Here's how it goes to hell in a handcart:
In the offseason, the Twins are faced with three clear paths:
- Blow the whole thing up, trading beloved veterans for whatever prospects they can get, with a decided emphasis on starting pitching.
- Keep most of the core starting lineup together, trade a "replaceable" veteran (Morneau) or two (and Span) for starting pitching, and overspend on more starting pitching in the free agent market.
- Muddle through as they did this year, tweaking the offense, taking a flyer on a cheap, veteran arm, picking up a Rule V pitcher, and hoping these two plus some combination of Kyle Gibson, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks, Scott Baker, P.J. Walters, Nick Blackburn, and Samuel Deduno equals a competitive starting rotation.
They choose path #3.
- Baker blows out his elbow in spring training.
- Despite reports from Fort Myers that Gibson is fully recovered from TJ surgery and Blackburn has rediscovered his sinker, once they head north, Gibson isn't quite ready for the bigs and Blackburn gets pounded for the thousandth time.
- Liam Hendriks is still a AAAA pitcher.
- The 2013 Jason Marquis is as effective as the 2012 Jason Marquis.
- The Rule V draftee isn't Johan Santana.
- Scott Diamond starts strong, but fades as the season wears on.
- The offense, which was a relative bright spot in 2012, regresses. Josh Willingham has nagging injuries which lead to a couple stints on the DL. Trevor Plouffe doesn't regain his June 2012 form. Ryan Doumit misses significant time with an injury. Ben Revere hits .260.
- Brian Dozier never figures it out, Plouffe's struggles at third base aren't offset by his bat, and the infield, which is already an offensive liability, becomes a defensive one as well.
- Justin Morneau's wrist or head act up, preventing any chance of moving him for prospects in what looks like another non-playoff season. Ditto Denard Span.
- It turns out Chris Parmelee isn't ready to take Morneau's place.
- Joe Mauer's offense stops making up for his decreased time/effectiveness as a catcher. Maybe he gets hurt again, too.
- On the too-rare occasions the Twins have a late-inning lead to protect, hitters start figuring out Jared Burton and Glen Perkins.
- In the minors, Miguel Angel Sano tears an ACL.
- The team finishes 59-103, Target Field is half-empty by midsummer, the local sports market turns its eye to improved Vikings, Timberwolves and Wild squads, and Ron Gardenhire is relieved of his duties as the team's manager.
I hope/think Terry Ryan will be forced to choose path #2. I think path #1 is the least likely of the three, because I think they believe they can compete for the AL Central with the everyday lineup they have, and I tend to agree. Not all of the terrible, no good, very bad things inventoried above will happen. But some will, and the best way to offset that is a reliable starting pitcher or two that can carry a team when it needs carrying. Tweaks and half-measures have resulted in two consecutive lost seasons. They will result in a third.