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Playing Pepper 2012: Minnesota Twins

Posted on March 13, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Minnesota Twins | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Minnesota Twins
63-99, fifth in the AL Central

We're not used to seeing the Twins down in the cellar of the NL Central.  Sure, there was a time when they struggled, but it hasn't been recently.  However, anything and everything went wrong for the Twins last year and they skidded to an almost-100 loss season.

The good thing for the Twins is that they play in the AL Central and, as such, can't ever be ruled out of contention.  While some part of the division have improved, most people wouldn't immediately suggest that Minnesota is doomed for the cellar again.  To get a better feel for the team, I tapped into the one blogosphere that could compete with the United Cardinal Bloggers in terms of organization and coordination.

Nate Gilmore writes for the FanSided blog Puckett's Pond, and you can also find him over on Twitter at LegendofArctic.

Ryan (AKA Twin #1) can be found writing with his brother over at the uniquely named Twins on Twins.  He's also on Twitter at twinsontwins.

Until recently, Seth Stohs was writing at  However, about a month ago he shut down his blog and combined with a number of other blogs into a megasite called Twins Daily, which really is an impressive achievement.  You can find him on Twitter at SethTweets.

Andrew can be found plying his trade away from the land with 10,000 lakes at his blog Twins Fan From Afar.  

Finally, Cody is another blogger watching his team from a distance, as he writes the blog North Dakota Twins Fan.  Cody's on Twitter at nodaktwinsfan.

Stick around and we'll talk about a couple of question marks that could have a big impact on the season to come.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?

PP: It was decent, but could have been better. It seems the Twins stretched their payroll last year and had to cut back, so my dream of signing Edwin Jackson was never a real possibility. The Twins made a great move by firing Bill Smith and bringing back Terry Ryan, the architect of their winning teams of last decade. Right off the bat, Ryan pulled off some decent moves with their limited resources. Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham should provide about the same production as Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer did, but they're cheaper. Plus, letting Kubel and Cuddyer walk nets the Twins three high draft picks, which is a nice bonus. 

But Ryan made some head-scratching moves, too. He may be the only person on Earth who can justify re-signing Matt Capps for almost $5 million, given that Capps is far from irreplaceable and that letting him go would have brought in another supplemental pick. And no matter how hard I try, I can't bring myself to like the Jason Marquis signing. Marquis cost $3 million, and he doesn't add anything to the rotation that wasn't already there.

TOT: All in all, it was solid. Unfortunately, a solid off-season isn't likely to be good enough for a team that lost 99 games last season. They avoided bad contracts with Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer (and will get draft picks in their place), they made some nice pick-ups with Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya, and Jamey Carroll, and they struck a good deal with Josh Willingham, their biggest free agent signing in franchise history. But their bullpen is still riddled with holes, which could have been filled fairly easily with multiple quality relievers with the $4.5 million that instead went to Matt Capps. Their starting rotation is likely to again be one of the worst in the league, unless Liriano returns to form (more on that in a minute), as Jason Marquis is not an appreciable upgrade in that department. And their hitting still leaves something to be desired given the health of Justin Morneau, and, to a lesser extent, Denard Span and Joe Mauer.

TD: It was a very interesting offseason, for sure. Following a 99-loss season, the assumption was that there would be a lot of change. When the Twins replaced GM Bill Smith with former GM Terry Ryan, optimism was at a high. The Twins had four prominent free agents. The Twins brought back Matt Capps and let Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel depart. However, Terry Ryan improved the infield with the early acquisition of Jamey Carroll. When it became clear that they were not going to bring back Michael Cuddyer, they replaced him with the equivalent Josh Willingham. The Twins replaced Kubel as the DH with Ryan Doumit who will also give the team better catching depth. I think the Twins did a very nice job with minor league free agency. Although I don't mind the Jason Marquis signing and the Joel Zumaya signing comes with a high risk and high reward, the pitching staff is full of question marks.

TFFA: If I had to give this offseason a letter grade, I'd probably say a C. The "big" moves seemed to be mostly about replacing established players that had departed. Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel left, and we now have Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit. Joe Nathan left as a closer, and General Manager Terry Ryan re-signed Matt Capps to fill that role. New Twin Jason Marquis is no better than a 5th starter, and the front office made no other starting pitching moves. Jamey Carroll was purchased at a reasonable price to replace Tsuyoshi Nishioka at shortstop -- but Nishioka is still on the roster and making $3 million both 2012 and 2013, regardless of whether he rides the bench at Target Field, or gets seasoning at AAA Rochester or AA New Britain. I was hopeful that the Twins would go after Todd Coffey to help the bullpen, but he signed with the Dodgers for only $1.3 million. The Twins' bullpen was among the worst in the majors last year, so there was definitely room for improvement. General Manager made a good move signing Joel Zumaya to an incentive-laden deal, but it backfired after only 13 pitchers in a batting practice session. In the end, some moves were adequate to replace recently departed players, but it also appears that the Twins overpaid for relievers, including Capps, instead of waiting out the market.

