Minnesota Twins, 66-96 in 2013, 4th in AL Central
Last Year: 2012-13 off season acquisitions include Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia and boy did they contribute to a successful year…in Twins terms that is. 2013 was the first time they avoided finishing last in the division since 2010. Third last in the AL they hit .242 as a team and didn’t have a man on the roster crack 20 home runs. Pitching wasn’t much better with a 5.26 team starting pitching ERA which was good for worst across all 30 teams. Toss in the fewest strikeouts in the majors (985) and you have yourself a fantastically dismal starting rotation. You can actually check every team pitching category and Houston and Minnesota will be one of the teams holding the worst spot. You either know exactly what I’m talking about because you are a Twins fan and saw this happen, or you aren’t fan and by your lack of memory of Twins highlights will make the assumption they didn’t do anything good. Correct on both accounts.
Off-Season: We’ll start with a move that didn’t happen: the not-firing of Ron Gardenhire. The Twins skipper saw some heat after their 3rd straight year under 70 wins but alas, the front office will continue to sign his checks in hopes he provides some stability for a team that hasn’t had much in recent years. Long-story-short for this off season was the Twins decided to ditch their patient approach to winning. This year will mark one of their biggest spending off seasons in recent history. Now despite holding a fan base across several states and hundreds of miles, the Twins host the 9th lowest paid team in baseball. In 2013 they paid $1.15m per win of that $76m payroll; in 2014 the payroll is estimated (as of mid February) at $82.5m. [For comparison the Yankees and Dodgers were at the top and right on either half of $2.5m, the Orioles and Brewers marked the middle of the pack with the Twins, and the A’s, Marlins, Rays and Astros bottomed out all at or under $.65m per win.] The Twins signed Jason Kubel (former Twin) and Jason Bartlett to minor league deals. Former Athletic and National and veteran signing, Kurt Suzuki, will look to take over the catching duties as Mauer will most likely move to first base full time. Ditching former DH Ryan Doumit will allow some new flexibility at that spot in the lineup as well. As far as that pitching goes, the Twin Cities will welcome Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes with open arms. Neither will contend for a Cy Young award but they will undoubtedly be welcome additions to the Twins staff. Nolasco threw for the Marlins and Dodgers last year posting 165 strikeouts in the process, which, you guessed it, is 64 more than any Twin recorded last year. $49 million over 4 years for a guy who should get you ten wins. Insert comment here on how moving from the NL to the AL for a pitcher has, on average, never been good. But for $24 million over 3 years, the Twins picked up a guy who has a 56-50 career record…[scratching head]. Phil Hughes has been a highly touted prospect for some time, but now, at 28 years old, I don’t think we can consider him a prospect. Still yet I like this move (just not the price). Chalk this up as your change-of-scenery-and-new-coaching-helps-this-guy-out, kind of situation. He lacks a second pitch behind his straighter than an arrow fastball-and you have yourself a project for your pitching coach.
Outlook: If you watched “Baseball Pelotero” in the last few weeks you may suffer from the same baseball withdrawal I did when searching for a baseball documentary as snow fell outside. More notably the documentary highlights the journey of Miguel Sano and another player in the Dominican Republic and how they go on to sign with MLB teams at sixteen years of age and the impact of July 2nd (It’s available on Netflix and yes, I recommend it). Sano, when 16, was considered the top prospect in that ‘class’ and is today posted as one of the top prospects in the Twins system with Georgia native Byron Buxton. My point? I’m getting there. These two guys are no doubt the future of the Twins. Joe Mauer is a certified stud (when healthy) but they need support around him. With both Sano and Buxton slotted for Double-A action this year, the anticipation was they could see some time as a September call up this year and hopefully more than that in 2015. Sano however will need Tommy John surgery (thanks to an injury this month) which, as you know, will take him off the field for a considerable amount of time. Just another step back in the Twins becoming a postseason team (…that was my point).
Young guys litter the Minnesota club as much as they do their Rochester affiliate; Aaron Hicks and Alex Presley will look to nab a starting outfield position. Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham look to have the corner outfield positions on lockdown. Trevor Plouffe looks to start at third and you might see Pedro Florimon at short. Don’t forget Chris Parmalee and Brian Dozier will be working to get into the everyday mix as well. Then, as previously mentioned, you have Suzuki and Mauer at catcher and first base. Overall the lineup isn’t far off from the quality it was last year so why expect something big this year? On the surface the rotation actually sounds decent-Nolasco, Correia, Hughes, Pelfrey, and Worley. Their bullpen provides back end help from Glen Perkins (36 of the Twins 40 saves last year) and front end help from Brian Duensing who recorded more wins in 2013 (6) than he did as a starter in 2012 (11 starts, 4 wins). Sprinkle in three average relievers between the ages of 28-32.
Prediction: I place the Twins at the bottom of the AL Central and sleep just fine tonight. Seemingly the most predictable division in baseball I comfortably say the Twins battle the Sox for fourth place. Color the Twins postseason contenders in 2016 when Sano, Buxton and two free agent acquisitions plug the holes of the continually leaking ship in their harbor, Target Field.
BONUS: The Twins have gotten rid of one of their jerseys (that’s five in total as of last year) and will only sport the interlocking T-C cap (representing the Twin Cities for those who didn’t know) from now on. Further info provided by our friends at Uni Watch http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10446316/uni-watch-hits-strikeouts-baseball-new-duds