Apologies for the lack of updates here over the past two weeks. I decided to take a bit of a holiday respite, and fortunately the Twins made that easy by doing absolutely nothing. To get back into the groove, I'll touch on a few different subjects here in the first entry of 2011:
* Both Carl Pavano and the Twins are running out of options, so a return to Minnesota for the veteran right-hander is beginning to seem all but inevitable.
Since my last writing, Zack Greinke has been traded to the Brewers and Brandon Webb has signed with the Rangers. That's two potential destinations for Pavano effectively off the table, and also two potential rotation additions for the Twins erased. It's hard to believe that the team would enter the 2011 season with only five viable starting options -- none of them older than 29 -- so one would think a veteran acquisition has to be on the way. The Twins' patient approach has seen many potential options land elsewhere, so who else would they go with?
It's not hard to see why the front office would see fit to invest in Pavano. He was an ideal fit last year, personifying everything this organization loves in a veteran starter. He threw strikes, ate innings and greatly lessened the bullpen's burden.
But I'm wary of an expensive multi-year deal for Pavano. He turns 35 this week, and the fact that he's been healthy and durable over the past two seasons does not by any means ensure that he'll repeat it next year; especially not the year after. Let's not forget that two years ago Pavano was considered one of the most fragile pitchers in the league.
Even if he stays healthy Pavano could just as easily post the 5.10 ERA from 2009 as the 3.75 from 2010; the rest of his numbers weren't all that terribly different. I guess I just see a big contract for Pavano right now as buying high, especially when you consider that the Twins would be losing the high draft pick that would come to them should Pavano sign elsewhere.
A return to Minnesota for the mustachioed righty is starting to look highly probable, but I question the wisdom of investing so much in the hope that an aging player will be able to repeat a surprisingly excellent season. Which brings me to my next talking point...
* Jim Thome's name hasn't been bandied about much this offseason. After amazingly piecing together one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame carer at the age of 39, the slugger expressed interest at season's end in returning to the Twins. Given the uncertainty surrounding Justin Morneau and the tremendous popularity of Thome, the team would undoubtedly like to bring him back. It's just not clear how feasible that will be, as beat writer La Velle E. Neal III speculated this weekend that Thome's camp could be thinking "that it's time make up for what he didn't earn last season while he swats career homer No. 600 in a Twins uniform."
Thome is the definition of a luxury. He's a great hitter, even in the likely event that he regresses some from last season, and was perhaps the best value in baseball with his meager contract. Yet, a substantial pay raise (Neal noted in the aforementioned article that Thome's camp "raised its eyebrows" when Lance Berkman signed a one-year, $8 million deal with St. Louis) ups the ante. How much can Bill Smith really justify paying a 40-year-old part-time player who can't field a position and could succumb to his problematic back at any time?
* One intriguing alternative option for the Twins came off the table over the weekend, as Derrek Lee signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles. While 2010 was a down season by the first baseman's standards, he still hit 19 home runs and posted a higher OPS than Michael Cuddyer. Over the ten years prior, Lee had posted an OPS of .820 or above in all of them and hit 20-plus homers in all but one. On top of all that, he is a right-handed hitter with great career numbers against lefties, and he's considered an outstanding fielder.
Seemingly, Lee would have been an ideal fit in Minnesota. As both an insurance policy at first base and a platoon partner for Jason Kubel at DH, you couldn't do much better. Now, Lee has signed with another team (the Orioles, no less, who seem intent on making my offseason as miserable as possible).
Perhaps he wasn't a feasible target. Maybe he refused to sign somewhere he wasn't guaranteed a starting job, and maybe the Twins don't have $8 million available in the budget. All I know is that operating under the assumption that Morneau is certain to return and play a full season would be foolhardy, and the Twins had better find a contingency plan that doesn't involve subjecting fans to a full year of Cuddyer as a regular starting first baseman and Kubel as a regular starting outfielder.
Thome doesn't do that.