Where Am I? - The Current 25-Man Roster Situation

With the ink just about dry on the Willingham contract --and the 'turn your head and cough' song and dance just about wrapped up-- it feels pertinent to take a peek at what the active roster looks like right now, and get a feel for where the team may go with its other two open spots on the 40-man roster.

By my figuring, here’s what I’ve come up with:

Starting Lineup:

C- Joe Mauer
1B- Justin Morneau
2B- Alexi Casilla
3B- Danny Valencia
SS- Jamey Carroll
LF- Josh Willingham
CF- Denard Span
RF- Trevor Plouffe
DH- Ryan Doumit

Now obviously, there’s plenty of fluidity in the starting lineup. A lot hinges on the health of well, everyone. There’s certainly a scenario that includes Morneau, Doumit, and Mauer all shifting one position down in the posted lineup, and there’s also a chance that Mr. Revere will patrol CF if Span’s concussion issues aren’t culled completely. This could be a really good offense if all falls into place, especially if the lower third is Valencia-Plouffe-Casilla, as I'd envision. I don't typically bounce off the walls with Twins signings, but this Willingham one has me doing just that. Parker Hageman of Over The Baggy and TwinsCentric says it better than I ever could here. For a point of reference on me and my feelings about Twins signings, the last one I was really excited about was Mike Lamb. Mike. Stinking. Lamb. Yeah, I get pretty vested in these Twins signings, one might say.

Bench:

C- Drew Butera
IF- Luke Hughes
IF- OPEN
OF- Ben Revere

It doesn’t really matter how little one likes Butera; he’s almost guaranteed a spot on the roster. He’s a good catch-and-throw guy and for some reason Pavano’s personal caddy (we’ll get into that another time), and if the Twins can limit him to 100 plate appearances, that is probably OK. Ideally speaking, the Twins won’t let Doumit catch any more than they have to, especially in light of the work that Mike Fast has done over at Baseball Prospectus --free and it will change your life-- which basically portrayed Ryan as a complete disaster back there. Hughes is out of options, and carries a little position flexibility and and decent stick. I think there’s a good chance they pair him with a defensively-minded shortstop --perhaps Pedro Florimon is added back to the 40-man roster if a guy like Ronny Cedeno isn’t added-- to round out the infield. Revere will be the rover on the bench, though I could see a scenario where the Twins try Willingham in right and let Plouffe come off the bench with Ben patrolling left. That would be a more ideal defensive combination on a staff that’s like to induce a ton of bird chasers in 2012.

Rotation:

1. Scott Baker
2. Carl Pavano
3. Francisco Liriano
4. Nick Blackburn
5. OPEN (Liam Hendriks/Brian Duensing/P.J. Walters/Scott Diamond/Terry Doyle)

I hear those yawns. Yes, this is basically the same rotation as last season. Yes, I do think Blackburn is guaranteed a rotation spot even after a rough 2012. And yes, I do think this rotation can get the team to the playoffs. Wait, what? That’s right; I think the Twins can make the playoffs in 2012. Does a lot need to go right? Oh, absolutely. But if the health woes that plagued the team can be even moderately overcome, I think the team has done well enough in free agency to at least put itself into position to be an 85ish win club next year. In this rotation, the hurlers will need plenty of help from their defense. It was sort of a chicken-and-egg quandary last year, as the Twins abandoned J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, and as a result the overall up-the-middle defense suffered. Not surprisingly, that meant the team’s BABIP against went from .302 to .310 from 2010 to 2011, which includes a jump from a .239 mark on grounders in ‘10 to a .269 mark in ‘11.

As a result, it should be no surprise that, coupled with injuries to a once-potent offense, this team took a giant step back. Considering the league average BABIP induced in 2011 was .237 --and that I think the Twins have taken or will continue to take steps towards getting back to this mark-- I think the rotation could be surprisingly decent in 2012. Remember, the Twins are almost always the team that is there when no one picks it.

Bullpen:

MU- Anthony Swarzak
MR- Brian Duensing, OPEN, OPEN
SU- Glen Perkins
CL- Matt Capps

Potential fillers include Esmerling Vasquez, Kyle Waldrop, Alex Burnett, Lester Oliveros, Matt Maloney, Carlos Gutierrez, and Jeff Gray.

This is more of a rag-tag group. I think Swarzak is guaranteed a spot after a pretty solid 2011, though I think it’d be a mistake to give him any high-leverage innings. With his banishment to the pen, I think Duensing will start out as a LOOGY or short stint type guy at first, but maybe he can have a Perkins-esque revival as well. I’m not as hopeful about that, but he’s useful if used correctly. I like Perkins in the setup role, but I’m not in love with Capps as the closer. As someone who has had fleeting contact with him over the last year or so, I’ll say this much: he’s an excellent guy, and nobody takes their struggles more seriously than he does. Still, his skill set just isn’t that of a shutdown closer.

That’s a double-edged sword of course; it didn’t make sense for the Twins to spend big on a closer in an offseason filled with so much uncertainty, but if the club thinks it can contend --and it can-- there are certainly better, more cost-effective options (see: Saito, T). In all honesty, Huston Street would have been a perfect fit, but that’s neither here nor there. The Twins did well to nab some harder throwers in the offseason, and did so on the cheap, starting with Vasquez during the season-ending homestand last year. Cheap hard-throwers are what teams like the Rays and Padres have built their pens with the past handful of seasons; let’s hope it can work for the local nine.

So where does this leave the club? Well, certainly with one opening in the offense, which is likely to be more of a bench bat than anything. If the club could ink a guy like Luke Scott on the cheap to fill out the bench and play outfield on a regular basis, that would probably be a pretty good under-the-radar move. I’m not holding my breath, however.

Prediction:

The Twins ink a starter and utility guy with the last two roster spots. My money says Jeff Francis and Jack Wilson. For those wondering, no, I’m not enamored with either of those names. Ideally, the market for Edwin Jackson would never develop fully and the Twins could swoop in.
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