Manager Ron Gardenhire hopes to lead a resurgence in Minnesota during the last year of his contract.
The Minnesota Twins have found themselves in the bottom of baseball's weakest division for the last two seasons. Although a 2013 turnaround seems unlikely, the Twins have already had the busiest offseason in recent memory.
But was the roster shake up enough? The Twins have addressed their immediate needs in the starting rotation by adding Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. But it came with a price. Worley, along with prospect Trevor May were acquired from the Phillies for Ben Revere. Another pitching prospect was acquired for Denard Span in Alex Meyer. Although the rotation looks a little bulkier, the absence in center field is a bit startling.
Pitching and defense wins championships, and the Twins came into the offseason sorely lacking in both departments.
The offseason is more than half over, and most of the big names have inked their deals. The Twins now need to focus on building in their areas of need. The last two seasons provided a perfect blueprint for improvement: pitching, pitching and more pitching.
If the Twins can improve their problem areas, they could be a young and talented force in the American League Central over the next several years. The question is, can they compete in 2013?
Surprise! Well, maybe not so much. Even with several key additions, the Twins starting rotation is still an area of need. The Twins lack what they always seem to lack: a true ace.
Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker flirted with the title for years, but now both have made new homes in the National League.
Scott Diamond is a very capable young starter, and all eyes will be on him as he looks to back up a very good 2012 campaign. He's not an ace yet, but another solid year will at least keep him at or near the top of the Twins rotation for years to come.
After Diamond, the Twins have added three National League starters: Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Even if their league transition goes smoothly, health and durability may be a factor.
Of the three, Vance Worley is the one to watch. After finishing third in 2011's NL Rookie of the Year voting, Worley was a bit less stellar in 2012. He finished the year with a 4.20 ERA and was shut down in August for surgery to remove a bone chip in his elbow. If healthy, Worley should be a very good No. 2 starter.
Mike Pelfrey is another question mark due to health, but the Twins insist he will be ready for the start of 2013. He started off 2012 having great success, pitching to a 2.29 ERA in three starts before Tommy John surgery ended his season.
Kevin Correia reminds me a little too much of the ghost of Jason Marquis, but he has been relatively durable in recent years. Owning a 4.54 career ERA, Correia is strictly a ground ball pitcher who's success lies in large part with the Twins defense.
The fifth starter spot is up for grabs to a number of names including Samuel Deduno, Cole de Vries, Liam Hendricks and new addition Rich Harden.
Harden is an interesting case. He has true ace potential when healthy but has never really been healthy. I like this signing for the Twins because there's little to no risk, and he'll have a great chance to crack the opening day roster if he can stay healthy.
After this lot, the Twins may still pay their dues on the likes of Shaun Marcum and the rest of the free-agent pitching crop, but a big signing seems unlikely. Perhaps (and hopefully) the Twins will look to bolster the rotation via trade.
With a full rotation of ground ball pitchers, the middle infield is an obvious point of scrutiny for the Twins entering 2013. Defense up the middle is hugely important at the moment, so whoever impresses most with the glove in spring training will likely land the role.
This makes me lean towards a duo of Pedro Florimon Jr. and Jamey Carroll at short and second. This is probably the best offensive and defensive option of a group that also includes Eduardo Escobar and countless spring training invitees.
The corner infield spots are pretty much locked up right now with Justin Morneau at first and Trevor Plouffe at third. Morneau is a rock, but Plouffe still needs to prove he can capably defend at the hot corner. If he can pull it together this year and regain his incredible power stroke from June and July, Plouffe may be a breakout player for the Twins this year.
Darin Mastroianni is the most likely solution for the Twins center field needs
Losing both Denard Span and Ben Revere freed up a log jam in the outfield and bolstered the pitching staff, but it also left a lot of inexperienced players competing for center field.
Darin Mastroianni was a low risk signing for the Twins that stuck last year. Enough for him to be the favorite to start the year in center field. With 21 stolen bases in only 186 plate appearances, speed is Mastroianni's biggest tool both in the outfield and on the base paths.
Besides Mastroianni, the Twins will be looking at newcomer Aaron Hicks and long time prospect Joe Benson to fill the role. Benson has seen limited time with the Twins in the past few seasons, being mostly ineffective. This may be his last chance to land a spot on the major league roster. Hicks on the other hand will have plenty of opportunity. His breakout season in Double A New Britain earned him an invitation to spring training and perhaps helped the Twins in their decision to move both center fielders for pitching help.
Don't expect the Twins to make a Michael Bourn-like splash in free agency. The center field absence will likely be filled in-house.