The Twins ran away with the AL Central in 2010 and had been at or close to the division lead for the past 10 years. After moving into their new (outdoor???) digs in 2010 Minnesota pushed their payroll past the $100 million mark and it rose to approximately $113 million by opening day. This was independent of the team’s actions in the free agent market and made it difficult for the team to attempt to resign any or all of it’s free agents following the 2010 season. The question marks surrounding the team prior to 2011 centered on the loss of a large number of quality relievers and replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with unknown quantity Tsuyoshi Nishioka (and existing reserves) up the middle. Still, the Twins won the division in 2010 handily and were widely considered to be the front-runner in 2011 if not quite an iron lock.
What went right?
The whole season is now in the books, and as we now know those mighty Twins needed to win their last few games just to avoid the ignominy of a hundred losses. Still, the year was unambiguously bad for the Twinks and those that love them. So… if this part seems like a stretch, bear with me. I’ll start with Alexi Casilla – the fact that he was penciled in as an everyday starter was one of the big causes of skepticism about the Twins chances in a tight Central, but he acquitted himself better at the plate than expected (even if the end result was still an OPS of .690). In the ‘pen, Glen Perkins put up a 2.48 ERA and a K/BB ratio over 3 after getting hit pretty hard in 2009 and 2010. Michael Cuddyer hit the ball well in his last year under team control. Scott Baker looked to be making real progress in the right direction…
What went wrong…
And then he got hurt. Everything that I didn’t go right, went wrong. Even Cuddyer’s production was largely wasted by his horrendous performance in clutch situations. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau went from 9.7 WAR in 2008 to 11.5 in 2009 to 10.7 WAR in 2010 to a measly 1.4 this year. Their poor performance was, of course, the direct result of lingering injuries (post-concussion syndrome and some sort of leg weakness) but their very lingering makes one wonder what the Twins can expect from the two in 2012 and over the life of their very lucrative contracts. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was an unmitigated disaster after he was signed to a $9 million 3-year deal (plus the $5 mil to Chiba Lotte) during the offseason. Nishioka was only healthy for half of the season, but when healthy he was vastly below replacement level. With the exception of Perkins, the Twins bullpen was a festering wound all season long. 2010 closer Matt Capps, 2009 closer Joe Nathan and veteran setup man Jose Mijares were expected to hold down the top of the bullpen while management cycled through options for the bottom until they found something that would stick. They finished with ERAs of 4.25, 4.84 and 4.59 – not what you need from your relief aces. The options they cycled through were as bad as could have been imagined, with only Perkins really contributing anything positive. After a breakthrough 2010 Francisco Liriano took a huge step back, as did Delmon Young. Brian Duensing was moved into the rotation after a fanastic 2010 as a swingman, falling flat on his face. Young third baseman Danny Valencia made no strides of any kind. Backup catchers filling in for the injured Mauer were among the worst offensive players in the past decade.
IF they can recover from those injuries (and ineffectiveness) the Twins have two of the best hitter in baseball in Mauer and Morneau, two potential aces in Baker and Liriano and a shutdown closer in Joe Nathan. IF they don’t…
There isn’t a lot else positive to say about the Twins roster… they have some mediocre innings-eaters in the rotation and a bunch of weak bats with (sometimes theoretically) good gloves. Their bullpen remains every bit the work in progress it was when the 2011 season began.
Pending Free Agents:
Offense first OF/DH types Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Part-time closer Matt Capps. Joe Nathan has an option year remaining with a $2 million buyout, no guarantee the Twins pick this up.
Health. Relievers. Corner outfielders. Many of the players “most responsible” for the Twins failings in 2011 will remain on the roster in 2012, eating payroll. As such their positions can’t exactly be described as ‘holes’ and the Twins are likely better off hoping for the best from the guys they have already. Assuming Kubel and Cuddyer walk, they will need to be replaced, the same goes for Joe Nathan – there don’t appear to be good internal candidates to fill those roles at the moment. Though some players are due arbitration raises there should be enough money coming off the books for the team to attempt to patch a few holes – they have no choice, after all, with so many underperforming studs still under contract.
Uncertain. If the Twins recover all around, they could be almost the team they were in 2010 and the team most of us expected them to be in 2011. Or, 2012 could be a repeat of 2011 as hysteresis sets in. We probably won’t have a better idea what to expect until spring training.