2013 was the very definition of "playing out the string" for the Minnesota Twins. The club managed to get out of the AL Central basement, but still lost 96 games, their third-straight season with at least 96 losses. They had just one month of this year at .500, and had a negative run differential every month of the season. It was a disastrous season across the board, but the team has payroll to play with this winter due in large part to Justin Morneau's contract coming off the books.
The only Twin who seems to be locked into a roster spot in 2014 is Joe Mauer – and that's largely because of his contract and status as a Minnesota icon. Everything is is up for grabs, but we can make some assumptions. For instance, I doubt the Twins will look at players up the middle thanks to the presence of Mauer, Josmil Pinto, Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier, and Aaron Hicks, who really wasn't that bad in the majors past April. If you want to look at an area for the Twins to focus on this offseason, it's their rotation. Minnesota's rotation had a 5.26 ERA in 2013, nearly half a run worse than the Blue Jays at 4.81. Their bullpen was fine, their offense was below average but not a train wreck, but that rotation definitely needs an overhaul going into 2014.
Last year, the Twins bought low to fix their rotation, and it didn't work out too well. Vance Worley, acquired from the Phillies in the Ben Revere trade, had a 7.21 ERA in ten major league starts before getting demoted and eventually shut down with a shoulder problem. Kevin Correia did what you expect Kevin Correia to do, but he was paid too much. Mike Pelfrey pitched well coming back from Tommy John surgery, but that fine season will likely price him out of Minnesota's range for 2014. So, what should the Twins look for? Correia and Samuel Deduno are apparently the only locks for the Twins rotation. The team has interest in Korean free agent Suk-Min Yoon, and I'd expect them to look at low upside guys like Shaun Marcum and Jon Garland. I also wouldn't be shocked in the slightest to see the team have interest in John Lannan, who is the quintessential low strikeout/pitch to contact guy that the Twins love.
This is where things get interesting for the Twins. After getting rid of Morneau in August, they really have no albatross contracts aside from Mauer's, but that's irrelevant since he's the franchise's crown jewel. So if the Twins are active in the trade market, they're not going to be dumping salaries for no return. Two players on their roster could attract interest this winter: Josh Willingham and Glen Perkins. Perkins has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last three seasons, and is signed through the next two years for $3.75 million a year. The Twins also have a $4.5 million club option on Perkins for 2016, meaning that his contract can max out at $12 million over three years, an absolute steal for a guy who has provided 4.5 fWAR in value over the last three years. With a middling market of relievers this offseason, Terry Ryan could get some nice value for his relief ace.
As for Willingham, he was terrible in 2013, hitting .208/.342/.368 with just 14 homers after smashing 35 bombs a year ago. A lot of those struggles could likely be tied to Willingham's knee, which kept him out for 35 games in the summer. He'll be 35 in February, but his $7 million salary is affordable, especially if his production manages to return to its pre-2013 level. There could be interest from teams in him as a rental when guys like Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson, and Shin-Soo Choo are getting eight figure salaries over multiple years.
They're not going to be picky, but young pitching will likely come back in any trade the Twins make. In their two big trades last winter, the Ben Revere and Denard Span swaps with the Phillies and Nationals respectively, the Twins received three young pitchers in return. We already discussed how bad Worley was, but Trevor May and Alex Meyer both had successful seasons (to varying degrees) in 2013, and could be a part of the major league roster in 2014.
The Twins also have a reasonably strong farm system that they could use to acquire talent, but since they're not just one piece away from contending, I doubt they'd trade some of their young players for veterans, but Ryan is reportedly open to making a trade in the vein of last season's Royals-Rays James Shields for Wil Myers swap if it makes sense for the club. However, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano wouldn't be on the table in those talks – a wise move that would likely take Minnesota out of contention for a pitcher like David Price. If a starting pitcher under team control for more than one season becomes available, Ryan certainly has the goods to make a move as long as it makes sense for 2014 and beyond for the Twins.