Looking at the winter, what trades should the Twins investigate in order to improve the team? I think there are four potential moves they could make if they can find the right player:
1) Third base. While many people seem to think this is a prime spot for an offensive improvement, an above average defender at third would be a big boost to the Twins defense. While both Buscher and Harris are defensive liabilities, their bats are acceptable in the 7th spot in the batting order which is where whoever plays third is likely to end up.
2) A veteran ace starter. The Twins rotation lacks an established ace that can provide leadership to the pitching staff. Its unlikely the Twins can get one at an acceptable price, but adding a pitcher at the top of the rotation would add the depth their starting pitching lacks. Especially if they are able to get one without giving up one of their young starters. That is unlikely. But the Twins ought to see what opportunities there are to add to the top of the rotation.
3) Shortstop. If they sign Nick Punto, that may be enough. But there are real doubts about Punto's ability to hold up for an entire year. And Punto's offense, while acceptable in a number 8 hitter, is not great. Can the Twins find someone a little more durable who can improve the offense without sacrificing defense? Again it is unlikely. But they ought to explore options here.
4) Bullpen help. The Twins actually have a lot of depth in their bullpen. The question is whether they have someone who can get them through the 8th inning to Nathan. Looking for options to strengthen the bullpen just makes sense given its difficulties last year. But everyone is looking for pitching and the Twins already have a lot of depth here. They are not going to be helped by adding guys for the end of the bench.
If you look at those four "needs", none of them are really critical with the exception of shortstop. If they don't sign Punto, Harris is not really an acceptable alternative. And Tolbert probably isn't an everyday shortstop either.
So what do the Twins have to trade? There is a long list of "untouchables" that various blogs have come up with. But lets start at the other end - who are the players the Twins have available to trade. Because you can't get something for nothing.
Starting with the minor leagues - I think basically everyone who spent most of their time in the minor leagues last year is trade-bait with the exception of Mijares. But none of that bait is likely to land a big fish. Humber, Mulvey, Duensing, Swarzak etc. There is a long list of pitchers the Twins can include in trades, but none of them are in the Garza category where other teams are going to be asking about them.
I think the starting staff is largely off-limits unless they are part of a trade that brings that staff ace in return. They just don't have a lot of pitchers who look like they are knocking on the door to get into the major leagues. And sticking Bonser back in the rotation in order to get a shortstop or third baseman seems to be a bad idea.
Nathan is probably off limits except as part of some mega-deal. I think they could trade anyone else in the bullpen in the right deal. Unless they come up with some additional bullpen help, I think Neshek is probably also off limits if he is considered healthy and untradable if he isn't. They also ought to be reluctant to give up Breslow, Mijares, Crain and Guerrier unless they get some other bullpen help. That leaves Bonser and Humber as guys who are available in trade. Their trade value isn't much different than the minor league pitching prospects.
Harris, Tolbert and Buscher are available in the infield, but they aren't likely to bring much in return. Morneau is untouchable and Cassilla all but untouchable. There really isn't much of value here to deal. Likewise, the catching staff is basically untradable.
The outfield is an interesting situation. As I pointed out in an earlier post what to do here is perplexing. They have five players (including Kubel) and four spots (including DH). Gomez and Young are potential future stars. They could be the heirs to Mauer and Morneau as core players that define the franchise. You don't give up those kinds of players for bullpen help. Span is the Twins leadoff hitter. Its difficult to see how the Twins improve by trading him unless they can get a leadoff hitter in return who can play shortstop or third base. Someone pointed out Kubel's numbers are very similar to Ortiz at the same age. Again, for the right player you could deal him. But you would want some long range value, not a fill-in for next year. That leaves Cuddyer. He wasn't really needed last year for the Twins to be competitive. Whether he would actually provide enough value to attract a shortstop, third baseman or staff ace in trade is doubtful. Trading him for bullpen help seems like a waste.
So there you have it. Four potential needs and almost nothing of real value to give up to fill them. With the exception of the outfield, the Twins just don't have players to trade without opening up another hole. The Twins are one of the youngest teams in baseball and their improvment is mostly going to have to come from those players maturing.