Minnesota Twins: 6 Bold Predictions for the Twins' 2012 Season

Matt Olson@@MN_sports_takeContributor IIIFebruary 4, 2012

Minnesota Twins: 6 Bold Predictions for the Twins' 2012 Season

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    The 2011 season was one which the Twins and their fans would like to forget sooner rather than later. The team is approaching the start of spring training with a lot of question marks throughout their 25-man roster. Most notably, will the bullpen be better? can Mauer and Morneau regain their MVP form? And most importantly, what are the playoff chances looking like?

    The following are six bold predictions for this year's Twins that will help to answer those questions and more.

No. 1: Francisco Liriano Will Be Traded by the Deadline

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    Francisco Liriano finished 2011 with a 5.09 ERA, a 9-10 W-L record, a career high 75 BBs and the lowest K/9 ratio of his career. The season as a whole for Liriano was a huge disappointment, but it did have its share of highlights, including a six game stretch from May through June where he posted numbers of 3-2, 1.89 ERA, .135 BAA. This stretch included his no-hitter on May 3rd against the Chicago White Sox and his performance on June 12th against the Texas Rangers when he took a perfect game into the eighth inning.

    Liriano seemed to heat up during the summer months, posting ERAs of 2.52, 3.42, and 4.01 in May, June, and July respectively. But he reverted to his horrendous April form during August and September, finishing the season with a ERA on the wrong side of 5.00 for the second time in three years. Many fans thought he was ready to regain his 2006 dominance after a promising season in 2010, but now they are left wondering if he has any gas left in his arm.

    Granted Liriano's trade value may be at an all-time low, but he will still be highly sought after by contenders at the trade deadline. He has shown the ability to take over for periods of time and is a valuable lefty who can strike guys out. I believe the Twins will have no choice but to trade the inconsistent ace. What they will be able to get back depends entirely on Liriano's start to the 2012 season. Look for the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals to be pursuing the soon to be free agent Liriano come mid-summer.

No. 2: Denard Span Will Be Traded by the Deadline

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    When the 2011 trade deadline approached Twins' fans were all but certain that one of their best and most beloved players, Denard Span, would be packing his bags to join the Washington Nationals. The rumored deals included several Nationals' players including relief pitchers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, and infielders Danny Espinosa, Steve Lombardozzi and Ian Desmond. 

    Like most Twins players, 2011 was a career low for Span as he batted just .264 and even more alarming was the .328 OBP he posted. At just 27 years old Span is viewed as a solid starting CF in the MLB and a number of teams may be looking to fill that spot sooner than later. Before the deadline in 2012, Twins fans will once again be dragged through a long list of teams looking for a CF and prospects who may be included in such a deal.

    Moving Span would clear the way for Ben Revere and his speed in CF, while allowing Josh Willingham to move back to LF where he is more comfortable. Meanwhile a platoon of young prospects in Trevor Plouffe, Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee could battle to capture the starting spot in RF.

    For now the Washington Nationals still look like a potential destination for Span, but more teams could enter the fold looking for a starting CF including the Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals. Twins fans should expect nothing less than an upper-level pitching prospect in return for Span.

No. 3: Joe Mauer Will Regain His MVP Form

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    No player on the Twins' roster has taken more blame from the fans and media for the 2011 debacle than their star catcher Joe Mauer, and rightly so. Prior to the 2010 season, Mauer inked an 8-year, $184 million contract extension to stay in Minnesota. But his production since signing his name on the dotted line has left Twins fans wondering if it was a mistake.

    Sidelined much of the season with various ailments, including a mysterious condition called bilateral leg weakness and season ending pneumonia, Mauer struggled with career low numbers in nearly every offensive category. His defense behind the plate also seemed to be suffering, causing manger Ron Gardenhire to move Mauer from behind the plate to first base for the first time in his career. For Mauer to regain his MVP form he will have to spend at least 100 games behind the plate in 2012, something he had done in the three seasons prior to 2011.

