Rabu, 15 Februari 2012
Season Previews, Part 2: Minnesota Twins
2011 Record: 63-99
Pythagorean Record: 62-100
Games out of first: 32
2011 was a complete wasted season for Minnesota. By late summer the Twins were running out lineups featuring as many as seven players who had spent 2011 time at Double A, not including such stalwarts as Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert. Only third baseman Danny Valencia managed to play a full season, with just two other players managing a hundred games or more. The rotation was the strongest asset, though it still used nine different starting pitchers. What hurt most was the loss of superstars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, both former MVP winners. The former began 2011 Spring Training with something called 'bilateral leg weakness', a nerve issue that cast his future as a catcher into doubt (he was experimenting with first base and DH by mid-season), while the latter missed half of the season with a plethora of injuries culminating in an August concussion that is reportedly still plaguing him. A top-heavy team on paper, Minnesota floundered without the 'M&M boys', who combined for 621 plate appearances. This is really the story of the Twins -- it was a collective failure of the entire organization, as players underperformed, the training staff failed, and poor roster construction did not allow for any hope of competition without their frontline stars.
Top Performers by WAR (b-ref for batters, FG for pitchers)
1. Michael Cuddyer, 3.0
2. Carl Pavano, 2.9
3. Scott Baker, 2.7
4. Denard Span, 2.6
5. Alexi Casilla, 1.8
Perhaps the most noticeable move of the offseason was the firing of GM Bill Smith, one of the few remaining 'old boys' of baseball front offices. I'm sure Smith knows baseball, and I'm sure he's a great guy, but running a front office is now a game for people with MBAs and law degrees, and Smith was simply no longer appropriate for this job. The Twins replaced him with Terry Ryan, who ran the Twins to relative success from 1994-2007. Ryan, known for his affinity with farm systems, is exactly what the Twins need right now, reeling from the car wreck that was 2011.
This is not to say that no changes were made to the on-field roster. They replaced one stocky outfielder with another, swapping Cuddyer for Josh Willingham in free agency. They added another infielder to a mix already including Casilla, Trevor Plouffe, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, signing veteran Jamey Carroll, and naming him their everyday shortstop in a move that made pitchers leaguewide groan. They got a great deal on a decent offensive catcher in Ryan Doumit after Drew Butera failed to fill Joe Mauer's chest protector. They gave similarly small deals to ex-flamethrower Joel Zumaya and Livan Hernandez wannabe Jason Marquis. The former may surprise as a bullpen option, and the latter will be advertised as an innings-eater, but will likely struggle to be worth a roster spot in a reloaded AL Central.
OF Josh Willingham
SP Jason Marquis
"SS" Jamey Carroll
C Ryan Doumit
OF Michael Cuddyer
RP Joe Nathan
CF Denard Span
SS Jamey Carroll
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
RF Josh Willingham
3B Danny Valencia
DH Ryan Doumit
2B Alexi Casilla
LF Ben Revere
This lineup should be able to score at least an average amount of runs. It is a little thin, but aside from Casilla, it is full of patient hitters, and there is a strong core 3-5. There is power throughout the lineup, and plenty of speed to boot.
Defensively, however, it could get ugly for Twins fans. Span/Revere should make for a narrow left field gap, but outside of that there isn't much to like. Willingham will plod along in right, and the infield should be bad. Casilla and Valencia are both probably below average, and Jamey Carroll, who will turn 38 on Saturday, was never much of a shortstop.
RHP Carl Pavano
LHP Fransisco Liriano
RHP Scott Baker
RHP Nick Blackburn
RHP Jason Marquis
This is an interesting collection of arms. Pavano featured similar peripherals last season as in his 19-win 2010 campaign, and Baker was the nominal staff ace with a 3.14 ERA in 134 innings. The two should provide plenty of quality innings, but it gets tricky after that. I don't think anyone can predict what Liriano is going to do at this point, but the days of hoping for him to play Randy Johnson are probably behind us. Blackburn and Marquis will play at 'league average pitcher', but both should be looking over their shoulders at Brian Duensing, who posted solid peripherals in 28 starts and 162 2011 innings.
Significant Relievers/Bench Players
IF Tsuyoshi Nishioka
IF Trevor Plouffe
C Drew Butera
CP Matt Capps
It's in the offense. As noted above, they should score at an average-above-average pace, and if the heart of their order can stay healthy and produce, they should be able to score with the best of them (except Boston and New York, of course).
Run prevention, as a whole. Their pitching isn't bad, but they do not have the depth to take any real injury adversity, and the bullpen is underwhelming, barring a complete Zumaya renaissance. On top of that, the infield is going to be one of the worst in the league, and Mauer will need to stay healthy enough that Doumit never has to strap on that catcher's gear. Altogether, it is a sheer lack of depth in the run prevention department, in a division where they can ill-afford it. This is not a team that will stop the Tigers from scoring.
There is enough talent on the big-league roster to keep fans interested, and if the breaks go right, we could see the Twins make noise into the summer months, but any time you need Joel Zumaya and Jason Marquis to carry weight, you shouldn't get your hopes up. If you're a Twins fan, you may want to stop reading because the worst news is yet to come: there isn't much help on the way, either. The Twins system is fairly thin, ranked 14th and 17th by Keith Law and SB Nation, respectively. While Ryan has taken strides to make the 2012 club worth watching, he likely knows that the most important thing about the 2012 season will be the draft. In one of the weakest classes in years, Ryan will need to make the #2 pick count, and as a veteran of prospect development (say hi, most of the current Twins roster), he is likely the right man for the job.
Potential Breakout Player
Danny Valencia will be 27, and has shown decent bat control and doubles power. He should be able to start clearing more fences, and be a pretty good MLB player.
Jamey Carroll. I see his use to a club, the guy has versatility and can take a walk, but expecting him to play an MLB shortstop is foolish at this point. He should be quite bad on defense, and he's an aging player whose best season was highlighted by a 100 OPS+ in 414 PAs. The Twins didn't give him too much money, and he won't be expected to be a star, but try this on for size: Luis Castillo.
Prospects with potential to help in 2012
Joe Benson: BA's 2011 #100 prospect is an outfielder with decent hitters' tools, showing both power and plate discipline. He's never played above Double-A, but, at 24, should be looking to take his final step in 2012.
Liam Hendriks: A typical Twins product, a control pitcher, Hendriks has had success across the minors, and, as a 23-year-old in 2012, should be the Twins' first insurance option in the rotation.
Projected Record: 76-88
Projected Finish: 4th
Projected MVP: Joe Mauer, 5 WAR
When the 2010 Red Sox crashed, they went out and traded for a star first baseman and signed a star outfielder. The Twins, whose system has faded under Smith, and whose $113 MM 2011 payroll was the highest in team history, can afford to do neither of these things. There are no quick fixes here, and, while they aren't the worst team in the league, it looks like if not a 'rebuilding' then something of a 'retooling' will occur in Minnesota. The big league club is fit for a mid-market city, but where they have been lacking is in their minor league contributions. Ryan should be working on rectifying this, and if he can reform the pipeline of talent that the Twins had in the early-mid 2000s, they should be back to contention in no time.