The night is darkest before the dawn. That should be the motto for the 2013 Minnesota Twins.
While previous mottos of "Twins: Get to Know 'em" and "Twins: Gotta See 'em" from earlier this millennium are a little cheerier, the darkest before the dawn quote generally sums up 2013.
Fan favorites like Denard Span and Ben Revere were traded for young pitchers as the Twins build for 2014 and beyond. Journeymen starts try to hold down the rotation until the reinforcements arrive. The outfield is full of young talent waiting to break out. Big names could be on the trading block if the Twins are uncompetitive early and often.
There are five burning questions for Twins fans in the upcoming season:
While early reports out of camp is that Darin Mastroianni is expected to win the center fielder job in in 2013, don't expect youngsters Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson to give up the spot so easily.
The Twins believe they have enough talent in Hicks and Benson to trade away outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere, but fans will have to play the waiting game to see if they are right.
Mastroianni has the most big league experience of the three potential center fielders, batting .252/.328/.350 with 21 stolen bases in 77 games with the Twins in 2012.
Hicks has yet to reach Triple-A ball (.286/.384/.460 with 13 home runs and 32 stolen bases in 129 games for AA-New Britain in 2012), but showed significant improvement last season.
Benson, while having an injury-plagued 2012 season, appeared in 21 games as a September call-up in 2011 (.239/.270/.352).
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told MLB.com blogger Rhett Bollinger that he's excited to see what Mastroianni can do in a full season.
"He brings that excitement to the game," Gardenhire said. "Anything can happen. He can steal bases. He's game on. He likes to get dirty and run around and dive all over the place. If you want somebody to amp it up a little bit, he can do that. He gets everybody excited with the way he runs the bases and steals. So I like that about him."
Mastroianni got in extra work this offseason, playing in 29 games for Aguilas de Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he hit .256 with a .381 on-base percentage and eight stolen bases.
Josh Willingham had a career year in 2012 (.260/.366/.524, 35 HR, 110 RBI) and will be the everyday left fielder. The Twins are hoping that Chris Parmelee (.229/.290/.380, 5 HR, 20 RBI) will step up to take Revere's spot in right.
Pedro Florimon is the early favorite to be the Opening Day shortstop in 2013
But seriously, are they?
After realizing Tsuyoshi Nishioka (who apologized to the organization for how bad he was) wasn't the future, the Twins have been looking for something to fill the middle infield with.
The Twins have many options to choose from to fill their vacant spots up the middle at shortstop and second base, but the players worth noting are Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier, Jamey Carroll, and Eduardo Escobar. Alexi Casilla was claimed off waivers by Baltimore on November 2.
Since Cristian Guzman left after the 2004 season, the Twins have had a revolving door at shortstop...and second base...and third base. Since 2005, the Twins have had 34 players start a game at those three positions.
In addition to Carroll, Florimon, Dozier, and Escobar, the Twins have started Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett, Michael Cuddyer, Juan Castro, Luis Rodriguez, Terry Tiffee, Luis Rivas, Bret Boone, Glenn Williams, Luis Castillo, Tony Batista, Alexi Casilla, Jeff Cirillo, Brian Buscher, Tommy Watkins, Brendan Harris, Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, Matt Tolbert, Matt Macri, Howie Clark, Orlando Cabrerra, Joe Crede, Jose Morales, JJ Hardy, Danny Valencia, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Tsuyoshi Nishika, Brian Dinkleman, and Sean Burroughs.
These are the 2012 stats for the four infielders. Escobar and Carroll both saw time at third base, as well as the middle infield positions.
*played games with the Twins and Chicago White Sox.
While the Twins don't want to have to rely on the 39-year-old Carroll, they will if they had to, as was the case last year. When you're relying on production from somebody who began their career as a Montreal Expo, there is a problem. The Twins are hoping to have Florimon at short and Dozier at second.
Could the entire heart of the Twins line-up be on the trading block?
