He didn't enjoy being at the epicenter of baseball's trade market last winter, so Bill Smith understandably kept a much lower profile at this year's general manager meetings in Southern California.
But that doesn't mean the Twins' GM doesn't have some valuable commodities to deal.
A promising stable of starting pitchers helped propel the Twins within one victory of the playoffs in 2008, and that staff gives Smith an enviable advantage as teams begin to reshape their rosters for 2009. Practically alone among the major leagues' general managers, Smith is not searching for starting pitching.
The quartet of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins all provided either 11 or 12 victories last season, and each owned an ERA below 4.50. Francisco Liriano joined the group in August and went 6-1 the rest of the way. None is older than 27, none is even eligible for arbitration yet (making them cheap as well as effective), and all are projected to pitch even better next season.
The luxury of a settled rotation -- and the depth provided by another handful of pitchers who may be major league-ready -- gives Smith an opportunity to be aggressive in trading for upgrades to his team's offense or its bullpen. The Twins finished third in the American League in scoring but were last in home runs, while the relief corps wore down in late August and September.
Philip Humber (6-1 after the All-Star break in Class AAA last season), Kevin Mulvey (4-1 in Class AAA after the break) and Anthony Swarzak (5-0 after being called up to Class AAA in midseason) are all close to being ready to pitch in the major leagues. The Twins could use one of those three pitchers to swing a deal for more offense. Or they could deal a member of their current rotation and move one of those youngsters up to Minnesota.
That depth at such an important position gives the Twins the same opportunity they had last winter, when they made young right-hander Matt Garza the centerpiece of a deal with Tampa Bay that brought them outfielder Delmon Young.
NOTES, QUOTES:C Joe Mauer's two batting titles have made him a star at the plate, but the All-Star has now been honored for his brilliance behind the plate, too. Mauer was chosen by the American League's managers and coaches as the 2008 Gold Glove winner among catchers, the first time he has won the award. Mauer threw out 29 percent of baserunners last season, and he made three errors in a career-high 139 games behind the plate.SS Adam Everett took a few more days than his eligible teammates, but he filed for free agency, giving the Twins four free agents. Everett, who missed more than two months with a nagging shoulder injury, is not expected back next season. The longtime Astros shortstop signed a one-year, $2.8 million deal last winter but hit only .213 with two home runs in 48 games.LHP Dennys Reyes' 2.33 ERA in 46 2/3 innings last season has qualified him as a Type B free agent, meaning the Twins would be compensated if the relief specialist departs. A sandwich-round pick would be awarded to Minnesota if Reyes, who filed for free agency once his two-year, $2 million contract expired, signs with another team.
RHP Joe Nathan, who surpassed 36 saves for the fifth consecutive season in 2008, was ranked as the American League's top closer by Major League Baseball's internal player rankings. Nathan signed a four-year contract to stay with Minnesota last March.LHP Jose Mijares, who made himself a prime candidate for a bullpen spot next season by retiring 31 of the 34 batters he faced after being called up in September, has decided to play winter baseball in his native Venezuela. The 24-year-old missed most of the 2008 season after a car accident broke his pitching elbow, and he had considered sitting out the winter season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2
Twins catchers who have won a Gold Glove. Joe Mauer's 2008 award allows him to join Earl Battey, who was honored in 1961 and 1962, with that distinction.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's kind of a cool thing for me, that my career has been spent backing up Gold Glove catchers." -- Twins (and former Marlins) reserve Mike Redmond, who has played behind Charles Johnson, Ivan Rodriguez and Joe Mauer.
A year after doing a near-total overhaul of their roster, and obsessing for four months over a Johan Santana trade, the Twins enter the offseason with far less work to do on a team that nearly won the AL Central. The rotation, and perhaps as many as eight spots in the lineup, could carry over intact into 2009, making this winter perhaps one of the quietest in years.
The Twins enjoy playing small ball, but they could use some additional power in the 5-6-7 spots to give them a few more easy runs. Third base is the most obvious place to add a few home runs; five players tried the position, and Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher finished the season in a platoon at the spot, but Minnesota got a mere six homers at third. The bullpen needs to be beefed up as well, particularly since LHP Dennys Reyes figures to leave and RHP Pat Neshek's return from an elbow injury is uncertain.
FREE AGENTS: LHP Dennys Reyes, LHP Eddie Guardado, INF Nick Punto, SS Adam Everett.
Everett and Guardado will leave after playing only bit parts this season. Punto would like to stay, and he probably will, especially since he's the incumbent at shortstop. Reyes will seek a big raise from his $1 million salary, and after posting a 2.33 ERA, the Twins suspect they will be outbid.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Matt Guerrier, DH Jason Kubel.
Both players had up-and-down seasons and figure to reach agreements fairly easily. The Twins will consider a long-term deal for Kubel, who hit a career-high 20 home runs.
IN LIMBO: RHP Boof Bonser, RHP Philip Humber, LF Delmon Young, RF Michael Cuddyer.
Bonser lost his spot in the rotation and doesn't enjoy the bullpen, and Humber is out of options with no openings available for starting pitchers. The Twins will likely determine their futures before training camp. Young and Cuddyer probably will stay, but Minnesota has a logjam of four outfielders and could use one of them as bait to add a third baseman or relief help.
RHP Pat Neshek planned to throw off a pitcher's mound sometime in late October for the first time since he injured an elbow ligament May 8. His torn elbow ligament appears to be healing, and the Twins are optimistic he will be ready next spring. But if there's a setback, Neshek could opt for surgery that would force him to miss the entire 2009 season.