For the Twins to be the best they can be, they're going to need good years from their biggest stars.
There are a lot of valuables here, but two stand out: how many wins a replacement level team would win, and how optimistic or pessimistic you are in regards to next summer's performances from our Twins. That would lead any of us to, potentially, wildly different answers, but the goal of this exercise isn't necessarily to project wins. The primary goal here is to see where are the easiest places for the Twins to add value to their roster.
For our purposes, we're going to use 46 wins as replacement level. It's a decent middle ground between 43 and 50 (a rough spread depending on who you read), and seven games is a significant range over a 162 game season. With that in mind, I'll be assuming good health for our players and I'll also attempt to be fair in projecting individual player value.
Doumit drops 0.6 wins from his solid 2011 performance, but it's a big improvement over how Minnesota's backup catchers performed last season when Steve Holm, Rene Rivera and Butera combined for -1.8 wins. Mauer's 5 wins is a fair estimate when factoring in good health, and is a mark he easily surpassed in '06, '08, '09 and '10.
Check out the rest after the jump.
The good news here is that with the exception of Nishioka, I believe the Twins have a good chance for every infielder on the 40-man roster to post value above replacement level. The bad news is that said value won't be in the form of an impact player. Morneau's 3.6 wins is a step down from his best seasons, but even assuming the former MVP's production drops over a healthy season he should still be a pretty good hitter. Even if that means he's closer to .260/.360/.480 than .300/.390/.560.
Carroll's 1.9 wins is a shade under his average over his last four seasons but also a knock off his last two seasons, where he combined for 4.7 wins. Casilla still posts positive value without quite reaching his mark of 1.4 wins that he put up last season and in 2008. Valencia I have pegged for a strong bounce back after a rough 2011. Plouffe's total may seem low but he posted a negative WAR last year; the production from Hughes and Parmelee is a combined 0.4 wins less than 2011. All things considered this isn't a bad group - it's just not exceedingly good.
With full and healthy seasons from both Span and Revere, the Twins have an opportunity to gain value off of the mark both players put up in '11 (2.2 for Span, 2.0 for Revere). Tosoni is the definition of a replacement level player, a fourth outfielder who won't hurt you but shouldn't be put in a position to start. Benson gains 0.3 wins from last summer, but I don't envision him getting the playing time necessary to really contribute big time value.
Minnesota has the potential to get real value from their top three pitchers, even if they don't have their best seasons. Baker, at his best, is a 3 to 4 win pitcher. Pavano has roughly 3.3 wins over his last three seasons. And of course the enigmatic Liriano has posted 4+ win seasons twice in his career, including a 6-win year in 2010. In a good year those three pitchers could potentially give the Twins 12 wins on their own; I've given them 7.4.
The rest of the crew doesn't have the upside. I've given Blackburn a slight bounce back after two tough years. Duensing, who's put up 3.3 wins over the last two seasons, won't quite match that upside given that he'll likely pitch out of the 'pen a bit more this season. That leaves Slowey, Swarzak and Hendriks, none of whom project to be players of big value. Hendriks, after his big jump last season, will likely be protected a little bit by the Twins who will want to give him as much time as possible in Rochester.
Wins are a bad way to evaluate the performance of relief pitchers, but in terms of value to the team their production still matters in this exercise. I've given Perkins an extra 0.2 wins on top of the great year he had in 2011, and I've given Mijares a little grace in the hope he can return to be half the reliever he was when he was at his best. I also believe in Oliveros. Burnett, Manship, Diamond, Hoey, Waldrop and Gutierrez combine for -0.7 wins above replacement. Which seems about right.
Total Projected WAR: 34.3
I don't think this composite is too far from reality, as it puts the current 40-man roster (at least the players who figure to contribute) right around 79 wins. The bad news is that this total includes decent seasons from the team's best players which means, realistically, 79 wins is a best-case scenario.
But again, there is good news. The off-season isn't over, and there are some pretty clear areas where the Twins can add real, significant value. I'm not convinced the front office will find a way to add a significant contributor in the rotation, but a couple of reliable relief pitcher will. And they'll take away innings from those pitchers who would be taking away value. That's a double win. And on the side of the position players, a legitimate designated hitter and an outfielder will add multiple wins to our estimate.
Can two position players and two relief pitchers add 10 wins? It's feasible. That would put the Twins on the cusp of 90 wins which, in the AL Central, is going to put them in the hunt for a division title.
But that's where we go from quasi-realistic to optimistic, because it not only means we're counting on the front office to view the team's greatest needs exactly as we do, but it means we're counting on them to add quality players. Even then, should the Twins have a good season and be in the race for the AL Central title, are they built to be a contending team in the post-season?