The more Mauer dons catching gear in '12, the better off the club will be.
Brief 2011 Recap
Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the 2011 Minnesota Twins.
Injuries more or less destroyed any semblance of continuity on a team that wasn't built to succeed in the first place. The Twins' stunning lack of depth showed when key players such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span were replaced by a pair of Double-A call-ups in Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee, as well as career minor leaguers like Brian Dinkelman, Steve Holm, and Rene Rivera.
Indeed, it was that kind of year in the Twin Cities, as the club was outscored by nearly 200 runs and just seemed ready for it to all be over at the season's end.
Many vets have departed, and there's plenty of new blood on what appears to be a better team in 2012.
Brief 2012 Prediction
This isn't necessarily a team that is built to contend, but it's a much better balanced club that should be more prepared to absorb any time lost by any key player, at least more so than the 2011 incarnation.
Ryan Doumit should be a good insurance policy for both Mauer and Morneau, and Jamey Carroll was inked to a reasonable deal to be a steadying hand in the middle infield and adequate bridge from Span to Mauer in the batting order. He should be good for it.
The starting pitching staff added Jason Marquis—Brian Duensing shifted to the bullpen—but that's likely a move with little net effect. The bullpen will be built on the cheap, as plenty of new, hard-throwing faces will get a chance as the Twins attempt to build a bullpen with little money.
Projected Starting Lineup
Where do you think the Twins will finish in '12?
Top Bench Options
Projected Starting Pitching Rotation
Top 101 Prospects (According to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus)
IF Miguel Sano (13th)
IF-OF Eddie Rosario (87th)
OF Joe Benson (90th)
Why the Twins Will Contend in 2012
Each and every one of the Span-Mauer-Morneau trio is healthy and as productive as they were two seasons ago, the bullpen reclamation project is a success and the starting rotation is adequate.
If these three things stay true, this Twins team has the makings of a 90-win ball club. Call me crazy, but this team is not that much different than the one that won 94 games in Target Field's inaugural season.
The Detroit Tigers are the prohibitive favorite here, but the Twins are going to be vastly improved, having learned from their mistakes—and having fired their GM, for what it's worth. They have built a much better team for 2012.
Why the Twins Will Not Contend in 2012
Injuries, inconsistency, and inability to make adjustments could very well plague the Twins for a second straight year.
Morneau isn't completely out of the woods from his injuries—and may never be. If he's not productive this year, Doumit isn't likely to be a great asset when placed in the context of the average American League first baseman.
A lot of things went right for the Twins in 2010, and a lot went went wrong for the club in 2011. I envision a middle ground in 2012. Close to 90 wins can be doable.
2012 Prediction: 84-78, 2nd in AL Central