    I think Mauer has learned from the beating the media gave him in 2011 and will be out to prove them wrong in 2012. I see Mauer hitting over .330 with an OPS of over .900. Reaching those lofty predictions means Mauer will certainly have to hit more than the three home runs he hit in 2011, likely upwards of 15. However, as anyone who has seen him hit during batting practice knows, the power is clearly there.

    Joe has stated he is feeling better and is more prepared for 2012 than he has been for any season in a long time. If he is telling the truth, American League pitchers will once again have somebody to fear in the Twins' lineup.

No. 4: Justin Morneau Will Not Play More Than 70 Games

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    Anyone who has followed Pittsburgh Penguins' star Sidney Crosby and his post-concussion symptoms over the last few years knows that the injury has no timetable and can be re-aggravated at anytime. Twins' first baseman Justin Morneau has dealt with similar concussion problems dating back to his hockey playing days. Halfway through the 2010 season, Morneau was well on his way to capturing his second AL MVP award, but he was kneed in the head while sliding to break up a double play. After facing a long and difficult road to recovery Morneau was able to join the Twins for the start of the 2011 season. But his symptoms persisted and he was shut down after just 264 ABs.

    It was clear in watching Morneau play in 2011 that something just was not right. He posted the worst numbers of his career since his rookie season, where he played in just 40 games. 

    My pessimism for Morneau's progress is tied directly to the uncertainty that he can a) fully recover from his concussion in 2010 and b) regain the confidence that made him a perennial .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI guy. Based on what we have seen from guys with persisting concussion-related symptoms like Sidney Crosby, I do not expect Morneau to reach the 70 game plateau for a second straight season; leaving the Twins without their biggest bat, and a big hole to fill at first base.

No. 5: Matt Capps Will Regain His 2010 All-Star Form

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    Following a disappointing 2011 season, The Minnesota Twins in need of a closer, decided to re-sign reliever Matt Capps to a 1-year $4.5 million deal, with an option for a second year at $6 million. This decision was much to the dismay of many Twins fans who thought that money, plus the $3 million spent to bring in SP Jason Marquis, would be better spent on another pitcher such as former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda instead signed with the New York Yankees for $10 million.

    If Joe Mauer took the brunt of the criticism from the media for his offensive performance in 2011, Matt Capps was surely the guy the media dished much of the blame for the bullpen. After signing an arbitration agreement for $7 million going into 2011, Capps' performance took a significant turn for the worse. He blew nine save opportunities in 24 chances, leading to his demotion from the role in mid-July.

    Capps, who is still just 28 years old, will be looking for redemption in 2012 after posting an ERA of 4.25. In 2009 with the Pirates, Capps posted an ERA of 5.80. However, the next season Capps was brilliant with the Washington Nationals posting an ERA of 2.74 with 26 saves before being traded to the Twins for C prospect Wilson Ramos. After joining the Twins, Capps actually got better, recording 16 saves in 18 chances, and posting an ERA of 2.00. Capps has proven he can bounce back from a poor season and I expect him to post numbers better than his career average 3.51 ERA. If he regains his 2010 form, the Twins will have one of the better bargains in pitching.

No. 6: The Twins Will Win Less Than 75 Games in 2012

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    Although signing Josh Willingham will balance out the loss of Michael Cuddyer, replacing Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan will not be easy. The Twins have big question marks throughout their lineup and pitching staff. The only proven players in the lineup are Joe Mauer, Willingham, Justin Morneau, Danny Valencia and Denard Span, and Morneau's health is in doubt. This is simply too little offense for a team who's number one pitcher posted an ERA of 4.30 in 2011.

    For the Twins to win more than 75 games, Scott Baker, Mauer, Morneau and Span would all have to stay healthy. It would also mean Danny Valencia, Ben Revere, Francisco Liriano, and Nick Blackburn perform significantly better than they did in 2011. For me this is too many ifs when coupled with multiple holes in the bullpen and middle infield. Twins fans should expect a much different starting lineup come game 162 from the lineup on April 6th. Expect Span and Liriano to be traded by mid-season for prospects ready to contribute in 2013.

    At least Twins fans can once again look forward to watching America's pastime in baseball's most beautiful stadium; Target Field.