Every spring training, fans of all MLB teams have high expectations going into each season. However, cold reality sets in since only four teams from each league make the playoffs.
As the season now approaches the halfway mark, there are a few teams whose hopes are pretty bleak at the moment. I'm taking some time and looking at what went wrong and what can be done to improve each club going forward.
I'm starting with the Minnesota Twins, who at the time of this writing are 28-39 in fifth place in the AL Central. The Twins have been playing better as of late, winning 10 of their last 11 games and yet they are still 11 games under .500. Here's a look at how their season has gone thus far:
The expectations of this group were pretty high after getting taken out yet again by the Yankees in 2010 playoffs. The results this year have been very disappointing. Most of the players have either been on the DL for extended periods or have performed well below expectations. Only three starters with over 100 ABs have an OPS over .700.
It's looking more and more like the Twins overspent on Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Question is, what are they going to do about it?
After 2011, they have several players who either are going to be free agents or have options: Michael Cuddyer ($10.5 million), Jason Kubel ($5.25 million), Jim Thome ($3 million), Matt Capps ($7.15 million) and Joe Nathan ($12.5 million option or $2 million buyout).
I know it's not just this simple, but that's approximately $36 million that can come off the books. The biggest problem I see is that Cuddyer, Kubel and Thome are three of the four power bats in their lineup (Morneau being the other).
Down on the farm, it appears they have three players that are ready to make the jump to the big leagues—one offensive and two pitchers. The offensive player is outfielder Ben Revere. He's currently with the big club now. He has the same skill set that Denard Span has: good contact and a lot of speed. So does their highest-ranking prospect that's currently in High-A ball, Aaron Hicks, which for me presents another possible problem.
Unless they plan on bringing back the mid-80s St. Louis Cardinals' style of baseball under Whitey Herzog, I'm not sure this can work. It does defensively in their spacious home outfield, but not so sure if that style can be played in today's game.
The other outfielder currently with the team is Delmon Young. I think that his stats from 2010 reflect his "career year." When you look at his overall numbers, he's almost a clone of Jeff Francoeur. Delmon Young has just under 2,500 MLB at-bats and he only has 109 walks. That tells me he doesn't have good strike-zone judgement.
With Justin Morneau signed through 2014, the Twins will have to stick it out with him at first. The same can be said of Joe Mauer at catcher. The health and production of these two players will determine the long-term viability of future Twins teams.
The rest of the Twins infield leaves a lot to be desired as well. Between Alexi Casilla, Luke Hughes, Trevor Plouffe and Danny Valencia, none of them can be seen as standout players. None of their minor league stats indicate that any of these players will be anything more than backups or fringe starters.
Valencia's numbers indicate some room for improvement and until Tsuyoshi Nishioka is completely healthy and gets some ABs, the jury is out on him. If everyone gets back being to healthy and performs to their usual standards, the offense can and will improve. Just not to the point of overtaking the Tigers, in my opinion.
The starting staff has been a strength for the Twins. Carl Pavano, Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn have been really good. Brian Duensing has been OK and Francisco Liriano has been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Four out of Liriano's first five starts were horrible. Five out of his last six starts have been great, including a no-hitter and almost a second. Liriano is the closest thing to an "ace" the Twins have.
However, the bullpen is a completely different story. After most of the 2010 relievers were free agents, the plan was to let all of them go, build from within and hope Joe Nathan would return to form. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only thing that's gone right is Glen Perkins has flourished in his role. Besides Perkins, only two other relievers have ERAs under five (Matt Capps and Jose Mijares at 4.50 each).
They do have some help that's ready to produce—Kyle Gibson, a starter, and Carlos Gutierrez, a reliever. With the struggles the bullpen has had, I'm surprised that Gutierrez hasn't been called up yet. I'm sure the organization has their reasons. Kevin Slowey is currently on the DL and is an option for a bullpen role while he regains his form. The Twins could either leave him in the bullpen if everyone continues doing well or could knock one of the other starters, most likely Duensing, into the bullpen.
The Twins have holes in their bullpen and infield right now and will have more in the power department next year, unless they open their wallets a little wider. It's time for the Twins to look at themselves in the mirror. They can either keep all of these upcoming free agents and collect draft picks for those who leave or become sellers at the deadline and pick up some young/younger players that are ready to produce sooner.
Obviously, the Twins will have to weigh their options depending on what's offered. In my opinion, they should become sellers. Besides the upcoming free agents they have, the Twins have a glut of starting pitchers—the five starters they currently use plus Slowey and Gibson. They could even add a starter in a trade to sweeten the pot for better returns from another team.
If they play their cards right, they could receive enough young players and retool on the fly. Between the money coming off the books, the young pieces they should receive and what they have now, they may even be able to sign a good free agent or two and compete in 2012.
Of the players that are projected to be free agents, there aren't a lot of big names. One player I would consider on a two-three year deal would be Jimmy Rollins. I don't think the Phillies will be able to re-sign the former MVP with all of their other high-salary commitments.
One thing they do need is some right-handed pop to create some balance in their lineup. Right now, the only players with even decent right-handed power are Cuddyer and Young—and that's not good enough. A couple of more players that could work would be Josh Willingham or Aramis Ramirez (he has a 2012 option and not sure of what the Cubs may do).
This team, as currently constructed, can compete in the AL Central, but they don't have the firepower to compete with Boston or New York for a World Series title. They need to reload and if they do it now, they will only be down this year and maybe next year before they're competing again.
Much like last year's Rays team, this team had its run, but it's over now.