Justin Morneau, who had a bounce-back year after missing 172 games between 2010 and 2011 with concussion symptoms and wrist surgery, was being shopped to the LA Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays, and World Champion San Francisco Giants last July. The Twins have reportedly turned down trade offers from the Boston Red Sox for Joe Mauer, and were listening to offers for Josh Willingham last summer.
Willingham had career highs in home runs (35) and RBI (110). The three-time batting champ Mauer led the AL in OBP (.416), finished fourth in batting average (.319), and had a career high in plate appearances (641). Morneau was healthy enough to play 135 games (his most since 2009) while hitting .267 with 19 HR and 77 RBI.
The Twins are hoping to be buyers instead of sellers this July, but if the Twins are drowning in the cellar of the American League Central, don't be surprised if rumors surrounding the three veterans start flying around.
Morneau is in the final year of a six-year, $80 million deal; Willingham is in year two of a three-year, $21 million deal; and Mauer is entering the third year of his eight-year, $184 million deal that pays him about $23 million a year.
The Twins added 25-year-old Vance Worley to the rotation in the Ben Revere trade
If you wanted to find the Twins on a page of 2012 pitching categories, all you have to do is look at the bottom of the page.
The Twins pitching really didn't improve from their 99-loss season in 2011 to their 96-loss campaign in 2012. They ranked at the bottom of the American League in nearly every pitching category.
The Twins had the second-worst ERA in the American League at 4.77. Only Cleveland, at 4.78, was worse. The Twins also ranked last in quality starts (61), BAA (.274), gave up the second most earned runs (762), and was the only AL team to not record 1000 strikeouts (943).
Here is how the 2012 Twins compare to the 2011 Twins, and what the American League averaged in 2012:
|2012 AL Avg||4.08||5||10||81||657||713||1194||.255|
GM Terry Ryan is addressing the problems with pitching. He traded Ben Revere to Philadelphia for Vance Worley (17-12, 3.60 ERA, 226 K in two full major league seasons) and Trevor May (10-13, 4.87 ERA, 151 K at AA-Reading in 2012).
He also dealt leadoff hitter Denard Span to Washington for Alex Meyer (10-6, 2.86 ERA, 139 K between Single A-Hagerstown and Potomac in 2012).
Ryan also added veterans like Kevin Correia (12-11), 4.21 ERA, 89 K); Mike Pelfrey (underwent Tommy John surgery last April); Josh Roenicke (3.25 ERA in 63 relief appearances); and Rafael Perez (coming off arthroscopic shoulder surgery) to help stop the bleeding.
Praised early in his managerial career for "making something out of nothing," manager Ron Gardenhire hasn't had nearly the same success the past two seasons.
And after the coaching purge last October that left Rick Stelmaszek, Steve Liddle and Jerry White in the unemployment line, many fans figure that Gardenhire's turn was next if he doesn't turn things around.
Gardenhire was hired as a coach for the Twins in 1991, and became manager in 2002 when Tom Kelly retired. The Twins won three consecutive AL Central titles under Gardenhire with the foundation that Kelly left him.
After missing the playoffs in 2005, the Twins won the division three of the next five years. They were a team-best 30 games over .500 under the Gardenhire regime in 2006...a year that the Cy Young (Johan Santana), batting title (Mauer), and AL MVP (Morneau) all go to Twins.
After the 2010 season, Gardy helped the Twins fly six AL Central flags in left field in his first nine seasons as manager, and finished above .500 in eight of those nine seasons (the Twins were 79-83 in 2007). Garenhire finished as runner-up for Manager of the Year five times before finally winning the award in 2010.
Then 2011 happened. The team that had won the AL Central the previous season only won 63 games the following season. Then 66 the following year.
Gardenhire is in the final year of his contract, and it wasn't extended during the offseason. Gardy is likely on a short leash, so if the Twins start as slow as they historically do (.505 W-L percent under Gardenhire in April, .514 W-L percent in the first half of the season), Gardy could join the unemployment line.