Offseason Swap Series: Minnesota Twins
By Matt Van Wormer
The Twin Cities were not a happy place this season as the Twins fell to the cellar in the Central Division, one year removed from the Division title that saw them win 94 games and score 781 runs. Injuries, injuries and, well, injuries were a thorn in the side of a team that returned most of the same guys that helped them win the division by six games in 2010. I had some questions about the Twins and Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net was kind enough to give me the answers that will tell us about the future of the Twins, as well as some of his thoughts on the season past.
DTTWLN? – 1. Finishing in the cellar was definitely not Ron Gardenhire’s plan at the outset of the season. Is he on the hot seat heading into the 2012 season?
Seth – Gardy doesn’t deserve to be on the hot seat, and I don’t think he is. He was a deserving choice for AL Manager of the Year in 2010 and was a runner-up for the award five times previously. It’s not like he was a different manager in 2011. Frankly, he spent most of the season with few options. Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome. That is the team’s 1-7 spots in the lineup on some days and each of them missed extended time this year due to injury, at least 60 games. It’s hard to win with that much offense missing. The pitching staff was a mess. I think Gardenhire has earned a little bit of leeway after such an injury-filled season. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t deserve some blame, but not enough to be anywhere near the hot seat… yet.
DTTWLN? – 2. The Twins seem to have a good core of young players, much like the Indians, who were called to action a little bit ahead of their projected debuts. How will this help the players and the team going forward?
Seth – The Twins have some decent prospects that got an opportunity in 2011, definitely ahead of when they were really ready. Their best, high-ceiling prospects are a few years from getting here, but there is some talent that we saw. Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes will be out of options next spring. They both got a lot of time to show what they could do looking forward. Ben Revere got a ton of plate appearances and showed good improvement over the final month or so. Rene Tosoni missed half of 2011 with shoulder surgery, and then played in just 19 games at AAA this year before he was called up. Finally down the stretch, he started showing what he could do. Kyle Waldrop and Lester Oliveros are guys that could be in the Twins bullpen plans. Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee provided some excitement after they were called up from AA. They both have a lot of talent and although they weren’t ready, provided reasons for optimism. Parmelee hit four home runs in less than a month. Liam Hendriks has been my choice for Twins minor league starting pitcher of the year the last two years (Twins named Kyle Gibson in 2010 and Hendriks in 2011). He can be a good middle of the rotation pitcher, maybe a little better. They all got exposure to the big leagues. Ideally, most of them will go to AAA Rochester to start the 2012 season, but they all could come up and contribute when needed. They’re close.
DTTWLN – 3. Michael Cuddyer had another solid year for the Twins and could command a nice raise in free agency. How much are the Twins willing to spend on a guy like that? And is he willing to be a platoon type player, playing many positions throughout the year?
Seth – I personally think that the Twins will go to some extreme levels to keep Michael Cuddyer around. He is a great ambassador for Twins baseball, a good leader and a pretty good baseball player. Is he worth whatever dollars and years he gets in the offseason? Well, I guess that answer is “Yes” since someone gives it to him. However, it is alarming any time a free agent gets a lot of dollars and years. He is willing and able to do anything for the team. He’s started in RF, at 1B, 2B, 3B and DH in the last couple of years. He even pitched an inning in 2011. He isn’t a great (or a particularly good) defender at any of the positions. He’s a good hitter, but he’s certainly not elite. If he gives the Twins a hometown discount, maybe he could sign for three years and $30 million (with an option for a fourth year?). If he tests the market fully, as he has earned the right to do, he could get four years and as much as $45 million.
DTTWLN? – 4. The Twins pitching staff ranked dead-last in Batting Average Against with a mark of .281. Does that have more to do with the pitching or the defense behind them not getting to balls put in play?
Seth – To be honest, it is a little bit of both. The Twins pitching philosophy, which has obviously been fairly successful over the past decade, has been to pitch to contact, to throw strikes, to get quick outs. Unfortunately, the Twins defense in 2011 was horrific, particularly on the left side of the diamond. Danny Valencia took a step backward with the glove, posting a very low, negative UZR. It didn’t matter who they put at SS (Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Trevor Plouffe), they were unbelievably bad. And, of course, while Delmon Young was in LF, that was always a scary time too. If a team is going to throw strikes and rely on its defense, the defense will have to improve a ton for the Twins to consider being a contender.
DTTWLN? – 5. There are lots of little things that can be fixed pretty quickly on the Twins roster which could pay off big dividends if executed properly. Where do you see the Twins finishing in 2012?
Seth – The offseason will be important for the Twins this year (as it is every year). They need to improve their starting pitching, bullpen, infield, backup catcher and more. However, if the Twins want to be a .500 team or better, it doesn’t matter what they do if Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span are not healthy and able to play. I do believe that the Twins appear to be a 3rd or 4th place team in 2011 if they can be have a good offseason and some luck. The only way they compete is if those guys are healthy, they add a starter who is good, have a couple of guys step up in the bullpen, and, and, and…
Thanks for the answers, Seth! It seems that the Twins have a lot in common with our Tribe, here in Cleveland, and these two teams are definitely going to have some great head-to-head battles in 2012! Make sure to check out Seth’s blog any time you want your fill of Twins news! Keep an eye out next week as we talk with a blogger for either the Royals or the Tigers!
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images