Justin Morneau is unquestionably at the center of how well the Twins will or will not be not just in 2012, but over the next few years.
2011 Record: 63-99 (5th in AL Central)
Home: 33-48 Road: 30-51
Runs Scored: 619 (3.8 R/G)
Runs Allowed: 804 (5.0 R/G)
Every few years it seems like the Twins have a purge of talent on the roster, whether that's because players are becoming too expensive or they've run their course with the organization or a combination of both those things. This past winter was one of thoseof times, and while most of the moves were necessary or unavoidable it's still difficult to see so much talent walk out the door. Particularly when they don't necessarily seem that disappointed in leaving.
Although to be fair, it's probably easier that way.
The Cuddyer contract talks seemed to linger forever, and eventually the Twins did what they needed to do and turned their sites elsewhere. They handed over the largest free agent contract in franchise history by signing Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million dollar contract. Smaller deals for Ryan Doumit, Jamey Carroll, and Jason Marquis plugged some pretty large holes, even if those plugs are more stop-gap solutions than whole sale fixes.
Apart from those more recognizeable names the Twins did what they always do by bringing in veterans who can help the upper echelons of the farm system compete while providing the Major League team with some short-term injury insurance. As last season the depth isn't particularly that deep, but the Twins are clearly in a rebuilding phase. Unfortunately, the decisions they made in the prior off-season (and of course other circumstances beyong their control) mean that the rebuild is likely to be more difficult than the one the organization went through between '07 and '08.
More after the jump.
The Twins have a chance to be a competitive team this season, but will need every single bounce to go their way if they plan on finishing with a record better than .500. A chance at the AL Central division title seems like a long shot...but that's why they play the games.
Things to Look For
Joe Mauer - How often does he catch, and how is his production? If healthy, Mauer should still be able to catch for another two or three seasons before his eventual change of position. I'd like to see him catch until he retires as a life-long Twin, but it does seem unlikely. If he's healthy, he'll be able to challenge for another batting title, and will likely be the most valuable position player on the roster.
Josh Willingham - How does his power play at Target Field? He's a dead pull hitter which means that, like Cuddyer before him, he'll have success by yanking the ball into the left field seats. He can also hit righ-handed pitchers much better than Cuddyer, which means it shouldn't be a surprise to see him finish with 25+ home runs.
Francisco Liriano - There are a lot of questions to be answered here, and it's impossible to tell which answers might lead him to remaining a Twin when he is eligible for free agency after this season. Will the Twins attempt to re-sign him if he's wildly successful, because Liriano's kind of talent is hard to find? Or will they only attempt to re-sign him if he's effective, because he'd be affordable? It's difficult to say.
Justin Morneau - How much first base will he play? We all know what is at stake here, and we would all rather see Justin have a healthy rest of his life rather than force himself to run onto the field everyday while putting himself at risk. I still think we'll have a lot of answers to the Morneau questions pretty early.
Scott Baker - Baker proved last season that, when he's healthy, he's a very strong number two starter. Can he stay healthy enough to prove it again in 2012? His 2013 option will depend on it.
Alexi Casilla - Can he finally become the player the organization needs him to be? We've been asking that question for years, and with next season being his final arbitration-eligible season he'll have to play well to earn that paycheck.
Bullpen Arms - Who steps up and shows that they can be an effective relief pitcher? Whether Matt Capps is around next season or not, the Twins need to find as many arms as possible internally, because other than the ill-fated gamble on Joel Zumaya none of the other external candidates appear to have the capability of being shut-down, high-leverage pitchers.
The good news is that, beyond 2012, there aren't a great deal of pieces that are guaranteed to be in place. Joe Mauer and recently extended Glen Perkins will be parts of the team's makeup for years to come, but other potential cornerstones such as Denard Span, Justin Morneau, and the entire starting rotation are either question marks or on the verge of becoming free agents. This certainly gives credence to the idea that this rebuild will take a little while, but it also means the organization is going to have plenty of opportunities to start fresh over the next couple of seasons. Mauer, Willingham, Span, and Perkins are the only players under contract beyond 2013.
There are a number of minor league prospects who have the talent to become big contributors in two or three years, which means that in the meantime the franchise needs to find a way to A) not be terrible, and B) build a foundation of talent at the Major League level that can support those young players when they do arrive. The biggest factor here will be finding effective starting pitching, because the current rotation will turn over very quickly. Additional components of focus in rebuilding the team should be finding help for the top of the order (on-base percentage, needs to be a big focus, which is why the Carroll signing was good to see) and another middle of the order hitter.
None of these things need to happen right away. The important thing is to ensure that these pieces are the right ones that set the club up for another sustained run of success. But the processes and plans should be in place now and, realistically, I'm sure that they are.
82-80, 3rd place in AL Central
Runs Scored: 729
Runs Allowed: 733
Best Offensive Player: Joe Mauer
Best Defensive Player: Denard Span
Best Starting Pitcher: Scott Baker
Best Relief Pitcher: Glen Perkins
Most Home Runs: Josh Willingham, 27
Most Innings Pitched: Carl Pavano, 207
Surprise Contributors: Trevor Plouffe, Brian Duensing
Minor League Player of the Year: Miguel Sano
Rookie of the Year: Chris Parmelee