NDTF: It was tough to see long time players like Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan, and Jason Kubel leave the team in the free agency process. The editions of Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit should help an offense that finished near the bottom of the American League in 2011. Jamey Carroll was brought in to sure up the middle infield after the Twins saw plenty of fumbling and bumbling from the likes of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe. Out of all of the team's moves, bringing back Terry Ryan as the team's general manager might rank as the best move for the future of this organization. The loss of clubhouse leaders like Cuddyer and Nathan will be tough to compensate for but the Twins offseason moves seem to have filled some of the holes the organization had from a disastrous 2011.

C70: Francisco Liriano seemed to be wildly inconsistent last season.  Is there any reason to hope he'll be more dominant this season?

PP: Yes, but it might just be superstition. Look at Liriano's numbers from 2006, 2008, and 2010, and you'll see a dominant, near-ace-type pitcher. Now look at his stats from 2005, 2009, and 2011 (he missed the 2007 season), and you'll wonder why this guy is even in the Majors. Liriano has been a brilliant pitcher in even-numbered years, and he's disappointed in every odd numbered year. 

On a more practical note, Liriano's season got off to a horrible start last year because he reported to Spring Training out of shape. That led to some injuries and mechanical problems. This year he played winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He didn't pitch very well there, but the extra work might have been enough to keep him fit heading into camp. Also, it's his contract year, so there might be some extra motivation for him to excel.

TOT: He was much closer to consistently bad than wildly inconsistent. Outside of a freak no-hitter (which was still quite the highlight in that depressing Twins season) and a great game in August against the Yankees, Liriano was plain bad. Then again, the year before he had some sabermetrically-inclined fans calling for his inclusion at the top of the Cy Young discussion. As such, he's probably the most polarizing Twins player in recent memory, perhaps with the exception of Nick Punto. As for the hope that he'll be much better this year, I think it's closer to hoping against hope that he will be, rather than any rational expectation for him to be. Like Jason Kubel's knee injury suffered in the AFL in 2004, Liriano's Tommy John surgery will more than likely have us wondering what could have been as he disappoints once again.

TD: There is hope that Francisco Liriano could have a big season. He did pitch some innings in the Dominican Winter League this year. It is a contract year for him, so if he wants a big money contract, he has to have a good year. The man is an incredibly talented enigma. He has tremendous stuff including an unhittable slider. He may never get back to his 2006, pre-Tommy John surgery level, but if he can pitch like he did in 2010, we'll be happy!

TFFA: There's always reason for hope with Francisco Liriano. Hope is eternal for Liriano because he is a lefty that has the ability to strike out 200 batters a season, and has even garnered some Cy Young votes in the past. In reality, however, Liriano was only great in 2006 and 2010. A major key for Liriano is first-pitch strikes. When he gets ahead of batters, that allows him to throw the slider as a strikeout pitch, and generally to expand the zone (as it does with any pitcher). Unfortunately, however, Liriano failed miserably in 2011 with respect to first-pitch strikes, and the results included increased walks, decreased strikeouts, and ultimately an ERA above 5. For Liriano, in my opinion, it all starts with control. If Liriano can command the strike zone early in the count, Twins fans could be in for a treat.

NDTF: Before the 2010 season, Liriano spent time pitching in the Dominican Winter League and he went on to have one of his most successful seasons on the field that year. The team had him rest in the next offseason so he didn't have the opportunity to pitch in the winter months. He ended up showing up to camp out of shape and this seemed to set him back from very start of the 2011 campaign. For this offseason, the Twins allowed Liriano to pitch in the Dominican once again and so far this spring he has looked like he might be able to gain back some of his consistency. One of the most intriguing aspects could be that he is in a contract year and at the end of the season he can become a free agent. If this doesn't light a fire inside of him, then there is a good chance he will be pitching for another team in 2013.

C70: Justin Morneau hasn't played 100 games the past two seasons.  What are the expectations for him in 2012?

PP: I think it's best for Twins fans to expect absolutely nothing from Morneau. That way, anything he does will be a pleasant surprise. He has suffered multiple concussions, and modern medical science just doesn't seem to know very much about how to fix brain injuries. The scary thing is that Morneau didn't even hit his head when he suffered his latest concussion. It happened when he dove to catch a routine line drive. If his brain continues to be so susceptible to injury, he might have to retire or at least move to DH. 

If he does turn out to be healthy and the concussions don't happen again, Morneau can still be a powerful force in the lineup. In 2010 before he went down, he was leading the AL in batting average, OBP, and SLG. A fully-healthy Morneau would almost certainly rack up a .370 OBP and 25 to 30 home runs.

