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Playing Pepper 2010: Minnesota Twins

Posted on March 4, 2010 at 11:18 PM
Filed Under: Minnesota Twins | Playing Pepper
Last year before the season began, I posed five questions to a blogger for each team, so as to get to know the rest of baseball.  I focus so heavily on the Cardinals that sometimes the rest of MLB can pass me by.  That went very well, so much so that it spawned not only a postseason edition but was part of the impetus for the formation of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

So this year, I've brought 
Playing Pepper back, with a little bit of a twist.  Instead of five questions, I posed 10 questions, and this year every team got the same set.  Plus, tapping into those BBA connections, I sent them to every blogger representing that team in the BBA.

We'll try to do two a day in a general alphabetical order, but things may change depending on responses.

Minnesota Twins
2009 Finish: 87-76, first in AL Central, lost in ALDS

The Twins captured America's imagination at the end of the season last year, making an amazing run to wind up tied with the Tigers on the last day, then playing an epic Game 163 to advance.  Unfortunately, that was all they could manage, closing the Metrodome on a losing note.

A new season, a new stadium, and a new hope pervades the land of a thousand lakes.  To take us through the upcoming season, we've got Parker from Over The Baggy, Seth from Seth Speaks and Andrew from Twins Target.

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C70: How was the off-season?  What kind of grade would you give it?

OTB: Trading for a young starting shortstop (Hardy), retaining a solid pitcher who threw nearly 200 quality innings last year (Pavano), a solidifying the bench with a good yet aging pinch/designated hitter option (Thome) and finding a legitimate number two hitter (Hudson), its easy to see that the Twins assessed all their offseason needs and addressed them properly and beyond most fans expectations. I have to give it an A. 

SS: The Twins 2009/2010 offseason was like non-other. They spent a lot of money. They acquired some very good pieces to supplement an already strong team. They brought in JJ Hardy, Clay Condrey, Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, who should all contribute mightily. The one final bit of business that needs to be done yet, that would make it an A-offseason, is getting Joe Mauer locked up long-term.

TT: For the Twins, the 2009 offseason was one of the best in recent history. After the (unfortunate) early exit from the postseason to end the 2009 season, the Twins had several clear and pressing needs. The most notable and obvious of which was Minnesota's virtually empty infield, with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau the only clear starters. Two of the 2B/SS/3B hole would need to be filled, with Nick Punto most probably filling the third.

Just days after the conclusion of the World Series, Twins' general manager Bill Smith dealt from a position of excess (Carlos Gomez, CF) for one of need (JJ Hardy, SS) in a straight swap with the Milwaukee Brewers. While Gomez is an excellent defensive center fielder, and his presence will be missed by a rotation that is very prone to the fly ball, the Twins feel they can provide Hardy with the atmosphere and coaching he needs to return to his elite 2007/2008 status.
The next significant moves were reaching a deal with Carl Pavano, trading Boof Bonser to the Red Sox for Chris Province, and signing relief pitcher Clay Condrey, who figures to play a minor, but significant, role in the 2010 bullpen. Jim Thome was then signed to a very inexpensive one-year contract. He provides some insurance for both Morneau at first base and any one of the corner outfield positions, as current DH Jason Kubel would play defense should there be an injury with Thome sliding into the full-time DH slot. Right now, though, Thome figures to provide legitimate power off the bench and will receive plenty of late-inning at bats.
The Twins then shocked their fanbase by signing Orlando Hudson, who fills the second base hole, but perhaps more importantly, gives the Twins a No. 2 hitter to bat before Joe Mauer. Were it not for Hudson, either Hardy or Punto (!) would have batted second.
As a whole, the offseason was incredibly fulfilling for Twins' fans. Thanks to the revenues brought in from Target Field, the Twins' payroll is nearing the $100 million mark, which up until this point has been unheard of in Minnesota. The Twins addressed two infield needs, greatly solidified their bench, and strengthened their rotation as well as, to a lesser degree, their bullpen. The Twins' offseason was a perfect case study in a wise allocation of resources, and giving them anything less than an "A" would be inaccurate.

C70: What is the key to success for 2010?

OTB: Pitching will be the equalizer as it always is. This season, the Twins have more depth in the rotation then they have had in recent memory yet they seem to have concerns as well. Three-fifths of the rotation is littered in question marks: Pavano is a platinum member of the frequently injured club, Slowey has work done on his wrist and Liriano's struggled in '09 but has had a very strong winter ball showing. What plays into the Twins's favor is that they can turn to pitchers that have MLB experience in Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak or Jeff Manship within the minor leagues if injuries do crop up.

