In Twinsland, this offseason has been marked by a couple of trades that have been embraced by the community and a couple of free agent acquisitions that have been viciously attacked by a large portion of the fan base.
Most of us love what Terry Ryan did with the Twins' only marketable surplus, center fielders. Moving Denard Span for Alex Meyer and then flipping Ben Revere for Vance Worley and Trevor May were classic Ryan moves, taking advantage of competitive teams' desire to win now in exchange for a youth movement.
On the flip side of that coin, we've seen some questionable handling of the free agent market by the Twins front office. After losing out on the Baker sweepstakes early in the offseason, it appears that the front office reacted rashly and offered up two years to Kevin Correia, whose stat line last season is frighteningly close to that of a certain Jason Marquis in 2011 (88 ERA+ for Marquis for the Padres, 87 ERA+ for Correia for the Pirates). Before I flog that already bloodied horse for the thousandth time on this site, let's take a look at another part of the Twins roster that was completely ignored:
The middle infield.
Last season, Brian Dozier posted some rather abysmal numbers for the team (.234/.271/.332) before being sent back down to the minors to regain his stroke (and fielding, and patience, and probably a bit of his sanity). He was replaced by Pedro Florimon, who hasn't authoritatively hit a baseball since playing as a teenager in the Dominican Republic. They are coupled with Jamey Carroll, veteran steward of middle infields across MLB for the past decade. While I like Carroll as a player and think he brings a very steady hand to an organization that - dons Hat of Positivity - has scuffled with their middle infield options since the departure of JJ Hardy and Jason Bartlett, it cannot be ignored that Carroll is entering his age 39 season as a middle infielder, an area of baseball where very few players make it out of their mid 30s as productive players.
All in all, Carroll would be a great player to have on a competitive team. He's steady, gets on base at a rather good clip, and is a nearly perfect player to come off the bench and spell the starters up the middle of the diamond. Which brings me to a few issues:
1. The Twins aren't competitive, particularly in the middle infield. That means Carroll, like Nick Punto before him, is not being used in his natural role as a bench player with versatility.
2. If Jamey Carroll receives 401 plate appearances in 2013, the Twins are on the hook for a $2 million player option in 2014. Given the Twins, uh, lack of expected production in the middle infield spots in 2013, those 401 plate appearances are nearly guaranteed, barring an injury to Jamey.
3. The Twins have payroll flexibility. A lot
of flexibility, as their adjusted 2013 payroll is on par with their payroll in the final years of the Metrodome.
Most everyone agrees that the free agent market for the middle infield was lacking in quality players but that doesn't mean the cupboard was entirely bare and the Twins need middle infield help nearly as much as they need starting pitching. Despite that fact, the Twins failed to pursue any of the free agents available to them. Which, in turn, means that the Twins are likely to be forced to pay a 40-year-old Jamey Carroll $2 million in 2014. Add in the second year of the Correia contract at $5.5 million and you're looking at $7.5 million committed to large question marks in 2014. That's nearly 10% of the 2013 payroll as it stands now. Add in the rather inexplicable contract to Drew Butera, a historically bad hitter, and that number jumps over 10% of payroll.
Is this guaranteed to be a failure by the Twins? No, most certainly not. Carroll is a quality player (right now, anyway) and there's a chance Correia will earn his money.
But that's not the point, is it? The point is that a mid-market team such as the Twins has to be using their resources as intelligently as possible to fill in the gaps left by their minor league system at an above-average rate. By nearly anyone's standard, using 10% of their payroll to field a below average National League pitcher and a 40-year-old middle infielder is not the smartest use of available resources.
By doing nothing to shore up the middle infield, Ryan is essentially writing off $2 million in 2014 that could have gone to a younger player that could help the middle infield enormously and wouldn't be such a risk to decline overnight as they pass the start of their fourth decade on planet earth. A 29-year-old Ronny Cedeno just signed with the Cardinals for $1.15 million after posting a .259/.332/.410 shortened season with the Mets in 2012. Kelly Johnson, 31 years old, was just snapped up by the Rays after posting a .225/.313/.365 line for the Blue Jays and is just two years removed from a .284/.370/.496 line with the Diamondbacks.
None of these options are great ones; far from it. But given the wide-open nature of the Twins middle infield going into 2013, their obvious ability to spend some of that money, and the looming player option for Carroll, wouldn't it have been prudent to add another player to the mix in hopes that another body gives you a better chance to field a competitive team while also relieving you of being forced into a player option for 2014 that you may want to avoid?
It's only $2 million. I realize that, yes. On the other hand, it's $2 million that isn't being used in the best way possible by the front office.
And, unfortunately for Twins fans, that seems to be a recurring theme through this offseason.