TOT: Not much. He had so many injuries last year that I can't even keep track of them all. Wrist surgery, neck surgery, post-concussion symptoms, the list goes on and on. And the fact that Minnesota is spinning it as good news that he is finally no longer experiencing concussion symptoms 18 months after his initial injury? Just depressing. Morneau was in the midst of a magical season before that fateful and seemingly innocuous feet-first slide into second base, and since then he's been a complete mess. I feel for the guy and hope so much that he can come back and be the player he was two years ago, but at this point if he either makes it through the whole season OR provides above average production for any significant portion of 2012, I'll be satisfied.

TD: It's absolutely impossible to know. Everyone seems to have an opinion, but we won't know until he gets several games under his belt. The concussion issues are alarming. His most recent concussion came on a dive for a pop up in the 1B coaches box. I fear a Corey Koskie situation where he is forced to retire by 30 for the best interest of his family. But it's also his wrist and other injuries that he's had. They all add up. We certainly hope that he can return to MVP form!!

TFFA: In my opinion, the expectation for Justin Morneau is to remain healthy in 2012. The last thing I want to see is another head injury. As we learn more, we are seeing that concussions can become exponentially more severe as they grown in number. I'd love to write that my expectation for Morneau is .315/.440/.575 with 30 HR and 100 RBIs, but in reality I don't think that's going to happen. The guy has a wife and a baby now, and his priorities have shifted accordingly. Although I love the Twins and want them to compete every year, Morneau's safety and health must come first. My expectation, then, is that the Twins will do everything in their power to make sure that Morneau is healthy enough to play without further risking his long-term safety. And if Morneau is healthy, anything is possible.

NDTF: This is truly the million-dollar question in regards to the team's success in 2012. It has been tough to watch the struggles of Morneau over the past two seasons because of the unknown element involved with head injuries. When he walks into the locker-room he doesn't have a cast on or scars from a surgery and there doesn't look like there is anything wrong with him. This makes it tough for other players and the fans to understand because of the mysteries with brain trauma. The team is hoping he will be able to get back to himself in 2012 so the expectation would be for him to play over a 100 games for the first time since 2009. If he is able to play in this amount of games, his production should improve so look for Morneau to accumulate around 20 home runs and hopefully drive in 90+ runs for the year.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

PP: Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, and Liam Hendriks all had their moments in a September call-up last year, but they could all use some time at AAA. Brian Dozier might be the guy to watch this season. If he gets off to a hot start in the minors, he may be a starting middle infielder for the Twins by June. 

The best Twins prospects are a few years away. Miguel Sano is by all accounts a special player. He'll make his full-season debut this year, and we might see him in the top 20 of next year's preseason MLB prospect lists. Also, Kyle Gibson profiles as a #2 or #3 starter; he should have made his debut last year, but Tommy John Surgery delayed him until 2013 at the earliest.

TOT: With Kyle Gibson going under the knife last year, I don't think there's one clear answer to this question. Chris Parmelee might be a popular choice but I don't see a roster spot for him to start the season, nor do I see him maintaining the success he had in his call-up at the end of last year. Joe Benson and Alex Wimmers might be options, but I don't think the Twins see either as being ready for extended time with the big league club this year. To me, that leaves Brian Dozier or my choice, Liam Hendriks. Dozier might have if the Twins hadn't signEd Carroll, but now he figures to be behind Alexi Casilla, Carroll, and presumably Tsuyoshi Nishioka at the midle infield spots. Hendriks pitched decently in his cup of coffee at the end of 2011, and figures to be one of the top choices should anyone in the rotation go down with an injury. Or struggle, which, given the makeup of the Twins' rotation, is virtually guaranteed. He may not have a lot of upside but I think he's the prospect most likely to make an impact this year.

TD: Last year, we got a glimpse at so many young players who weren't ready or were being relied upon for too much. Most of the Twins top prospects are in the lower levels of the minor leagues, but the Twins have several minor league prospects who could bring value to the Twins in 2012. This included outfielder Joe Benson, infielders Chris Parmelee, Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier and pitchers Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond, Carlos Gutierrez, Kyle Waldrop, Lester Oliveros and Deolis Guerra.

TFFA: One prospect to watch out for in 2012 is Brian Dozier, who played shortstop last season for the AA New Britain Rock Cats. To make a long story short, Dozier had an excellent season, with a .318/.384/.502 slash line in 78 games after being called up from High A level Ft. Myers. He followed up the regular season with a commanding performance in the Arizona Fall League. Although Dozier could use seasoning at AAA, it's possible he could be a contributor at the major league level in 2012, either based on others' injuries, or his own performance. The Twins have had a revolving door of shortstops for, well, the last decade or so. Even with the signing of 38 year-old Jamey Carroll -- up until now a utility player -- I believe that Dozier might be on the fast track. Carroll, though a good OBP guy, is just an average defender, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, once a source of excitement for Twins fans, will probably not amount to more than a MLB bench player. If the Twins believe that Dozier is the shortstop of the future in Minnesota, it might be to their advantage to give him a few months of MLB experience in 2012, especially if the team is not in contention for the playoffs. Carroll and his 2-year contract should not operate as a roadblock to Dozier, especially if Dozier shows the ability to dominate AAA pitching this spring. Interestingly, many in the organization believe that Dozier could also play second base, which, between Nishioka and Alexi Casilla, has not exactly been a position of stability for the Twins, either.