SS: Starting pitching - It's easy to say, but the Twins need their starters to pitch well and keep them in gains. They need to all progress and stay healthy.

TT: As is the case with all other teams, health is the first key to success. The close second, though, would be the effectiveness of the starting rotation. The Twins lack a clear ace, although they have no fewer than three very capable No. 2 or No. 3 starters along with a plethora of No. 5 options. 

Scott Baker has been named the Opening Day starter, with Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and most probably Francisco Liriano rounding up the rotation. Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak will both be waiting in the wings, however, should anyone struggle.

Minnesota shouldn't have a problem scoring runs, but the key to a successful season will be the starting rotation.

C70: What will be the team's strength?

OTB: Offensively, this team is built well from top to bottom. With Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau assuming the first four positions in the batting order, this year's model is stacked upfront. Behind them, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, JJ Hardy and Delmon Young are all very capable of hitting 20 home runs each. I think it is safe to project that this Twins team will be scoring a lot.

SS: A lineup that starts out with Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, JJ Hardy and Delmon Young. This team should be able to score some runs!

TT: The team's ability to score runs will be their strength. A lineup of Span/Hudson/Mauer/Morneau/Kubel/Cuddyer/Hardy/Young/Punto has the potential to do some real damage to opposing pitchers. The addition of Hudson not only provides the Twins with a legitimate No. 2 hitter, but it breaks up their long run of left-handed hitters. With a relatively diversified lineup and at least four batters with the ability to hit 30 home runs (five if you include Hardy), Minnesota shouldn't have trouble driving runs across the plate.

C70: What could be their Achilles' heel?

OTB: Outdoor baseball and the outfield defense. 

In moving to Target Field, the Twins have forfeited their Dome Field Advantage. Some, like the White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, believed that the turf, roof and noise factor helped the Twins steal a few more victories away from opponents. While I do not doubt that the Dome's quirks helped the Twins (one does not have to look any further than Game 163 for examples of that), I suspect that we will not see any substantial drop off in the team's home record as they transition outside.

The Twins' pitchers were largest purveyors of fly balls in baseball last year. This trend does not appear to be slow down in '10. With Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and a sprinkling of Jason Kubel figuring to assume the bulk of the corner outfield duties, the Twins have some of the least rangiest personnel. Without Carlos Gomez, who was a hardcore flytrapper, the Twins might see a higher frequency of those flyballs turning into gappers that may have otherwise found leather if Denard Span and Gomez were patrolling the grounds.

SS: It is really difficult to find one. Of course, if someone takes a step backward, that will hurt, but the Twins have a strong lineup, a solid starting staff and a deep bullpen.

TT: Health has been a concern for the Twins, and several of their crucial players could go down with an injury on any given day. Mauer missed the first month of 2009 with a back injury, and Morneau missed the last portion of the season with a back injury, as well. Cuddyer has suffered from quite a few bad-luck injuries, while Kubel's knees have always been a concern. Slowey and reliever Pat Neshek are returning from injury, and both Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano have "iffy" health. 

If everyone remains healthy, the Twins could be a dangerous team. If poor health takes its toll, though, the Twins' season could be over very quickly.

C70: Who will be the team's MVP? 

OTB: Any reasonable person would say Joe Mauer. I am one such reasonable person. Like St Louis who instinctively would say Albert Pujols, Mauer has reached that pantheon.

SS: Joe Mauer. In the non-Mauer category, how about '06 MVP Justin Morneau? But I will say that Denard Span's value at the top of the order should not be underestimated at all.

TT: I don't think there is much doubt the best statistical performance will come from Joe Mauer, but the Minnesota catcher could very well win "MVP" honors, as well. Denard Span could be another candidate if he is able to remain healthy out in center field for the entire season, as Minnesota doesn't have an adequate back-up.

C70: Will a rookie make a significant impact on the team in 2010, and if so, who?

OTB: The Twins have positioned themselves well with a team full of experience and veterans. There should not be too much of a need for rookies on this year's club however third base prospect Danny Valencia might be a contributor down the season's stretch run after some additional incubating in AAA Rochester.

SS: The Twins will not have to rely on any rookies in 2010, but they have a few that coud contribute if and when called upon. Danny Valencia could be the team's 3B by June. Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney are most likely to contribute out of the bullpen at some point.

