It's been a while since I've talked some Twins, so let's get to it.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com recently compiled a list of his Top 50 2009 Free Agents, along with where he projects each of them to end up. The three Twins-related names:
18. Casey Blake - Twins. If the Twins don't like the asking prices for Garrett Atkins and Adrian Beltre, Blake may be the best third baseman on the free agent market.
21. Orlando Cabrera - Twins. Completing the Twins' new-look infield. Blake and Cabrera should be capable of league-average production.
42. Nick Punto - Rays. Cork Gaines suggested this idea to me. Seems feasible, unless Punto craves a starting job.
Those first two make sense. In fact, I wrote about them both a month ago. I suggested Blake as a logical short-term solution at third base, and while I oppose the notion of signing Cabrera, it certainly seems like a move the Twins could make.
The third signing suggested above, though, makes little sense to me. While Punto might not necessarily be someone who "craves a starting job" (although I suspect he does and I also suspect he could land one somewhere), he almost certainly craves playing time, like any other player. There wouldn't seem to be much available in Tampa Bay's infield, where Akinori Iwamura, Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria already have spots locked down. If Punto wants a shot at significant playing time or perhaps a starting job, he's much better off sticking with the Twins, who really don't have an established starter locked in at second, short or third presently. Furthermore, I doubt the Rays would offer significantly more money in a contract than the Twins could. I don't find it totally unlikely that Punto will end up somewhere else next season, but I highly doubt it will be with the defending AL champs.
Elsewhere, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus last week scribed an article listing "five radical moves that would give the offseason some sizzle." The first move suggested?
1. Minnesota trades Francisco Liriano to Texas for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Hank Blalock and Omar Poveda.
The Twins weathered the loss of Johan Santana by replenishing the rotation from their deep farm system, and more live arms (Anthony Swarzak, Tyler Robertson, Jose Mijares, Yohan Pino) are on the way. Now, they can deal the lefthanded Liriano, 25, while his value is high to improve their anemic offense, especially on the left side of the infield. Andrus, 20, is a long-term solution at shortstop; Saltalamacchia, 23, a catcher who can DH; and Blalock, 27, an inexpensive short-term play at third. The Rangers, in turn, add the young ace (under team control through '11) that they've lacked since, well, forever, as they wait for Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz to develop.
This move, quite simply, makes no sense. First of all, the Twins are hardly in a position that they can afford to part with Liriano, who is arguably the only ace-caliber pitcher in the entire organization. If they were to trade him, it would have to be for an extremely significant package that provides legitimate, immediate help in other areas. I don't see how this one does that. Saltalamacchia, while a nice young hitter, derives much of his value from the fact that he plays catcher, a position where offensive stars are spread thin. I'm sure most of you are aware that the Twins already have a pretty decent young catcher. In fact, their three best hitters are their catcher, their first baseman, and their DH, which are the only three positions Saltalamacchia has played in his big-league career. So, really, Salty wouldn't fill any need.
Andrus -- a top-notch SS prospect who put up solid numbers as a 19-year-old in Double-A this year -- is a more intriguing player, especially since he plays a position that is one of this organization's biggest weaknesses, but he's not terribly close to the majors and hasn't done much to prove that he'll be more than an average bat. Not worth losing Liriano for.
Blalock, one the surface, seems like a reasonable solution to the Twins' third-base dilemma. He's a big-name slugger who will be relatively cheap next year and could serve as a short-term replacement. However, a closer look reveals that the left-handed hitter is, historically, close to useless against southpaws and much less productive away from his hitter-friendly home park. That's not the type of player the Twins should be targeting.
Finally, check out Twins Fix for Andrew Kneeland's interview with 2008 first-round pick Carlos Gutierrez and cmathewson's Top 40 Twins prospects list over at Twinkie Town. Oh, and if you're interested in some in-depth, original fantasy baseball analysis with projections for the '09 season, consider purchasing a copy of John Burnson's Graphical Player 2009. The analysis of Twins players in the book was produced by yours truly.