Yesterday I wrote that the depleted Twins could stand to upgrade their roster across the board during the offseason. It's probably not realistic to expect impact players to be added at every position, though, so today we'll prioritize the team's needs. Where are external additions mandatory, as opposed to optional luxuries? Let's assess the roster from top to bottom, starting with the most urgent area of need, and you can draw the line:
It could be argued that the shortstop is the most important player on the diamond. He is the captain of your infield, and the recipient of a very high volume of fielding chances -- often carrying a considerable degree of difficulty. The Twins were extremely weak at shortstop this season, with a .238/.292/.320 hitting line that came attached to very poor defense. It is simply unacceptable to enter the 2012 campaign with Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe as the sole options there.
When healthy, Joe Mauer is obviously one of the league's elite catchers, but he wasn't healthy this year and as result the Twins got a .185 batting average from the position. Mauer's health is in flux and it's not at all clear he'll be able to crouch behind the plate for the majority of the team's games next season. To plan for that outcome, they absolutely must carry better backups than Drew Butera and Rene Rivera, who don't belong in the major leagues.
3. Relief Pitcher
The bullpen wasn't a crippling flaw in the team's 2011 roster composition only because the Twins so rarely had leads to protect. Make no mistake, this group was painfully bad. Minnesota relievers ranked dead last in the majors in ERA, opponents' batting average and K/BB ratio. Worse yet, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps are eligible for free agency, leaving Glen Perkins as the sole trustworthy holdover. The Twins might be able to cull a couple decent performers out of their collection of marginal relief arms, but they'll need to hit the trade market or free agency and add some reliable back-end relievers if they have eyes on contending in 2012.
4. Starting Pitcher
The Twins really need to supplement their rotation during the offseason, but the fact that this position ranks fourth tells you just how dire their needs are at the first three spots. The Twins do have some options on the existing roster, as they still control all the guys that they brought into this 2011 season when the rotation was largely considered a strength. The problem is that nearly every player at the position is afflicted by injury concerns, and the staff's pitch-to-contact tendencies don't play nearly as well with a sub par defense.
Rather than breaking down the outfield position-by-position, we'll just say that the Twins could use some help out there in general, since it's not clear at this point how things are going to shake out. Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are both eligible for free agency, and if neither returns we would be looking at a Ben Revere/Denard Span/Joe Benson (or possibly Trevor Plouffe?) starting alignment. While that would be a stout defensive group, they'd be dreadfully low on power and very questionable offensively overall. Only if the Twins are in full rebuilding mode could they responsibly move forward with such a plan.
6. First Base
Coaches have already openly talked about moving Justin Morneau to DH in order to preserve his health, a move that would leave some big shoes to fill at first. Chris Parmelee made a strong impression in September, but his pedestrian minor-league track record suggests that he would struggle if pressed into full-time duty. Outside of him, there just isn't anyone in the organization with enough bat to step in as the regular first baseman next year. Unless it's Mauer.
7. Second Base
Alexi Casilla figures to return next year and while his .252/.310/.337 career hitting line isn't particularly exciting, he did enough this year to justify another shot. He has always proven susceptible to prolonged slumps and has never reached the 100-game mark in a season, so adding some depth ought to be a focus unless the Twins feel comfortable with Luke Hughes or Brian Dinkelman as their principle insurance plans.
8. Designated Hitter
It's not clear whether Kubel will be back next year, but with the uncertainty surrounding Morneau and Mauer, it seems likely that at least one of them will put in significant time as the team's DH next year. If they're both able to stick in the field (a good problem to have), the Twins will be tasked with finding a no-glove guy who can hit a little bit, which seems like a relatively minor obstacle given the rest of their headaches.
9. Third Base
Ron Gardenhire might consider this a higher priority, since he wasn't too shy about voicing his frustration with Danny Valencia over the course of the summer. Still, the sophomore led the team in games played and his offensive drop-off was completely attributable to a BABIP plummet, as his peripherals remained largely intact. He's nothing special -- particularly when you account for his iffy glove -- but considering his price tag and health, Valencia should be safe.