Continuing our look back at each club over the past season, today we tell you what went right (not much) and wrong (a whole lot) for the Minnesota Twins. Once the class of the AL Central, the Twins have finished in last place in each of the past two years. Changes have been made to Ron Gardenhire’s coaching staff, which is usually a sign that the manager is getting one last shot at saving his job. Hard to imagine Gardy on the hot seat, but losing often brings about change.
Coming off a dismal campaign in 2011, the Minnesota Twins expected to bounce back into contention in 2012. While the club saw a full and healthy season from Joe Mauer, along with Justin Morneau’s relative return to form, Minnesota dropped better than 95 games and took up residence in the basement of the American League Central for the second-straight season.
Coming into 2012, the Twins felt they could improve simply by the additions of a healthy Mauer and Morneau. It was a theory that made sense given that both are former AL MVPs still very much in the primes of their careers. After racking 99 losses in 2011, the Twins replaced general manager Bill Smith with interim GM Terry Ryan, who had been Smith’s predecessor in the job. Under Ryan’s guidance, Minnesota lost out on retaining free agent outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, but replaced those bats with Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit for a fraction of the cost.
How well did those moves work out for the Twins? Kubel and Cuddyer earned a combined $18 million in 2012, from the Diamondbacks and Rockies, respectively. For a combined $10 million ($7 million of which went to Willingham), the Twins’ duo mashed 53 home runs and 185 RBI between them. Cuddyer and Kubel combined for 46 bombs and 148 RBI.
Unfortunately, the moves made with the pitching staff didn’t work out near so well.
If Minnesota had built a winner on pitching and defense, they got away from that formula in a hurry over the past couple of seasons. Jason Marquis was a horrendous in his first foray into the American League after signing as a free agent prior to the season. Marquis lasted only seven starts before getting his walking papers, thanks to a 8.47 ERA and a mere 3.2 strikeouts per nine innings. It wasn’t only Marquis who struggled, however.
A rotation that was supposed to feature consistent veteran arms instead needed an influx of minor leaguers to complete the season.
Carl Pavano made just 11 starts due to injury, but his ailments may have been a blessing in disguise for the Twins. Pavano pitched to contact and saw plenty of it en route to a 6.00 ERA. Stalwarts Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn were no help, either. Baker missed the season when he needed Tommy John surgery, Liriano lost 10 of 13 decisions (despite tossing a no-hitter) before being traded away and Blackburn wound up off the 40-man roster and in the minor leagues after a 7.39 ERA in 19 starts.
In their place, the Twins turned to a handful of young arms and most of them looked over-matched by big league hitters. The only one that looked at ease on a major league mound was southpaw Scott Diamond (12-9, 3.54), who lead the staff in wins, starts, and innings pitched. Diamond threw only 173 innings, but was one of exactly three Twins to toss 100 innings or more. Three. If you’re looking for what went wrong, that’s a pretty good indicator.
Another is the lack of strikeouts. Liriano was the only Twin to fan at least 100 batters on the season, punching out 109 in 100 innings (9.8 per 9). Next-best among starters was minor-league journeyman Sam Deduno, who worked 79 innings and struckout 6.5 batters per nine. Of course, he also walked six batters per nine, so the strikeouts were more than neutralized. The organizational mantra of pitching to contact was taken to an extreme in 2012 and the results were abysmal.
Despite losing 195 games over the past two seasons, the Twins have not only resisted a fire sale, they’ve barely made any moves to turn over the roster at all. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, that plan changes with Ryan assuming the GM duties on a full-time basis once again. If he’s open to the idea, Ryan will find interest in a handful of his regular players. Centerfielder Denard Span has been the subject of trade rumors for most of the past two years and those rumors will continue to swirl now that speedster Ben Revere has recorded a 40-steal season in the big leagues. While either can play in center, Span is the more dangerous hitter and therefore would be more attractive on the market. The regular third baseman for most of the year, versatile Trevor Plouffe showed good power numbers (24 homers, .455 slugging) and could fetch an arm or two as well.
While Span and Plouffe are nice pieces, the real return would come if the Twins would part with some pieces from the heart of their order. Mauer’s contract is immovable even if they wanted to trade him, which they don’t, but Morneau drew some interest at the trade deadline and beyond during the season. Minnesota might have to pick up a portion of his contract (owed $14 million in 2013) in order to move him, but the more money they’re willing to eat, the better the return they can expect in terms of prospects. The afore-mentioned Willingham, however, could be the biggest bat available on the trade market if the Twins decode to move him. Owed a very reasonable $7 million per year over the next two years, Willingham has legitimate 30-home run power and a penchant for driving in runs. He’s not a terrific defender, but passable enough that National League teams need not be scared away.
The organization has acknowledged that they must add pitchers who are capable of getting strikeouts and power arms do not come cheaply. There must be a shift in organizational philosophy in terms of drafting and developing pitchers and the fastest way to catch up to the cream of the division is via trade.
The Twins have a beautiful new ballpark and the best catcher in baseball, but they have more holes than they are capable of filling in one Winter. The team doesn’t figure to be competitive for at least a few years. It makes little sense to hold on to guys like Span, Willingham and Morneau if they can get any kind of decent return in a trade.
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