The World Series is over and the offseason is here! The Minnesota Twins, coming off a surprising 83-win season in 2015 under the direction of first year manager Paul Molitor, only have four free agents and not many holes to fill with a number of highly-ranked prospects just starting to reach the Majors.
While the organization is built for a strong future, this might be a winter that lacks big trades or bold signings as general manager Terry Ryan continues to develop a young core for successful future after losing 90 or more games from 2011 to 2014. Even if Minnesota doesn’t steal many headlines this winter, it’s still an offseason that will be full of key moves to ensure the Twins are in the playoff hunt once again.
Here’s an offseason wish list for Molitor’s crew.
A roster spot for Eduardo Nunez
Danny Santana, the Opening Day shortstop in 2015, got chance after chance last season and wound up producing an embarrassing .215/.241/.291 slash line across 91 games. The 24-year-old is currently out of options, and that might be an indicator that he will at the very least start the 2016 season on the 25-man roster — but this shouldn’t come at the expense of Eduardo Nunez.
Nunez has spent the majority of the last two seasons as a bench bat for the Twins and he’s done a very good job of it, especially last season when he slashed .282/.327/.421 in 72 games while playing four different positions in the field and even getting 13 starts as the designated hitter. The 28-year-old utility infielder is eligible for arbitration this winter and Minnesota would be very wise to make every effort in keeping him.
It’s hard to deny that Nunez carries more value than Santana. Over the past two seasons, he has been a consistent bat where Santana went from hitting .319 with 38 extra base hits as a rookie down to his .215 average with just 15 extra base hits in 2015.
But offense aside, there is a huge defensive advantage to having Nunez over Santana. In 66 games at shortstop last season, the 24-year-old posted a -15 defensive runs saved rating and the only other position he has played at the Major League level is centerfield, where he has also struggled. Nunez is by no means a wiz in the field, but he brings the ability to play second base, third base, shortstop and corner outfield; this makes him playable off the bench in all situations.
Manager Paul Molitor carried eight relief pitchers for most of last season, meaning his club would only have three bats available off the bench. With one of those spots designated for a backup catcher and another surely set for a fourth outfielder, if the Twins continue to run with eight relief pitcher then they’ll need a backup infielder with a versatile glove. That should be Nunez.
Left-handed bullpen help
There is surprisingly a lot to like in regards to the makeup of this Twins bullpen despite a rough 2015 season.
Assuming that three-time All-Star Glen Perkins — who was turned into a completely different pitcher after back and neck injuries slowed him down in August and September — can regain his health, he and Kevin Jepsen will make up a very strong eighth and ninth inning duo. Casey Fien and Blaine Boyer have both proven capable as middle relief options, Ryan Pressly is returning from a torn lat suffered in July, and even Trevor May will continue to be an option out of the bullpen.
But none of those pitchers (outside of Perkins who has an established closer role) are left-handed, meaning the team might look to add one or two lefties to the mix this winter. Brian Duensing and Neal Cotts held down the lefty specialist roles down the stretch of last season but both players are free agents which opens up the door for change.
The Twins were the only bullpen in baseball last season that didn’t strikeout at least seven batters per nine innings, and Duensing was a big reason for that, fanning just 4.4 batters per nine innings. His career average is just 5.9 over seven big league seasons, suggesting that he will never become a major strikeout threat. Minnesota should hope to replace Duensing, who has been with the organization since they drafted him in 2005, this offseason with a left-hander that can send batter down on strikes while trying to improve their bullpen as a whole.
Get rid of Ricky Nolasco
Nolasco was booed on Opening Day this year following a disastrous 2014 season with the Twins and his 2015 season wasn’t that much better either as the 32-year-old starter posted a 6.75 ERA and was limited to just eight starts with two trips to the disabled list.
Nobody should question his work ethic or desire to help his team win. Everyone assumed that Nolasco was out for the remainder of the season when he went down with an ankle injury in late May that required surgery. Nolasco did work hard to get himself ready to help the team in September. Although his return didn’t help the Twins pick up any extra wins, he should be commended for everything he did just to get back on the field and become an option.
But no matter how hard he works, Nolasco just isn’t working out in the Twin Cities, and might benefit from a fresh start somewhere else. He has won just 11 games over two years with the Twins and he is still owed $24 million over the next two seasons. Minnesota’s rotation already features Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson with Tommy Milone, Trevor May, Jose Berrios and Tyler Duffey as solid options for the final two spots in the rotation so all the effort in the world won’t really help Nolasco at this point as the team has so many better options.