For as long as I can remember, a Twins offseason would run along the same paths every year.
It would start with a faint sense of wishful thinking: Maybe, just maybe, this is finally the year we make the move to put us over the top, that one player to make us contenders.
The hope was soon lost though, as in the next months fans would see Twins shopping in the discount aisles once again, picking scraps out of a heap of has-beens and never-weres.
Such was not the case this past offseason, and the Pohlads have made true their promise of additional spending as a result of new stadium revenues.
The acquisitions of J.J. Hardy, Jim Thome, and Orlando Hudson, the re-signing of Carl Pavano, and the inevitable contract extension to Joe Mauer push the Twins' payroll north of $100 million, a stark contrast from the $67 million of yesteryear.
And so, instead of having to force myself into a false state of optimism, the moves made by the organization, combined with possible resurgences from the likes of Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, and Pat Neshek, have made the Twins the odds-on favorite in the weak American League Central.
Cause for optimism
I could just as well say “Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan” and end this section, and in previous years that would do it justice.
But with numerous questions being answered, hope is running especially high in Twins Territory.
J.J. Hardy, if he returns to anywhere close to his numbers of ’07 and ’08, fills the gaping hole of shortstop. Orlando Hudson, a sound offensive threat and defensive staple at second base, fits almost perfectly into what has been a problematic second spot in the Twins' lineup.
Jim Thome, a slugger sitting 12th on the all-time home runs list at 564, figures to be an upgrade on the bench over players such as Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher, and Alexi Casilla in clutch pinch-hitting situations late in games.
Plug these players into an already potent formula of timely hitting, strong defense, and a usually dependable relief corps, coupled with the returns of control artist Kevin Slowey and the unorthodox-but-effective Pat Neshek, and even the most pessimistic of Twins fans has to feel moderately good about this year.
Cause for concern
The likes of Michael Cuddyer, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, and Joe Mauer are coming off years far better than they’ve had in past seasons. They are bound to regress some.
The Twins rotation is still top-light, and the lack of a standout ace in a stable full of third and fourth starters poses a problem against teams stacked with overpaid star pitchers. The rotation needs one of those third or fourth starters (Slowey, Liriano, or Scott Baker, namely) to emerge into the caliber of pitcher that can toe the line against contending teams and their aces.
Other than the above concerns, not much else can poke a hole in the sail of a Twins team that seems to have almost run away with the American League Central with their offseason moves.
Expect 89 or 90 wins and a date with the American League East division champion, where the Twins have struggled mightily in the past few seasons. If they can beat the Red Sox or Yankees in a five-game series (which is far from easy), the Twins will be well on their way to a potential World Series run.
Opening Day Lineup
1) Denard Span, CF
2) Orlando Hudson, 2B
3) Joe Mauer, C
4) Michael Cuddyer, RF
5) Justin Morneau, 1B
6) Jason Kubel, DH
7) J.J. Hardy, SS
8) Delmon Young, LF
9) Nick Punto, 3B