The Twins position players were the hardest hit by injuries in the 2011 season so the first step toward next season is getting everyone healthy and game ready for 2012.
C/1B/DH: Justin Morneau had relapses with his concussion symptoms and also battled back problems among other ailments last season. It is unclear if he will be able to return at 1B or play primarily as the team’s DH. Joe Mauer will need to improve his offseason conditioning to strengthen his legs and the rest of his body to return behind the plate full time. I expect the Twins to have Morneau and possibly Chris Parmelee share time between first base and DH with Mauer also playing both positions when he is not catching. The Twins had Rene Rivera and Drew Butera as their backup catchers and starting catchers with Mauer out most of last season. Both catchers had batting averages around .200 or below in extended playing time. I expect the Twins to look over the free agent market and possible sign a veteran catcher as insurance to backup Mauer and be a solid starter if Mauer battles injuries or is unable to catch full time.
Possible Free Agent Options: Catcher: Rod Barajas, Chris Snyder, Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Doumit, Ramon Castro, Jose Molina, Jason Varitek, etc.
3B/2B/SS: At third base Danny Valencia had a sub par year defensively and offensively but had stretches where he was a solid producer offensively and also showed off more of his power. I expect them to stick with him at third base and make sure he works on his defensive fundamentals in the offseason. The middle infield was the biggest problem for the Twins last season as they could not find productivity at either position or keep the players healthy. They also had issues defensively at second and short. At second base and shortstop the team started the year off with newly acquired Tsuyoshi Nishioks at 2B and Casilla at SS. Nishioka missed the first couple months with a broken leg and the rest of the season he was unable to produce offensively or defensively. In hindsight it looks like the Nishi experiment was a failure but since they are stuck with his contract I expect them to use him as a utility infielder to start the season and try to get him more comfortable and find some upside with him. Alexi Casilla, Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert are also other internal options at second and short but I expect the team to look to the free agent market for one or both of the middle infield starters. Clint Barmes seems to be the name brought up for either infield position due to his solid defense and he has shown he can be and everyday player.
Possible Free Agent Options: Shortstop: Rafael Furcal, Yuniesky Betancourt, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Alex Gonzalez, etc. Second Base: Kelly Johnson, Clint Barmes, Mark Ellis, Aaron Hill, Jamey Carroll, Nick Punto, etc.
Outfield: Denard Span, Ben Revere, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer were mainstays in the outfield for the Twins in 2011 but Kubel and Cuddyer are now free agents and it is unclear if they will re-sign with the team. Revere had a stellar first year with the Twins filling in for Span in center field. Span spent a good portion of the year battling a concussion but was able to return at the end of the season. Span was also in trade discussions that the Twins had with the Nationals regarding closer Drew Storen. Looking toward next season I expect the Twins to keep Span in center and move Revere to a corner outfield spot. The Twins will probably try to re-sign one or both Kubel and Cuddyer but I see Cuddyer as the most likely to return. His versatility to play many other positions is also a big reason why the Twins will make a push to re-sign him. Trevor Plouffe, Rene Tosoni, Jason Repko and Joe Benson are possible internal options in the outfield or as utility players.
Possible Free Agent Options: Outfield: Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Ludwick, Coco Crisp, Grady Sizemore, David DeJesus, Rick Ankiel, Nate McLouth, etc.
Under Contract in 2012:
Joe Mauer: $23M (Signed through 2018)
Justin Morneau: $14M (Signed through 2013)
Denard Span: $3M (Signed through 2014)
Tsuyoshi Nishioka: $3M (Signed through 2013)
Arbitration Eligible (with Projected Salary):
Matt Tolbert: $700K (non-tender candidate)
Alexi Casilla: $1.5M (non-tender candidate)
Jason Repko: $800K (non-tender candidate)
Joe Benson OF
Rene Tosoni OF
Chris Parmelee 1B
Ben Revere OF
Trevor Plouffe IF/OF
Rene Rivera C
Drew Butera C
Luke Hughes 1B/3B
Twins Free Agents:
Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel