Will surplus of free-agent outfielders hurt Twins’ offseason options?
It seems all but certain the Minnesota Twins will be looking to trade for pitching this offseason. It’s no secret their starting staff was one of the (if not the absolute) worst units in baseball this season, finishing next-to-last in MLB in FIP and ERA and dead last in strikeouts. Simply put, a team with a rotation like that has absolutely no shot at success over a full season.
Luckily, the Twins do happen to have a surplus in one area: the outfield. They have two very good defensive center fielders in Denard Span and Ben Revere, as well as another, Aaron Hicks, who should be ready some time in the coming season. They’re slightly less stocked at the corners, with only Josh Willingham as a proven option, though the team seems to believe in Chris Parmelee. And unless general manager Terry Ryan can move Justin Morneau, it appears likely that Parmelee will get every chance to succeed in right field. Oswaldo Arcia, who might be more ready for MLB than Hicks, is waiting in the minors. Joe Benson may be too far gone at this point, but he’s still worth a mention as a possible candidate to rebound. He’d be a capable defensive center fielder and could be excellent in a corner.
The Twins will likely explore moving each of these guys at one point or another. Willingham is coming off a career year that made his three year $21 million dollar deal look like a real bargain. Span mostly returned to form after struggling with injuries in 2010 and 2011 and is signed for just $10 million over the next two seasons. Revere, a one-time top prospect, went a long way toward erasing doubts that he can be a major league regular this season. With only one year of service time, he’ll make the league minimum for two more seasons. Parmelee, though he’s a better defensive fit at first base, is also very cheap and coming off a year in which he murdered triple-A pitching (.338/.457/.645) despite struggling in the majors. There should be suitors for all of these players, especially the first three, on the trade market this winter.
The problem is, the free-agent market is loaded with outfielders this offseason. At ESPN, Keith Law ranked (Insider only) his top 50 free agents, stuffing seven outfielders in his top 20. His first four position players listed (all in the top 10) were outfielders and none of this includes some established names like Shane Victorino, Ryan Ludwick and, ugh, Delmon Young, who is coming off another strong postseason. Additionally, trade rumors persist around young stud Justin Upton, as well as Cleveland cornerstone Shin-Soo Choo and oft-injured Red Sox star Jacoby Ellsbury. What I’m saying is, it’s a really good offseason to be looking for an outfielder. Guys like Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton are going to command lucrative and lengthy contracts, but thrift-store shoppers like the Rays should have a number of options to fill the hole Upton will leave, too.
The market this offseason is significantly more saturated than it was at the deadline, and there is less pressure for contending teams to improve immediately, meaning trade prices will likely be lower. However, all 30 teams theoretically should be looking to improve this offseason, meaning there should be more potential buyers as well. In fact, that so many strong outfielders are on the free agent market indicates there should be a number of teams with holes to fill. The Twins unique situation may help them here as they have both center fielders and corner outfielders, defensive and offensive specialists, young and veteran players all available and all under team control for prices that are reasonable or better.
Two teams jump out as potential buyers, as they’re losing outfielders to free agency and don’t have the requisite funds to make much of a splash on the free agent market. Coincidentally, both teams, Tampa and Atlanta, are loaded with pitching, meaning they’re likely a fit for the Twins as well. The Mariners, too, seem to be looking for outfielders and appear to have surplus pitching, though their pitching strength lies more in the minors with guys like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer than in the majors.
It’s awfully tough to predict the offseason, and obviously I don’t have any idea what sort of offers the Twins received at the deadline. I do, however, have significant doubts the Twins will receive a better offer this offseason than they got, or could have gotten, at the trade deadline. There’s just too many options for prospective buyers.