And continue their slow creep back into relevance. This is still early in the chain of moves that the Twins will be making and it’s still early to say that they might pose a threat to the Tigers in the season to come, but we should realize that they are moving in that direction. I wrote after their signing of Jamey Carroll that while the Twins do need their big 3 to play like stars if they are going to contend in the division, the reason that the team fell so far in 2011 was the complete and total failure of all but a handful of supporting pieces. As the Twins go through the motions this offseason – with a lot of payroll tied down and a lot of holes to fill – the only goal they can have is to build a team that will approach .500 if Morneau, Mauer and Liriano duplicate their 2011 but could win the division if they played up to their potential. Minnesota will need at least some of those guys to bounce back (I’m thinking particularly of Denard Span, Danny Valencia and a couple of starters) but a significant number of offenders have to be replaced with less bad options.
Like Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit is not going to contend for any MVP awards – but he has been a pretty decent player and isn’t going to break the bank with a 1-year $3 million deal. I’ll probably get a few comments here about the fact that the Tigers signed the far less offensively competent Gerald Laird as a backup catcher while the Twins pulled Doumit for the same role, so I want to clarify that this isn’t really the case. The most important thing that Doumit will do for the Twins is still to back up Joe Mauer, since his chief fill-in Drew Butera had a .449 OPS in 93 games last year. Given Mauer’s recent injury history, he’s likely to need a lot of starts at DH to keep his legs working (assuming the Twins are trying to keep his bat in the lineup) so the Twins’ backup catcher is likely to see a lot more pitches than Gerald Laird will in 2012. That, of course, isn’t the only concern… Justin Morneau missed a lot of time last year and wasn’t terribly effective when he played (due to the lingering aftereffects of a 2010 concussion) so while the Twins have no choice but to count on him to play and produce they do need an acceptable backup plan at first. Michael Cuddyer could have filled that role again, but he’s more than likely gone so that backup plan becomes Doumit. Even if Morneau plays 158 games for them, the corner outfield spots are wide open with the likely losses of Cuddyer and Kubel as well as the empty spot at DH following the in-season trade of Jim Thome.
In short, Minnesota seems to offer the ideal situation for Ryan Doumit – who above all else wants to prove that he’s more than a backup catcher – for a one-year deal. He’s as likely there as anywhere else to find himself with a full-time catching gig, but he’s also going to be in a situation where he can gather plate appearances in a ‘utility’ role playing first, DH and outfield. Doumit is likely to get 600 plate appearances under his belt next year – assuming he stays healthy – and if he can match his career .777 OPS should blow away his career highs in all those counting stats and be in a good position to sign a longer-term contract after 2012. As for the Twins, the cash outlay is small and they look to get a massive improvment from it. Again, much of this is because the backups at a variety of positions whose playing time Doumit will be taking away were below replacement level and Doumit looks to be roughly average overall (combining his bat and glove). Still, the fact remains that with this signing, the Twins have likely added a full four wins relative to what they got in 2011 and that’s nothing to sneeze at. It will take a few more such moves for the Twins to even be able to see our Tigers in the distance, but they are gaining.