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The rotation is plagued by ongoing injury concerns. Joe Mauer's ability to remain at catcher is in question -- same with Justin Morneau and first base. The outfield is in a serious state of flux, with Denard Span battling concussion symptoms while Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel prepare to test free agency.
It'd be nice to add players at all these positions during the offseason, so as to build a foundation of depth that might prevent a similar disaster next season. There's one spot, however, where upgrading ought to be a mandate rather than a luxury. That position is shortstop.
Even if all the players mentioned above heal splendidly during the winter months -- which frankly would border on miraculous -- the Twins still won't have a player in the organization that they can feel comfortable about starting at one of the most important positions on the field. The Tsuyoshi Nishioka experiment is looking at this point like a complete bust, and while I believe Trevor Plouffe will figure things out eventually he's done himself no favors during this erratic late-season audition.
Without a doubt, the Twins are going to need to acquire someone to at least compete with Plouffe and Nishioka for a starting job next spring. Unfortunately, shortstop is always one of the toughest positions to address in free agency and that's certainly true this year. I sorted through the options in my research for the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, and suffice to say that the crop drops off very sharply after Jose Reyes.
One could certainly make a case that the Twins, who will have some money available this offseason and could use an exciting shape-up, would be wise to make a run at Reyes. He's a premier player at his position and he's wrapping up an excellent campaign.
Unfortunately, there are two things about him that should be viewed by Twins fans as red flags. One is his injury history; he's missed 191 games over the last three years. The other is his lack of outstanding power. It's extremely tough to find shortstops with good pop, but the problem is that a Reyes contract would consume money that the Twins -- who have hit the third-fewest home runs in baseball this year -- might have otherwise used on re-signing Cuddyer or Kubel, or on acquiring another power bat.
The Twins are probably best served by looking to the trade market and trying to find a buy-low candidate, like the Orioles did last year with J.J. Hardy. Free agency offers more in terms of solid depth than legitimate starters. If depth is the goal, though, the Twins might consider turning their gaze to a familiar face.
Nick Punto has been limited to 59 games for the Cardinals this year because of injuries, but when he's played he's been productive, batting .258/.373/.379 with an excellent 20-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio while bringing plenty of value with the glove as usual. His suspect health is obviously a sticking point, but if he comes as cheap as he did for St. Louis last winter ($750K), what's the harm in bringing him aboard? You don't sign him and designate him as your starting shortstop, but he's very handy to have around and for all grumbling about him from Twins fans over the years, there's no question that the team missed him this season.
It may be that Punto is only an incremental upgrade over the likes of Matt Tolbert, but perhaps incremental upgrades are what the front office should be focusing on. Fans yearn for that Reyes-like offseason home run, but what this season revealed is that the club's second tier of players is in a state of disrepair. What happens with the top-level guys like Mauer, Morneau and Span will happen, but either way the rest of the roster needs to get better, with stronger depth across the board.
Adding a player like Punto would help accomplish that. As far as finding a starter at shortstop, it doesn't look like free agency is the answer.