It’s that time of year again. The Wild are pathetic, the Wolves are minus one crucial ACL (ouch… too soon?), Gophers Bball is sweating an NIT berth (probably not), and the only thing we have going for us is a college hockey team. Let’s bring on the boys of summer, please.
Last year was, ahem, forgettable? Atrocious? Unacceptable? All sound about right. A 63-99 season was beyond anybody’s expectation of how bad it could get. But the real question is this: trend or mirage?
Let’s hit this up position by position:
Here’s what happens when you tie up $25 million a year in what is typically the least important offensive category in baseball: you NEED Joe Mauer to be healthy. The problem with that premise is that Joe Mauer is often not healthy. Ryan Doumit is a huge upgrade as the backup, but he will often be DH-ing or playing 1B (hopefully not much). So, the reality is that Butera will still be on this team, which shouldn’t upset us too much. He is a defensive wizard. However, let’s hope he doesn’t see a lot of the field.
Mauer: .310, 8 HR, 72 RBI (120 games played)
Butera: .205, 2 HR, 30% caught stealing (75 games)
Is there any greater indicator of the Twins 2012 success than Justin Morneau’s season totals? That’s a rhetorical question. Of course not. Justin Morneau is absolutely critical to any success the Twins have. He only played 69 games last year and batted an abysmal .227 with only 4 HR. The problem is that I am of the opinion that Morneau will never be the same. Sure, if he can return to his pre-concussion level of play then this team could compete, but I really don’t see that happening. I expect a modest increase across the board, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in two-three years we’re watching the Morneau retirement conference, wondering how things might have been if he never slid into John McDonald’s knee. I hope I’m wrong. By the way, Chris Parmelee may force the Twins hands if he keeps hitting. I’m not sure if he breaks camp with the Twins or at AAA, but if Morneau shows more concussion symptoms then Parmelee will see some serious action at the Major League level. As mentioned above, Doumit could fill in here as well.
Morneau: .240, 10 HR, 60 RBI (90 games)
Parmelee: .290, 8 HR, 35 RBI (50 games)
Doesn’t it seem like Alexi Casilla should be 22 years old? Still a prospect? Actually, he’s 27. He should be at the peak of his career and the Twins need him to play like it. Really, they just need him to be OK. Luke Hughes is not particularly good despite what Spring Training 2011 would suggest.
Casilla: .260, 60 R, 21 SB (135 games)
Hughes: .240, 7 HR, 30 RBI (70 games)
Can anybody imagine the Twins being worse at Shortstop this year than last year? Yes, actually. The signing of Jamey Carroll seems like a nice plus, but in reality he is a 38-year-old shortstop who plays like, well, a 38-year-old shortstop. They needed to make a move to fill a big hole and they did, but this seems a little like superglue to fix the Titanic. If Carroll hits .280 and takes some walks he will be a huge success; unfortunately, that’s also just about his ceiling. As for the backup situation, there’s still some reason to hope for Nishioka to make an adjustment now that he’s over his injury, the culture-shock of America, and his divorce. I’m not holding my breath but it’s definitely a storyline to follow.
Carroll: .265, 50 R, 8 SB (130 games)
Nishioka: .240, 18 R, 4 SB (50 games)
So where’s the hope for your 2012 Minnesota Twins? Let’s start at Third Base. Danny Valencia has looked great–not just good, great–in Spring Training. Now, we know not to put too much hope in those numbers (see Hughes, L. c.2011), however, it sounds hopeful for a guy who has often been in Gardy’s doghouse for attitude issues and who had a pretty bad 2011 (though at least he stayed on the field!). 20 HR are not out of the question for a guy who is potentially auditioning for another team, at least come 2014 when Miguel Sano may start to come into the picture.
Valencia: .270, 19 HR, 75 RBI (145 games)
Ben Revere is a stud. He is going to get singles and then he is going to run. He also is going to have no arm in left field, but that’s better than no arm in center field. However, the metrics suggest that his range actually makes up for his lack of an arm. I don’t know, but I suppose I’ll take an extra ball tracked down for an extra base taken due to the lack of an arm. Anyway, this should be better than Rene Tosoni and Trevor Plouffe.
Revere: .280, 62 runs, 40 SB (152 games)
Denard Span: the other concussion worry. But, you know, he’ll be alright, you know. It’ll be good, you know… OK, enough making fun of his interviews with P.A., which are almost painful to listen to. He might be the best lead-off guy in the division and that’s saying something, because he’s not really a typical lead-off guy. Mostly, he’s just a solid baseball player. Hopefully he’s healthy.
Span: .282, 80 runs, 15 SB (145 games)
I’m really excited to see Josh Willingham play. That might sound strange because he isn’t exactly flashy, but the Twins need a pure power hitter and that’s what Willingham can be. The jury is still out on whether he will be that, but in theory he should be a perfect fit for Target Field. Name a better right-handed power hitter we’ve had since Target Field opened. OK, stop thinking. There isn’t anybody. Cuddyer was nice but his power was to the opposite field. For that reason alone, I’m excited. By the way, I don’t think Joe Benson will see much time with the Twins outside of September, but he is certainly somebody to wait on. You get the sense that he and Revere will be a fun OF tag-team to watch in the future.