TT: There won't be too many rookies on the team in 2010, but it is almost certain that third baseman Danny Valencia will be called up at some point. Depending on how he looks in Spring Training, he could make his debut on Opening Day or as late as July. Valencia provides average defense at the Hot Corner, while his bat is solid and very capable of consistently putting up a .280/.330/.440 with around 15 home runs a season. He may not be able to reach this level in his first year, though.

C70: Who will be the breakout player for the team?

OTB: For me, I think it will be Delmon Young. With his late-season hitting spree at the conclusion of '09, I noted that Young had changed his mechanics at the plate that allowed him to drive the ball more and elevate (two very necessary prerequisites to hitting home runs). I do keep this enthusiasm curbed since Young has seen his numbers skew northward now at the end of the past two seasons, however, I think with this physical change, we might actually be witnessing progression from a player that once apparent unable to progress. Even still, his sheer disregard for plate discipline will always leave him susceptible to the occasional slump. 

SS: This is the year that Delmon Young will take that big step forward that we all thought that he could. He's down about 30 pounds. He's committed. He's incredibly talented. This is a huge year for Young and I think he will come through.

TT: Hopefully Francisco Liriano. The young lefty looked fantastic in Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic, where he was able to throw his deadly slider without restraint. Should the Twins' pitching staff insist that he throw his pitches with less aggression, though, there is little doubt that Liriano's career in Minnesota would be nearing an end.

While Liriano may not be able to return to his 2006 form, he is very capable of emerging as the ace of the Minnesota rotation. He is just as likely, though, to throw way too many fastballs and get shelled out of Minnesota.

C70: Which player will drop off the most from 2009?

OTB: Joe Mauer. Yeah, that's a difficult pill to swallow but I see signs in his '09 numbers that might deflate in '10. The first of which corresponds to his home run totals. According to's database, 11 of Mauer's 28 home runs were categorized as "Just Enough". These were the wall-scrapping home runs that Mauer lifted into the left field porch on a regular basis. What makes this a likely candidate for regression is that shows that, on average, 30% of home runs are of the "Just Enough" variety while Mauer's 2009 "Just Enough" totals were 40% of his. As this total equalizes, I expect to see more of the ricocheting off the wall and dying on the warning track in 2010.

SS: Joe Mauer? I mean, the numbers he put up in 2009 were amazing, so anything less would be a drop off. I don't expect a big drop off. If I had to pick someone, it might be Nick Blackburn.

TT: In terms of statistical points, probably Joe Mauer. Though it pains me to say, there is little doubt that Mauer will be unable to repeat last year's ridiculous numbers (.365/.444/.587), but he will still be one of the best offensive catchers in the league (My guess? .340/.420/.530). On a non-superstar scale, though, Brian Duensing will probably take a large step back. In 84 innings last season, the rookie posted a 3.64 ERA. I doubt he can do that again.

C70: Who is the most likely player to be dangled as trade bait?

OTB: If the Twins find themselves in need of a contributor at the deadline, there are several options to move. Second baseman Alexi Casilla is an option as is left-handed starter Glen Perkins. The Twins have excess pitching in the minor league system so that could be a tapped resource as well.

SS: Wilson Ramos, the Twins immensely talented catcher prospect could be starting for many big league teams already. Teams will ask for him.

TT: Joe Nathan or Michael Cuddyer could fill these roles, but any trades the Twins make will probably involve a few of their talented minor-league players. Catcher Wilson Ramos is obviously blocked from the majors for the time being (and hopefully for the next 7-8 years, assuming Mauer is re-signed soon), and there is no room for all of Ben Revere/Aaron Hicks/Angel Morales/Joe Benson/Rene Tosoni in the outfield. 

A few of them will earn the title of "bust," there is no reason why a few couldn't be traded at the deadline for a rental pitcher along the lines of Brandon Webb.

C70: What will be the team's final record and divisional standing?

OTB: 92-70, first in the AL Central.

SS: 92-70, 1st place in the AL Central.

TT: I haven't done any real projections lately, but I would say the Twins will have a final record of 90-72 and finish first in the AL Central. They will defeat their ALDS opponent in five games, but fall in the ALCS in five games.

My thanks to all of these guys for taking the time out to answer the questions.  Interestingly, after it only happening once in history, two of the last four champs have christened new ballparks with World Series titles.  Can Minnesota turn the hat trick?

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