NDTF: The Twins farm system had two prospects breakout in 2011 and both of those prospects could make an impact on the team in 2012. Liam Hendriks got a taste of the big leagues at the end of last season and hopes are high for the young Australian to continue to be an impact arm. Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, and Francisco Liriano can all be free agents at the end of the year so the minor league system of the Twins is going to have to produce some talent for future roles in the starting rotation. By mid-season, Hendriks could be back at Target Field and taking his permanent spot in the rotation. The other area of need for the Twins in recent years has been the middle infield. Terry Ryan tried to address this need by bringing in veteran infielder Jamey Carroll but he looks to be a stopgap for top middle infield prospect Brian Dozier. The hope for the Twins is that Dozier won't be needed in 2012 because the young man has only played part of a season at the Double-A level. An injury or poor start from one of the starting infielders could be Dozier's ticket to the big leagues.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

PP: Unlike many baseball observers, I do not think the Twins will finish last place again. Their 2011 flop was largely due to injuries and some down seasons from key players. The Twins probably don't have the firepower to win the division, but they aren't as bad as they appeared to be last year. Given that Chicago is rebuilding and the Indians and Royals are still fragile, I think at least two of those teams will finish worse than the Twins. The Twins will win somewhere between 70 and 85 games and finish third place in the AL Central (85 might be too generous, but I'm an optimist). 

I'm excited to see the Twins' young prospects improve this year. From Sano and Eddie Rosario at Class A all the way to Ben Revere in the Majors, this will be a key year for developing young players in the organization. At the same time, I'm eager to see the veterans prove that last year was a fluke. If guys like Joe Mauer, Danny Valencia, and Denard Span can get back to the levels where they played before, that will be a very positive sign for the future. Finally, I'm excited about the second overall draft pick this summer. If the Astros don't pick Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, I'll be even more excited.

TOT: As a fan, despite everything I've written, I think they'll come out on top. The White Sox mortgaged for the future this off-season, the Tigers lost Victor Martinez and are playing a man at third base who could pass for an NFL offensive lineman, and the Indians just played over their heads last year. And do I even need to mention the Royals? As a realist, the Tigers have to be the favorite to win the division with Verlander, Cabrera, and now Prince Fielder. After that, it's a bit wide open, so I'll be a homer and pick the Twins a distant second--around .500--to the Tigers. 

And I'm most excited about Joe Mauer. I am the biggest apologist and fan of him, even in Twins territory. When so many fans turned on him toward the end of last year, I remained one of his staunchest supporters. He's healthy now and he'll be back to form this year. He'll never repeat his 2009 season, but I see another batting title coming in 2012.

TD: I'm just generally excited about getting back into the flow of a 162 game season. I think that the likely result is that the Twins will compete for 3rd and 4th place in the AL Central. If all goes well, they may be able to contend for much of the season.

TFFA: On paper, the Twins opening day lineup looks fairly solid. Names like Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit bring to mind lots of hitting. In reality, however, Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are major question marks. I don't believe that this team has the pitching or the offense to compete with the Detroit Tigers. At the same time, though, non-Twins fans should know that this is not the 99-loss team that we watched flail helplessly in 2011. I think we are seeing a 2nd place team in Minnesota. If 2 of the 3 players I just identified stay healthy for most of the season, I think the Twins will play .500 baseball, perhaps winning as many as 85 games.

NDTF: On paper in the American League Central, it seems to be the Detroit Tigers and then everyone else. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals could be poised to make the next step in 2012 but a healthy version of the Twins should be able to stay close to these other squads. It would seem that the Indians, Royals, and Twins could all be fighting for the runner-up spot in the AL Central but in this division it only takes a .500 mark to stay in contention. A couple of injuries on the Tigers could bring them back to the rest of the pack and then things could get very interesting in the Central. For me the most exciting thing about the 2012 season will be putting the nightmare of 2011 out of my mind. Seeing a healthy Joe Mauer on the field will be great and if Justin Morneau can join him there should be a Twins team fighting for another title in the AL Central.

My thanks to all of these guys for taking the time to write about the Twins for us.  I find it hard to believe that an organization like that will be down for long, so we'll see if they can't be competitive yet again this season.

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1 Comment | Leave a comment

Great post, Daniel! Thanks for letting me contribute.

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