Willingham: .245, 27 HR, 85 RBI (140 games)
I’m sure an array of guys will see action here. Mostly it will be Doumit, but also Mauer, probably a lot of Morneau, maybe occasionally Parmelee or Plouffe or whoever else makes the team’s last few roster spots. This will likely be a downgrade from Kubel, but then again, Kubel gave the Twins much fewer options with his subpar defense. Any of these guys can play defense, too. Well, except Plouffe… moving on…
Doumit: .270, 13 HR, 58 RBI (112 games played)
The news here has been more good than bad recently. Carl Pavano is a seriously consistent innings eater (and no, I never would have thought I’d say that about six years ago). He is getting a bit long in the tooth (36 years to be precise), but his numbers haven’t dipped since coming to Minnesota. I look for more of the same out of him.
Francisco Liriano has been turning heads by coming into Spring in great shape by all accounts, throwing the ball well and most importantly, throwing with consistency. He had an abysmal 2011, so it’s not much to hope for a better 2012, but I expect more than OK from Liriano. Will he ever return to his form from 2006? No. But 2010 could very well be repeatable. In fact, I expect him to be in that range.
Scott Baker had a very good 2011 when he was healthy, but he wasn’t healthy enough. He’s now 30 years old and has never had the stuff to be a staff ace, but he should be an average to above-average starter and anything resembling 2011 would be very welcome (save the injuries).
Nick Blackburn is a number 5 starter who has too often been relied on to be something else. He does a lot with a little, to be honest. He’s a right-handed pitcher without great accuracy, but his sinker gets him by. The word out of Spring Training is that he has looked good and healthy. In fact, Gardy said he expects him to throw 200 innings this year. Blackie did that in 2009 and it was his best season to-date. He won’t cause heads to turn, but he is a solid starting pitcher when his sinker is on.
Jason Marquis has had some very nice seasons in his big-league career. Unfortunately, he also had a 2-9, 6.60 ERA year more recently in 2010. He has the upside to be a nice piece or he could be a disaster; we just don’t know. Hopefully he can stay healthy and give us the innings a 5th starter is expected to give. Anything else is bonus.
As for Liam Hendriks and Kyle Gibson, see 2013 Twins Season Preview. Hendriks will likely get some starts, but unless there’s a couple of injuries I don’t expect him to be a fixture. Gibson will start throwing again in July, which means 2013 should see him with the major league club (and hopefully for good!).
Pavano: 12-11, 4.40 ERA, 221 IP
Liriano: 12-9, 3.80 ERA, 182 IP
Baker: 11-9, 3.80 ERA, 158 IP
Blackburn: 10-13, 4.60, 188 IP
Marquis: 8-13, 5.10, 125 IP
If there is a single area where the Twins need to improve most drastically it is in the bullpen. Of course Texas overpaid for Joe Nathan’s services, but it is still a void the Twins will most definitely feel. Matt Capps is a fairly shaky closer, and Glen Perkins was a nice discovery last year but there’s virtually no way he repeats that performance (though we all surely hope he does!). Brian Duensing is a nice piece to have, especially as a spot starter. Then it drops off considerably. Despite his completely atrocious 2011 numbers, Alex Burnett had his moments and he has the stuff to be a fixture in the mid-late innings. Anthony Swarzak may be better suited to a bullpen role than the spot-start duty he has put us through in the past couple of years. However, his stuff is fairly unimpressive, and it’s not like we have a dearth of light-throwing righties in the system. Diamond, Oliveros and Waldrop, Manship, Guerra and Maloney are all fighting to make the team, but realistically none of them are all that exciting. The hope is that somebody jumps out of the pack to fit in with Capps, Perkins, Duensing, Burnett and Swarzak. Either way, the options can’t really be thrilling for Rick Anderson when he picks up the bullpen phone.
Capps: 4.02 ERA, 31 saves
Perkins: 3.38 ERA, 5 saves, 28 holds
Duensing: 4.20 ERA, 18 starts, 10 holds
Burnett: 4.25 ERA, 20 holds
Swarzak: 4.83 ERA, 12 holds
The 2012 Twins will be better than the 2011 Twins unless something drastic happens. How’s that for a completely unarguable point? OK, but how much better? Honestly, it all depends on how much Mauer and Morneau play and how effective they are. Everything else matters but not nearly as much. Baseball, for all its lack of parity, is rather unpredictable and the Twins are going to be a team that’s hard to figure for 2012. Experts have set predictions ranging from 60 wins to 88 wins and I could see it falling anywhere therein. But here I am writing a column so I suppose I should make an outrageously unjustified prediction. So here it is: 81-81. A .500 season. This would have to count as a success given last year, but it is a little sad that this feels almost like our ceiling given that we won the division two years ago. Realistically, we cannot catch the Tigers, but stranger things have happened. There are enough interesting story-lines, at least, to keep our attention in the dog days of summer.