeff Suppan, 31
Suppan has been fairly average over the course of his career, with a 106-101 career record to go along with a 4.60 ERA, but he's always been an "innings-eater," which is apparently a very desirable trait in a free agent pitcher. Suppan falls into the same category as most of the other pitchers mentioned here; he'd be a fine fit as a middle-to-bottom of the rotation guy, but it would be unwise to overspend on him because he's really nothing special.
Jeff Weaver, 30
I'm not going to sugarcoat my feelings about Weaver. I'm not a fan, at all. I think he's been wildly overrated for much of his career, and I was flabbergasted when the Angels saw fit to sign him for $8 million last winter. Weaver is one of those innings-eater guys, but he's just not all that good. He hasn't posted an ERA under 4 since 2002, and he is generally fairly hittable and homer-prone. He is also represented by Scott Boras, which provides further motivation to steer clear.
Gil Meche, 28
Meche is an intriguing player to me. He posted a 3.78 ERA in 2000, but before the 2001 season he had to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a frayed rotator cuff, and he wasn't able to return to the mound until 2003. In the four seasons since his return, he hasn't been quite the same. There are some encouraging signs with Meche though. He pitched a career-high 186 2/3 innings last season and his 4.48 ERA was the best of his career outside of that 2000 campaign. If the price is right, Meche could be a sneaky good pick-up.
Tony Armas, Jr., 28
There aren't many great things to say about Armas, but he might be a decent candidate to fill a spot in the bottom of the rotation at a reasonable price. Armas has a 4.45 career ERA and he's never posted a winning record in a season (except in an injury-shortened 2003 when he went 2-1 with the Expos). Last year, he was 9-12 with a 5.03 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. He's not a great strikeout pitcher and he doesn't have great control. With that said, he's relatively young and he's managed to keep his ERA under 5 throughout his career up until last year.
Barry Zito is going to be the big name in terms of free agent pitchers this off-season, but behind him there are a number of solid middle-of-the-rotation types that might interest the Twins. Ryan has voiced a desire to bring in a veteran that he can plug into the third or fourth slot in the rotation, so I fully expect him to get into the bidding with one of the guys mentioned above, or possibly another pitcher I didn't mention (Mark Redman, Randy Wolf, Jason Marquis, Aaron Sele, etc.).
Mike Piazza, 38
Despite the fact that he had an excellent season, hitting .283/.342/.501 with 22 homers and 68 RBI, the Padres declined their 2007 option on Piazza, making him a free agent. Piazza has been a great hitter for his entire career, with a lifetime hitting line of .309/.379/.551. He might not have the power he had five years ago, but he proved with his 2006 campaign that he can still hit despite the fact that he's climbing into his late 30s. If he'd be willing to give up catching and settle into a full-time DH role, I believe he'd be a great fit for the Twins, presuming he'd be willing to sign for something around the $2 million he signed for last year with San Diego.
Frank Thomas, 38
The Twins might have missed the boat on Thomas when they decided against pursuing him on the cheap last year due to injury concerns. Thomas, of course, had a monster year for the Athletics and helped power them past the Twins in the first round of the playoffs, and you'd better believe he'll be asking for a little more than $500K this winter. Reports from Oakland are that Thomas and the A's are close a multi-year deal, but if that doesn't happen, he's a guy something the Twins should look into.
Nomar Garciaparra, 33
Garciaparra won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2006 by hitting .303/.367/.505 with 20 HR and 93 RBI, but because of the fact that he's still only 33 and a fairly valuable defensive player, it's not particularly likely that he'd accept a DH role. It's also likely that he'll demand a pretty penny in free agency because of those nice numbers.
The trend here seems to be players that the Twins could have pursued in the last off-season, but chose not to for various reasons. Now, they're all back and at higher price tags. I would not rate the likelihood of the Twins landing any of these players as particularly high, but any one of them would be a nice fit between those big left-handed bats in the Twins' lineup and acquiring a big name might help increase fan interest. Of course, if they wanted the biggest name, they could take a look at that guy from San Francisco who recently filed for FA...
Pedro Feliz, 31
Feliz, who has spent his entire seven-year major-league career with the Giants, has always been an overrated player in my mind. He's a mediocre fielder with 20 HR-type power who holds a meager .252 career batting average. Last season, he hit just .244 with a Batista-esque .281 on-base percentage, although he did manage to hit 22 homers and drive in a career-high 98 runs. Feliz made $4 million with the Giants last year, and I don't think he's worth that; if he's asking for a raise the Twins should promptly look elsewhere.
Rich Aurilia, 35
At 35, Aurilia would be a very temporary fix for the Twins. With that said, he might be the most attractive third base option among the free agent batch this year. It appeared that Aurilia's career was dying down when he hit .246/.314/.353 between the Mariners and Padres in 2004, leading some to believe that he was incapable of putting up numbers without being in same lineup as Barry Bonds. However, Aurilia has been resurgent in his two seasons in Cincinnati, and last year he hit .300/.349/.518 with 23 home runs and 70 RBI. His right-handedness would make him a good fit in the Twins' lineup, and he was playing for fairly cheap in Cincy, although I'm not sure what he'll demand in free agency.
Aubrey Huff, 29
I thought Huff would have been a decent trade candidate for the Twins last season, because he's got some nice power and he's a versatile fielder who can play first base, third base, and the corner outfield positions. However, to say he's a versatile fielder is not to say he's a particularly good fielder at any of those positions. Between Tampa Bay and Houston last year, he hit .267 with 21 home runs and 66 RBI. Not bad, but nothing spectacular. He'll turn 30 next month and he made almost $7 million last year, which means he's probably not financially feasible for the Twins. The fact that he bats left-handed adds to the unlikelihood that Ryan will give him a look.
Aaron Boone, 33
Boone had some success with the Reds early in his career, and was an All-Star back in 2003. Sadly, he has fallen off the map over the past couple of seasons, and has failed to post an OPS over .700 since '03. Boone is a solid defender with some occasional pop in his bat, but his .264/.325/.429 career line is mediocre and it's been in steady decline since he left Cincinnati. Not a likely candidate.
Tony Batista, 32
Come on, he deserves another shot... right?
When you take into account price and age, I don't see a definitive upgrade over Punto among these players. The only guy in the free agent market at third base who would look a lot better than Punto would be Aramis Ramirez, and I somehow doubt the Twins are looking to shell out the necessary $15 million in free agency. If Ryan wants to upgrade at third base, he may have to look to the trade market to do so.