Heading into the 2013 season, three words can sum up the Twins: Nobody expects anything.
The Twins are not the hapless Astros, whom almost everyone expects to lose somewhere north of 100 games, but they are barely a step above. You'll find very few prognosticators that think the Twins will lose fewer than 90 games. Vegas is betting on 98 losses. It could get ugly at Target Field.
With this slightly depressing thought in mind, let's take a look at the five main storylines for the Twins during this 2013 season, to set the stage for what by all appearances looks to be a forgettable year.
1. Will the starting pitching be an utter disaster again?
All signs point to "yes" on this one. The Twins brought in Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, and Vance Worley to shore up 2012's worst-in-baseball starting rotation, something that appears mostly to have solidified the Twins' collection of #4, #5, and "#6" starters. Scott Diamond will begin the season on the disabled list and youngster Kyle Gibson is headed back to the minor leagues to try to find the plate, leaving two Opening Day rotation spots available for a multitude of candidates. Liam Hendriks and Cole DeVries may have the inside track, but neither gives Twins fans particular hope.
Last year, Twins starters posted a 5.40 ERA. The American League median was Texas, at 4.30. The question is whether the Twins' starters can approach the latter in 2013 - or if cavernous Target Field will again somehow become a bandbox when Minnesota is on the mound.
2. Will Aaron Hicks be a success?
Here's a list of the most popular Twins, entering the 2013 season:
- Aaron Hicks
- Miguel Sano
- Aaron Hicks again
- Joe Mauer
Following the Denard Span and Ben Revere trades, Minnesota was officially CF-less, but Hicks, who has never played above Double-A, hit .350 in spring training and won the starting job. Insiders rave about his arm strength in center field and his patience at the plate, and he blasted four home runs in the spring - three in one game - to give encouraging signs about his power.
All of Twins territory now waits to see whether the 23-year-old will be a success, or will end up getting some extra seasoning in the minor leagues during the year.
3. Is this the final year for Ron Gardenhire?
He's the fifth-longest-tenured manager / head coach in all of American pro sports, but a third 90-loss season in a row would likely spell the end of Gardenhire as Minnesota's skipper. Such a move would put the Twins at an interesting crossroads, one they haven't been at in nearly three decades, since Tom Kelly took over for Ray Miller midway through the 1986 season.
Minnesota shook up the coaching staff in the offseason, bringing in several new coaches to the big leagues, including former Twins Tom Brunansky as hitting coach and Terry Steinbach as bench coach. Ultimately, though, the shakeup might be too little, too late to save Gardenhire's job.
4. Can the team flip Justin Morneau or Josh Willingham to help a rebuilding project?
If the Twins are out of contention, and that seems pretty possible, they'll likely look to trade the two sluggers.
Morneau is in the final year of his contract, but will make $14 million this season, and unless he's traded to a team with very deep pockets or has an absolutely stellar year, they may have trouble finding a suitor. Willingham is signed for a much more reasonable $7 million per year, for two more years, but he needs to stay healthy and duplicate his 2012 numbers (35 HR, 110 RBI) to attract interest.
Neither will likely be the top trade prospect on the market, but either could draw interest from a team looking for power - perhaps at the trade deadline, perhaps earlier.
5. How good will the team's minor-league prospects look this season?
Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, Byron Buxton, J.O. Berrios, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler - you'll be hearing a lot about these guys in 2013. Minnesota has put together one of baseball's best farm systems coming into the year, and as Twins fans turn many of their hopes to the future, it seems possible that the Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernels will be somewhat more interesting than the major-league team this year.
It's an intriguing year for the team, if likely not a competitive or particularly exciting one. It may well be that the only thing Twins fans want to follow during 2013 is how the team's prospects for 2014 are shaping up.