Twins have no secrets entering Winter Meetings
After bringing Hunter back, club pursuing starting pitcher
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins made their first splash of the offseason when they officially signed Torii Hunter on Tuesday and they will continue to look for ways to upgrade the roster at next week's Winter Meetings in San Diego.
The Twins were in need of a right-handed-hitting outfielder and filled it by bringing back Hunter on a one-year, $10.5 million deal. Hunter, who played the first 11 seasons of his 18-year career with Minnesota, will also bring clubhouse leadership to one of the youngest teams in the Majors.
But improving the rotation is the club's main goal now after Twins starters combined to finish with the worst ERA in the Majors for a second year in a row en route to a 92-loss season.
So Twins general manager Terry Ryan and his staff will be setting up meetings with several agents in hopes of landing a starting pitcher, and they'll also keep their ears open regarding any potential trades. There's no secret what Ryan's top priority will be at the Winter Meetings.
"Pitching is, and I don't think there's any question," Ryan said. "We've had our struggles on the mound, so we'll continue to look at pitching first. Whenever you have a chance to get pitching, you certainly look at it or pursue it."
Below is a look at Minnesota's checklist for the Winter Meetings, which will be held Monday through Thursday.
Starting pitching: Ryan and his staff have started the process of reaching out to the agents of free-agent starting pitchers and will continue to meet with agents in San Diego. The Twins are likely to have interest in second-tier starters such as Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy, Jason Hammel, Edinson Volquez and Brett Anderson. Minnesota could add one or two starters this offseason after signing right-handers Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Mike Pelfrey last offseason.
Bullpen: After outrighting Anthony Swarzak and declining Jared Burton's club option, the Twins have two open spots in their bullpen for next season. Minnesota isn't expected to spend big on a reliever but could look to add an arm to the bullpen. The bullpen wasn't a major issue last year after Twins relievers combined to post a 3.73 ERA, but it still could be improved.
Center fielder: This is low on the list of priorities for the Twins, but they could look to add a capable center fielder to start in between Hunter in right field and Oswaldo Arcia in left field. Danny Santana is likely to move back to shortstop next year, which leaves Jordan Schafer and Aaron Hicks as the only two center fielders on their roster. The Twins could platoon Schafer and Hicks in center until top prospect Byron Buxton is ready to take over, or they could look for a short-term upgrade via trade or free agency.
Who they can or need to trade:
Trevor Plouffe: Plouffe is one of the club's top trade chips after hitting 40 doubles last year and improving his defense at third base. But that doesn't mean he's likely to be traded, as he remains the club's top option at third base entering the season. Top prospect Miguel Sano is on his way, but even if he eventually takes over at third, Plouffe could move to another position such as outfield, given his versatility.
Josmil Pinto: Pinto has a Major League-caliber bat, but he has been working to improve his defense behind the plate, which kept him at Triple-A Rochester most of last season. With Kurt Suzuki signed to be the club's regular catcher for at least the next two seasons with an option for 2017, Pinto will be relegated to a backup catcher role. So while it's also not considered likely, the Twins could decide to move on from Pinto and deal him to a club looking for offense.
The Twins' top 10 prospects, per MLB.com, are outfielder Byron Buxton, third baseman Miguel Sano, right-hander Kohl Stewart, right-hander Alex Meyer, right-hander Jose Berrios, shortstop Nick Gordon, second baseman Jorge Polanco, right-hander Trevor May, left-hander Lewis Thorpe and outfielder Eddie Rosario.
Buxton, Sano and Meyer are considered untouchable, and the same could be said about Stewart, Berrios and Gordon. The Twins have been hesitant to trade their top prospects in recent years given that they're building for the future and are again unlikely to trade any of their big prospects this offseason.
Rule 5 Draft:
The Twins are generally active in the Rule 5 Draft, as it's how they acquired players such as Johan Santana, Shane Mack and Scott Diamond. But last year, they didn't select anyone and this year, their 40-man roster is currently full. Minnesota will have to create a roster spot to make a selection in this year's Rule 5 Draft, which will be held on Thursday.
Big contracts they might unload:
The Twins essentially have only two major contracts, as first baseman Joe Mauer is owed $92 million through 2018, and right-hander Ricky Nolasco is due $36 million through '17, with a $13 million club option for '18 that includes a $1 million buyout. With a full no-trade clause, Mauer isn't going anywhere, while Nolasco could be moved if they find the right match. Nolasco struggled last year with a 5.38 ERA in 159 innings in the first year of his contract, so he doesn't have much value. The Twins appear more inclined to keep Nolasco and see if he can bounce back given their need for starting pitching, as they'd likely have to eat money in any deal involving Nolasco.
After signing Hunter for $10.5 million and tendering contracts to six of their arbitration-eligible players, the Twins don't have a ton of payroll flexibility. But Ryan has indicated that he's not worried about the payroll and that he expects it to be similar to last year, when they had an $85 million Opening Day payroll and still had the ability to add Kendrys Morales as a free agent during the season.