As TSHQ’s MLB Preview continues, we turn our attention to a team which was marred by injuries and disappointment last season: the Minnesota Twins. A team which in the early 2000s had a strangle hold on the American League Central has fallen to the bottom of the barrel. A lack of consistent pitching and an ever changing lineup left Ron Gardenhire’s club to struggle last season. How will 2012 fare for the Twinkies?
Projected Position Players (Backups in parenthesis)
C – Joe Mauer (Ryan Doumit)
1B – Justin Morneau (Chris Parmalee)
2B – Alexi Casilla (Luke Hughes)
3B – Danny Valencia
SS – Jamey Carroll (Tsuyoshi Nishioka)
LF – Ben Revere (Trevor Plouffe)
CF – Denard Span
RF – Josh Willingham (Rene Tosoni)
DH – Willingham/Plouffe/Tosoni/Mauer/Morneau
There is a bunch of run production possible for this lineup when healthy. Denard Span, Ben Revere, and Alexi Casilla bring speed on the bases. Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau bring 30 homerun potential while Joe Mauer brings a bit of everything to the middle of this lineup. Danny Valencia was up and down during his first full season at third base and at 28 the Twins hope he can establish himself as a consistent contact hitter this season.
This team has two MVP caliber players: Mauer and Morneau. When they are healthy, this is one of the best lineups in the AL Central. That “when” hasn’t been since 2009. Even then, neither registered more than 138 games played. The best decision for the Twins would be to move Mauer to DH, or, have Mauer and Morneau split time between first and DH. The acquisition of Ryan Doumit allows this to happen, as he has proven in the past the capability to be an everyday, reliable catcher. This team needs to do whatever it can to make sure that both Morneau and Mauer are in the lineup as often as possible if they want to get back into contention in the Central.
Projected Pitching Rotation & Bullpen
SP – Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing, Scott Baker, Jason Marquis
RP – Glen Perkins, Alex Burnett, Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Waldrop, Lester Olivieros, Joel Zumaya
CL – Matt Capps
These pitchers all have plenty of major league experience. Matt Capps is reliable at the back end and Glen Perkins is one of the most dangerous lefty weapons in any bullpen in the league. Carl Pavano is two years removed from a 17 win season and Francisco Liriano is two years removed from a 14 win season.While this staff will not be dominant, they should be serviceable for at least one more major league season together.
Scott Baker was the only pitcher on this staff to finish last season above .500. He was 8-6. He also led the team with a 3.14 ERA. All of this came over 134.2 innings pitched. Not exactly the numbers an ace puts up. Because of the lack of quality starting pitching, this bullpen needs to make up for its counterparts deficiencies. If Joel Zumaya can stay healthy this bullpen may be just that, but banking on someone who hasn’t pitched effectively since 2006. Between 2007-2010, Zumaya never pitched more than 38.1 innings in a season. The hard throwing righty took all of last season off to recover from yet another injury. If this team has any chance of getting back to the top half of their division, they need as many active arms in the bullpen as possible.
Would winning the AL Central be completely out of the question? Absolutely. While this offense has plenty of potential to be potent, their starting pitching is the worst in this division by a country mile. They have some chips to trade if they would like to acquire some young pitching talent. According to MLB.com, their top five prospects are all position players. None of their top four prospects are expected to make any sort of impact on the major league club until at least 2014. If healthy, their best trade bait may well be Morneau, and given the money they have tied up in Mauer, that may not be a bad move for Minnesota. Moving Mauer permanently to first base may add longevity to his career and with Doumit on roster there may be no better time than now for the Twins. They are a few years and pitchers away from contention, rebuilding now around Span and Mauer may be their best option. Hey, at least Minnesota has the Timberwolves.