With Matt Tolbert's optioning to triple-A yesterday, we have our 25. Who predicted this list with 100% accuracy?
It's not ideal, in any scenario. Not having your Opening Day starter, or the best offensive catcher in baseball, break camp with you just isn't the way any team wants to kick off a season. Nevertheless, the reality is staring the Twins in the face: overcome this obstacle from day one.
Starting Rotation: Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, R.A. Dickey
This was the one area of the team that didn't raise many big questions, but with Scott Baker on the 15-day DL the short-list of fifth starters wasn't as deep as it was long. Dickey had a strong spring, striking out 18 in 17.2 innings and allowing just four runs. Hopefully that knuckleball can keep hitters off balance for five or six innings, and maybe by the time Baker returns the decision on what to do with Dickey will be a difficult one for all the right reasons.
Bullpen: Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Craig Breslow, Matt Guerrier, Luis Ayala, Phil Humber, Brian Duensing
If the Twins hadn't lost Boof Bonser, the only difference I can imagine is that he'd have taken the spot being anchored by Duensing. This profiles as a solid, if unspectacular, bullpen that has a strong core that thins out quickly. Gardenhire's biggest challenge will be how quickly he can adapt his bullpen when certain arms go on hot or cold streaks. With a closer like Nathan, there's certainty at the back end of a game and a start to a hard-line heirarchy, but there's definitely going to be some jostling and re-positioning as the season progresses.
Catchers: Mike Redmond, Jose Morales
You can't ask for a better backup than Mike Redmond. The Twins are very fortunate to have a guy like Redmond who's not only willing to do whatever it takes in whatever capacity his team asks of him, but can do it at a level, at the dish or behind it, that he does. I'm not going to fool anyone into thinking that Mike over 130 games would be as effective as he would be in 40 - 60 games, but as a backup he's very good. Morales is unproven, but with a historically passable bat from the minors and what's been described as improving defense throughout the spring, it's a good situation for him to learn. Depending on how long Redmond chooses to continue playing and the long-term repurcussions on Joe Mauer's role with the team, Morales could be seeing some decent playing time over the next couple of seasons.
Infielders: Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, Joe Crede, Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris
Basically this is what was predicted should the Twins take 12 pitchers north, which is exactly what they're doing. While Gardenhire called optioning Matt Tolbert one of the most difficult things he's ever had to do as a manager, it's hard to justify three backup infielders when one of them isn't the designated hitter. Besides, while Tolbert (.294/.385/.456) had a good spring, it's hard to promote him over Buscher (.393/.470/.554) or Harris (.311/.417/.410) when both of them, as incumbents, had the performances they had this spring. Tolbert will get his opportunity to impress at some juncture this season, whether because injuries or poor performance or something else intervenes, it just won't be from Opening Day.
Outfielders: Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gomez, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Delmon Young
This scenario didn't have nearly as much drama attached to it as I thought it would coming out of last season. Span was the only one who had a truly difficult time this spring at the plate, but it's never a good idea to take spring training performances as a precursor of what's to come of the real thing. Still, I will say this: over his last ten games, Span has hit .276/.382/.345...which is much better than he had been doing. Yes, I just spoke out of both sides of my mouth. I try to not be too biased, but I never said I was completely objective.
I still think this team needs Mauer and Baker to even have a shot at October. Every team in the American League Central has flaws, and the Twins are certainly no exception, but even with their best players this isn't a strong team on paper.
Luckily the game isn't played on paper, and each of the 162 games (that begin tomorrow, by the way!) on the schedule do actually have to be played...contrary to popular belief. Summer's best sport opens tomorrow, and personally I can't wait.