We've reached the halfway point in the Winter Meetings and we've also passed the halfway point in our team coverage. Other than the Astros, the Twins were the worst team in baseball last season. Worst to first stories are always captivating, but first to worst stories can be just as interesting. It is interesting if you aren't a Twins fan at least.
Injuries usually tell the tale in stories like this and the Twins were really no different. The story usually starts with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but it continues through to Denard Span, Jason Kubel and even Michael Cuddyer to a lesser extent. Mix in a liberal helping of pitching gone bad and you have the recipe for a disaster.
Terry Ryan is back in the saddle and he is has already gotten down to business. The team has a new shortstop and a new hybrid catcher/DH/IB/OF. The pitching still leaves a lot to be desired, but competitiveness is not that far away if the M&M boys play like they did in the middle of the last decade.
Everything on the Twins starts with Joe Mauer. They gave him a monster contract as the face of the franchise and he subsequently fell on his face in the first official season of the deal. Still, there is no reason to think he won't bounce back. Furthermore, Ryan signed Ryan Doumit to take some of the pressure off.
Doumit gives Gardenhire the opportunity to use some creative lineup combinations. It also allows Mauer to come out from behind the plate and play first or DH on occasion. The key to the success of the season will be whether Justin Morneau can come back. He suffered a concussion in 2010 and has never been the same. Chris Parmalee performed well in September, but he doesn't appear to be a major factor yet.
Alexi Casilla may have been the lone bright spot on the infield. He was a question mark coming into the season, but he seems to have solidified the second base spot. Jamey Carroll was signed to a two-year deal to be the regular shortstop. That leaves Danny Valencia at third base. The combination is not overwhelming, but it is steady for the moment.
On the other hand, the outfield is a bit unsettled with Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel both free agents. The situation seems to change by the day as Ryan vacillates between re-signing Cuddyer and letting him walk. The Phillies have been linked to him in the past, but it is hard to say where he will go at this point.
Kubel seems to be as good as gone. If the Twins get Cuddyer back then losing Kubel really isn't that big a deal. The club has Joe Benson ready to take one of the corner outfield slots. At the moment, he is slated in right field with speedster Ben Revere penciled in left field. Revere took over for the injured Denard Span and showed a ton of range. His arm is on the weaker side which means he could turn into a poor man's Brett Gardner in left.
Span took over the center field job a couple of years ago. He signed a multi-year deal and, like most of his teammates, subsequently suffered through an injury riddled season. He is brilliant defensively and offers speed on top of the order. If he and Revere both stay healthy they will wreak some havoc on the base paths.
The rotation in Minnesota can be found in the reference section under mediocre. Scott Baker was the only hurler to distinguish himself last season. Kevin Slowey went from being one of the more underrated hurlers in the game to being a non-tender candidate. Ryan shipped him off to Colorado in exchange for a player to be named. Colorado is to pitchers as Siberia is to Russian prisoners.
Carl Pavano was one of the better pickups for the Twins a few seasons ago. He has turned in three healthy seasons and the Twins are hoping for another one. He could also be an intriguing trade candidate given his consistent production in recent seasons. The rest of the rotation is an unexciting group of relative soft tossers like Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing. Neither move the needle that much.
The key to the rotation will be Francisco Liriano. Liriano has always had ace stuff and sometimes he has lived up to that billing. Last year he did not and the Twins suffered for it. Bounce back seasons from Liriano, Mauer and Morneau would go a long way to turning the ship around.
Matt Capps was re-signed on the first day of the Winter Meetings and Twins fans everywhere are thrilled. Of course, I often have a penchant for sarcasm. Capp is experienced as a closer but not particularly effective. Glen Perkins on the other hand was brilliant for the Twins last year. Still, Ryan felt the need for Capps since Joe Nathan bolted for greener pastures in Arlington.
Outside of those three relievers, there was no one in Minneapolis worth writing home about. If Ryan really wants to compete in 2012, he will have to address this situation with some decent arms in the offseason. Even if he added just two relievers the Twins outlook would change dramatically.
Winter Meetings Win
You can never tell what is going on at these meetings, but the Twins have been very quiet so far. Terry Ryan has to decide on whether this team is going to be a playoff contender or whether they will rebuild. The White Sox have signaled that they are rebuilding by letting Mark Buerhle walk and trading Sergio Santos. That could be good news for a playoff run for the Twins.
The bad news is that the Royals are ready for prime time and the Indians showed they could compete last season. The smart money is on the Twins taking a step back and regrouping in 2012. Hopefully, Ryan won't be tempted to mortgage the future this week at the Anatole Hotel.