Let's talk about baseball before this afternoon turns into a NFL feeding frenzy.
- Jim Thome spoke highly of the Twins organization yesterday, and Ken Rosenthal reports more of the same. While the Rangers were a great team and he appreciated the opportunity to talk with Nolan Ryan, ultimately he felt he had a special bond with the Twins players, management, organization, fans and, not so strangely for a guy like Thome, with his opponents in the AL Central. Family was also an important factor in the decision.
- Another reason why Thome chose the Twins instead of the Rangers: he wasn't sure how he'd look in those fancy cowboy hats.
- Another one of 2010's big performance veterans, Carl Pavano, is apparently taking the weekend to mull over the decisions he has to make (likely with a strophome cup filled with three-dale old coffee). We expect an announcement early this coming week, on Monday or Tuesday. His return will make the competition for the rotation an interesting one in spring training, although Brian Duensing's experience in the bullpen probably means he'd be the odd man out of the rotation if all things are equal. At any rate, it does mean the bullpen will be slightly more stable with one of those rotation arms being shifted into relief.
- Starting Rotation: Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn have, essentially, been the bulk of Minnesota's rotation since the last two months of the 2009 season. Throw in Brian Duensing's starts, and those six guys have kept the rotation's turnover at a shockingly low level over the last two seasons. There isn't a lot of change here, although with Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers, David Bromberg and others on the horizon, we're likely to see bigger changes once we get past 2011.
- Bullpen: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps and Jose Mijares will be a part of the relief corps for certain, along with Scott Diamond and the starter who doesn't make the rotation. Jim Hoey and Pat Neshek will likely have to lose their jobs to miss out on the bullpen on opening day, but that's your seven right there. Barring something unforeseen, it's likely that Kyle Waldrop, Alex Burnett, Anthony Slama, Rob Delaney, Jeff Manship, Anthony Swarzak, Chuck James and Eric Hacker will all start their seasons in Rochester. The biggest changes in the bullpen for 2011 aren't necessarily the additions of Diamond and Hoey, but the return of Nathan and Neshek.
- Catchers: Also the same as 2010, just without the depth. Beyond Joe Mauer and Drew Butera there isn't a good Major League option available.
- Infield: While Justin Morneau and Danny Valencia will still anchor the corners, the Twins are handing a starting job to Alexi Casilla and the Japanese star Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The infield, along with the bullpen, is where the biggest changes are being made this season. Even when you extend your look to the bench, which last year boasted Casilla and Nick Punto in large part, this year it's Matt Tolbert who will be manning the utility role. Massive changes here.
- Outfield: The exact same core from 2010 returns.
- Bench makeup: There was more depth last year, in terms of players you knew you could rely on for certain things. This season, although the bench of Butera, Repko, Tolbert and Thome boasts a lot of familiar names, once you get past them we're faced with quite a few more question marks. Trevour Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Steve Singleton, Ben Revere--all guys with varying levels of talent and expectations, with one thing in common: virtually no Major League experience with a high level of uncertainty in how they could compete if forced into large chunks of playing time. Don't get me wrong, minor league depth to supplement the bench isn't an issue we should be spending a lot of time dwelling on, particularly with all of the experienced minor leaguers the Twins have brought in this winter, but last year was something of a luxury with the depth at catcher and infield.
Enjoy your morning!