I spent the better part of last week putting up insulation and Sheetrock with my dad in my parents' garage. It meant more beer than I'm used to (welcome back to North Dakota), and we did get the job finished, but it also meant we talked a lot of Twins. Which is always a fun prospect, as anyone in a slump gets the "He's a bum, cut him" treatment.
Oddly enough, my dad has also become something of an optimist about the Twins. He certainly thinks they're closer to competing than I do, although I conceded a couple of shrewd moves this winter could certainly accelerate the rebuilding process. But then we got to talking about all of the good moves the Twins made last winter, a number of them typically under-the-radar, and it got me to thinking: Terry Ryan and company did one hell of a lot better last winter than I initially gave him credit for.
Josh Willingham (.908 OPS, 31 HR) and Ryan Doumit (.805 OPS, 50 XBH) are the two bigger signings who have exceeded expectations. Willingham's power has been phenomenal and Doumit's production in extended playing time is something I didn't see coming.
Jamey Carroll is normally lumped in with those two as last winter's free agent acquisitions on the position player side. While his .243 batting average means his impressive walk rates don't make him the on-base machine we were hoping he'd be, he's still reaching base at a decent clip for a bottom-of-the-order hitter. He's also been a reliable defender in the middle infield, even if he doesn't have the range of younger and more athletic players.
Those were the guys we expected to see on the Major League roster. Let's take another moment to look at the more under-the-radar guys who have made a positive impact this season.
Jared Burton: 2.27 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 49 G
Burton came to the Twins as a non-roster invite and went down to the wire with Casey Fien to see which one would be given a job out of the bullpen on Opening Day. A few days later he won a Twinkie Town poll which asked which non-roster invitee would earn a roster spot. His stuff looked filthy from the beginning, and he's worked his way right to the front of the bullpen with Glen Perkins. At 31, it's now easy to see him holding down a pivotal relief role with the Twins for the next two or three seasons.
Casey Fien: 1.31 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 19 G
Fien has allowed a run in just two of his 19 appearances so far this season. Just like Burton back in spring training, we noticed his stuff was impressive. But the Twins felt that guys like Jeff Gray and Matt Maloney were the better choices for new additions, possibly just because they were on the 40-man roster, and Fien was stuck in Triple-A until the need arose for another arm early in July. Now it's hard to imagine him being anywhere but with the Twins. He and Burton have been revelations.
Samuel Deduno: 3.31 ERA, 37 H, 46 IP
At some point Deduno is going to stop being the windshield and will become the bug. He has great stuff, but is too wild (36 walks, 30 strikeouts) to be as reliably effective as his ERA suggests. Still, over his first eight starts for the Twins he's done the trick, keeping his team in the game during a time of transition that has seen all five expected starting pitchers make an exit from the team. Considering his place on the starting pitcher's depth chart at the start of the season, Deduno has been an incredible success.
Darin Mastroianni: .338 OBP, 15 SB, Defensive Versatility
His .279/.338/.403 season is one that would make Nick Punto envious, particularly in light of Mastroianni's scrappiness and defensive versatility. We've all seen the arbitrary start and end dates a million times, but here's another one for the guy we've affectionately dubbed Maestro: since July 1 he's batted .329/.367/.466, while stealing 10 bases on 12 attempts. If he can settle in and hit somewhere in this range, Mastroianni will have a job for the foreseeable future.
Pedro Florimon: 43.8 Line Drive %, 11.5 BB %
On the footsteps of talking up Matt Carson's performance earlier today, great but unsustainable, here's the guy we picked up last winter who most of us slated when the Twins initially placed him on the 40-man roster. Everything he's touched so far has seemed to find the hole while on the offensive side, and while he's made a mistake or two in the field he's also flashed some range and a pretty good arm to boot. With Tsuyoshi Nishioka out, Alexi Casilla's future in question after this season, and Brian Dozier's upcoming learning curve, it's easy to see Florimon earning some playing time next season if he continues to play with composure.
If you look down the current roster, with the exception of Jeff Gray every single player who wasn't with the organization last year is currently making some very positive contributions to the team. And even Gray isn't so terrible that he needs to be jettisoned. He's not great, and he's certainly not a long-term guy, but he's serviceable enough as The Last Arm.
This winter, the Twins will need to have this kind of success all over again. But this time, instead of the bullpen and some part-time bench players, they'll need to duplicate their success with the starting rotation. Money should make no difference, although it will open up their options having a few million to work with, because the goal will be the same: find a player who can help this team win not just this year, but in the years to come.