MINNEAPOLIS -- The 2013-14 offseason figures to be one of the more important ones for the Twins in recent years.
The Twins have lost at least 96 games in each of the past three seasons, including a 66-96 campaign in '13, but have a strong farm system that sets them up for the future and payroll flexibility to improve the club in the short term. If done successfully, the Twins can add help to be more competitive next season and bridge the gap to their crop of top prospects in the process.
But Twins general manager Terry Ryan has never been shy about his feelings on free agency, as he believes teams should be built from within, with free-agent signings used to supplement the roster.
The Twins have roughly $60 million in payroll commitments next season, which is a sizeable drop off from their $82 million payroll in '13 and their $100 million payroll in '12. Twins owner Jim Pohlad has signed off on raising the payroll via free agency this offseason, but Ryan has maintained he won't spend money just to spend it.
"If the market's not there you aren't going to chase money just to say that you're involved in free agency," Ryan said. "But if there's people out there that have interest in us and we have interest in them, we should be pursuing them. There are some decent free agents that will become available, like there are every winter. But there's going to be 20 clubs that chase pitching, I think that's safe to assume, because everybody needs pitching. So we'll be one of the 20. But we have some things here that some people would like."
Starting pitching remains the club's biggest need, as Minnesota starters combined to post the worst ERA in the Majors (5.26). But it remains to be seen if the Twins are ready to commit the years and dollars it takes to bring a high quality starter or two to Minnesota.
The Twins signed both Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia to free-agent deals last offseason, but they were far from blockbuster deals, as Correia received two years and $10 million and Pelfrey received just one year and $4 million.
The Twins could decide to go bargain shopping for starting pitching again this offseason while they wait on top prospects such as Alex Meyer, Trevor May and Kyle Gibson to contribute to the big league rotation. But if they want to improve on their recent struggles, the Twins need to revamp a rotation that has been among the league's worst for the past three seasons.
It's a problem Twins manager Ron Gardenhire knows all too well, and he wants pitching help next season as a result.
"I don't think we have enough ready arms to step into this rotation," Gardenhire said near the end of the season. "We have lots of candidates. But are these guys ready to turn you around? I don't think so. They can fill some spots. But everyone is looking for pitching, and we're no different than any other organization."
Free agents: Pelfrey, RHP
Eligible for arbitration: Brian Duensing, LHP; Anthony Swarzak, RHP; Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Player options: None
Club options: Nick Blackburn, RHP, $5.5 million
Non-tender possibilities: Duensing
Areas of need
Starting rotation: The Twins have plenty of internal candidates to join the rotation in '13, but as Gardenhire pointed out, none are front-line starters. Correia is a lock to make the rotation, and the Twins are hoping for more from Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Gibson. Given their history with free agency, it doesn't appear likely the Twins will make a splash by signing a premium starting pitcher, as they're more likely to go after cheaper options such as Scott Kazmir, Phil Hughes or Scott Feldman. Pelfrey has expressed interest in returning to Minnesota on a new deal, but he posted a 5.19 ERA in '13.
First base: Minnesota traded long-time first baseman Justin Morneau to the Pirates on Aug. 31, and he's set to be a free agent this offseason. The Twins have in-house candidates such as Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello, but both struggled at the Major League level in '13. So they could decide to add help at first base via free agency, but likely on a cheap deal for a veteran. The Twins haven't ruled out bringing back Morneau on a new contract, but it appears one of Morneau's top priorities is to sign with a contending team.
Infield: Plouffe remains the club's starting third baseman heading into next season, but the Twins could opt to add a cheap veteran to push Plouffe, as he failed to put up the power numbers he showed in '12. It's not a high priority for the Twins, but they also could look to upgrade their bench behind second baseman Brian Dozier and shortstop Pedro Florimon as well.
Ryan hasn't indicated where the payroll will sit in 2014, as he calls the payroll situation fluid. Pohlad said he's fine with raising the payroll heading into next season, as they currently have about $20 million coming off the books. The Twins figure to make at least a few free-agent signings this offseason, but it remains to be seen when they'll raise the payroll level back above $100 million like it was in '11 and '12.