This offseason, the Twins have spend most of their time and energy looking at shoring up the pitching staff. While the improvements have been significant, the rotation still projects to be towards the lower end of the league in many critical categories once again.
However, while the rotation has been given all the focus, the Twins have done very little to improve the offense. With the exceptions of handing out minor league contracts to Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett, the only move the Twins have made was by trading Ryan Doumit to Atlanta. (EDIT: I forgot Kurt Suzuki and didn't feel like amending this paragraph). Its effect on the offense, positive or negative, is questionable depending on your opinion of Kubel's production next year as he's likely to replace Doumit.
Last year's offense was in the lower third of the league according to wOBA or "weighted on-base average," an all-encompassing offensive statistic that weights the different outcomes of offense based on how much they contribute to scoring a run. Long story short, it's measured on the same scale as on-base percentage, and the better your wOBA, the better you are offensively, and the Twins ranked 21st of 30 teams last year at .307 (tops was the Red Sox at .347).
It's one thing to improve a below-average rotation; after all, there are only five spots. But fixing a below-average offense is trickier, as you have nine spots instead of the five in the rotation. Since it's not possible - or at least not easy - to overhaul an entire offense, I'm going to mimic a similar post from FanGraphs that was written last week, where Jeff Sullivan looked at the worst position on all of the likely 2014 playoff contending teams.
The Twins were omitted from the post as they do not project to be a playoff contender, so I will do this work myself. Additionally, I'll take a look at the three worst positions the Twins will have in the lineup next year, whereas Sullivan only focused on the very worst. To identify the quality of position, I'll utilize the Twins' depth chart from FanGraphs to do this analysis, which includes Steamer projections for many of the players expected to contribute to the team next season. Additionally, I'll take a look at some in-house options the Twins could use to improve at those positions, as they have made no indications they will sign a free agent (e.g. Stephen Drew) as an upgrade.
Perhaps it's no surprise that the position that's been difficult to fill since Jason Bartlett 1.0 makes an appearance here. Pedro Florimon is currently penciled in as the starting shortstop, but he simply is not in the lineup for his offense. He's going to be one of Gardy's speedy, "handle-the-bat" players that hopefully will only see time in the #9 spot of the batting order. Backing him up is Eduardo Escobar, who is projected to hit better but still is significantly below-average, and FanGraphs even thinks Danny Santana will make some appearances in the majors this season. Santana actually appears to be the best hitter out of the bunch here, and he hasn't even seen action above Triple-A yet.
Some of you may be clamoring for Jason Bartlett as the obvious fill-in for shortstop, but the Steamer projection has some bad news for you. No, it's not that Steamer projects him for only one plate appearance this season (a residual effect from him not being on the Twins' 40-man roster), but rather that it thinks he'll hit only ..236/.303/.323 with a .282 wOBA. In other words, Steamer thinks Bartlett will be virtually equal, and even possibly worse than Santana and Escobar. Now, the difference between those two and Bartlett is that Bartlett's actually a 34-year old major league veteran with a career .314 wOBA, so perhaps the projection will be wrong. However, it's also aware that Bartlett did not play in the majors last year and hit only .133/.240/.193 in 2012, so you may not want to get your hopes up quite yet...
For as good as Brian Dozier was last year, we need to remember several things. First, his 18 home runs were easily a career high not just in the major leagues, but for any season in his professional career, trumping the 9 he hit between High-A and Double-A in 2011. Second, he still batted only .244 despite the power surge. Steamer thinks that Dozier's power output is somewhere between his 2012 and 2013 numbers, but the batting average is going to stay low, and that means a .301 wOBA.
Once again, we see Escobar and Santana as the potential backups to Dozier, but a name that was left off this list was Eddie Rosario. However, he's facing an uphill battle with his 50-game suspension to start the season for a drug of abuse, plus he hasn't seen any time at Triple-A yet. He does project for a .254/.297/.388 triple-slash and .299 wOBA currently, which is almost exactly what Dozier is expected to do, but there's no way he wrestles the starting job away from Dozier unless there is an injury or Dozier simply is unspeakably bad midway or towards the end of the season.
"But the Twins have Josmil Pinto, and he dominated in September, how can this be the third worst projected position for the Twins next year???" is a comment I might see below if I don't address this now.
Simply put, because Pinto is projected to get only half of the playing time.
First, remember that it's rare for any single player to get even 75% of the playing time at catcher (only three achieved this feat last year: Salvador Perez, Yadier Molina, and Matt Wieters). Therefore, catcher is almost guaranteed to be manned by two players regardless of which team you're discussing. This is true for the Twins, especially since they brought in Kurt Suzuki this offseason. There's no real telling what the Twins are going to do, whether it's start the season with Pinto as the main starter and Suzuki as his backup, or if Pinto is going to start in the minors with Suzuki being the main catcher in the beginning.
According to this, it appears as though Steamer sees Suzuki as the starter at the beginning of the year, but about midway through the year Pinto will be called up to take over. Therefore, I don't really have any suggestions for how the team could improve its production from the catcher position other than giving Pinto more playing time than is projected. However, with his defense still being a question mark, the Twins will need to determine if his offense is enough to push Suzuki out of the way, or if they think he would be a better fit as a designated hitter.
Even though I've gone through these three positions, it doesn't necessarily mean that these will be the worst positions on the Twins next year. Perhaps Brian Dozier continues his breakout and improves even further from what he accomplished last year. Maybe Pedro Florimon isn't entirely incompetent with the bat. Jason Bartlett could surprise all of us and have a revival in his mid-30s. Plus, the Twins could always surprise us and find a way to sign Stephen Drew (still unlikely, but you never know).
On the flip side, injuries could devastate one of other positions and the Twins struggle to find a way to fill in the gaps, or a player could simply underperform and the Twins stay too patient in hoping that he turns it around. Regardless, it looks like the Twins will still need some help if they want to maintain even an average offense next season.