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2013 Preview: Minnesota Twins

Mar 22, 2013, 3:15 PM EDT

Rick Anderson, Ron Gardenhire AP

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Today: the Minnesota Twins.

The Big Question: Did the Twins do enough to improve their AL-worst rotation?

After a decade-long run as a consistent winner in the AL Central the Twins fell apart in 2011, losing 99 games and firing general manager Bill Smith while replacing him with the man he replaced, Terry Ryan. Things were supposed to be better last season and I suppose technically they were, but the Twins lost 96 games despite a far healthier team and some strong individual performances because they simply couldn’t pitch.

Twins starting pitchers had the worst ERA in baseball among teams that don’t call Coors Field home and the pitching staff as a whole recorded the fewest strikeouts in baseball for the second straight season. At the beginning of the offseason Ryan spoke of big plans for addressing the terrible rotation, but when the dust settled the only moves were trading for Vance Worley and signing Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey as free agents.

Worley was a sound pickup who should be a solid mid-rotation starter long term and Pelfrey is a reasonable enough reclamation project with mid-rotation potential as he comes back from Tommy John elbow surgery, but giving a two-year, $10 million deal to Correia made little sense when similar or better pitchers were agreeing to one-year deals all winter.  Of the 91 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings as starters since 2010 he ranked 88th in ERA, 81st in strikeout rate, and 80th in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

And that was it. That was the full extent of the Twins addressing their awful rotation.

Would-be Opening Day starter Scott Diamond will begin the season on the disabled list following a setback with what the team called minor elbow surgery in December and former first-round pick Kyle Gibson isn’t ready for the majors after Tommy John surgery in late 2011, so the Twins will likely turn to Samuel Deduno and/or Cole DeVries to fill out the rotation. It’s not a good sign when the same career minor leaguers who joined the rotation as emergency options during a miserable season are already back in the mix before Opening Day.

What else is going on?

• As dark as things look for the Twins now the future is extremely bright. Thanks to the combination of shrewd international signings, high draft picks, and veteran-for-prospect trades the Twins have built one of the best farm systems in baseball. They placed six prospects on Baseball America‘s top-100 list, including Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton in the top 10, and will add the No. 4 overall pick in the draft to the farm system in June. I’ve been writing about the Twins on my personal blog for 11 years and this is the best, deepest farm system they’ve had in that time.

• Sano and Buxton are still teenagers and years away from the majors, but the Twins look likely to get an immediate impact from the farm system by naming Aaron Hicks their Opening Day center fielder. Hicks has yet to play above Double-A, but the former first-round pick is a standout defender with an elite arm and improved significantly at the plate last season by adding power to his already strong patience. Delaying the start of his service time clock by sending him to Triple-A for a month or so would seemingly make sense, but all signs point to the Twins handing Hicks the job now.

• Ron Gardenhire enters his 13th season as Twins manager without a contract beyond this year and most of his coaching staff was fired or reassigned during the offseason, leading to speculation that another 90-loss season would lead to his exit. He’s the second-longest tenured manager in MLB behind Mike Scioscia.

• If the Twins get off to another bad start it’ll be interesting to see if they begin shopping veterans. In the past they’ve largely shied away from that, choosing to let guys like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel leave via free agency, but Justin Morneau will be a free agent after the season and Josh Willingham isn’t exactly part of the long-term plans at age 34.

Joe Mauer took an incredible amount of heat locally for an injury wrecked 2011 season, which tends to happen when you miss half the year after signing a $184 million contract. He bounced back in a huge way last season, setting career-highs in games and plate appearances while hitting .319 with the highest on-base percentage in the league. Mauer was paid $23 million last season and Fan Graphs calculated his on-field value at … $23 million. Joe Mauer ain’t the problem.

• Target Field is an amazing place to watch a game and easily one of MLB’s best ballparks, but as the Twins enter Year 4 there they’ve already squandered much of the new ballpark excitement by putting out a terrible product. Only the Astros had a bigger attendance drop last year as Minnesota fell into the middle of the pack, and 20 percent of season ticket holders did not renew. And that becomes a chicken-or-egg situation, because the Twins have sliced payroll from $115 million in 2010 to $80 million this year in part due to decreased revenue, but the lack of spending has also helped turn the team into something no one wants to watch.

Prediction: Fifth place, American League Central

  1. Ben - Mar 22, 2013 at 3:23 PM

    Handing Hicks the center field position illustrates everything that’s wrong with this stupid team that I’ve spent my life rooting for. They’re playing to be good enough, not to win. Having Hicks in center is essentially fanbase triage, trying to give the fans someone to root for rather than holding him for a month and delaying the service time clock.
    It’s really frustrating that the Twins just don’t seem to get how the game is played. The minor league system has become something to get really excited about, but the major league team seems hellbent on mediocrity, handicapping themselves at every turn.

    • zzalapski - Mar 22, 2013 at 3:51 PM

      They’re hellbent on mediocrity because it’s not cost-effective for the upper management to aspire beyond that. As you noted, they’re playing to be good enough, not to win.

      Getting rid of Gardenhire and Ryan would be nice if the Twins turn in another pedestrian season, but ultimately the best thing for the fans would be for the Pohlads to sell to someone(s) committed to winning. Probably not going to happen soon, unfortunately.

  2. SBG - Mar 22, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    That would be 96 losses last year, Aaron.

  3. tmhofficial - Mar 22, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    I’m very excited to watch Harden try to become relevant again, Plouffe swing for the fences and a .220 average, Pelfrey be the nicest pitcher on the team with a 5.00 ERA, Mauer milk more leg weakness and time off, Morneau have a great start to the season only to end up on the DL 3 times, Gardy to get ejected 15 games, Carroll to fight off retirement to be our best middle infielder, and Doumit to do ….. things in Right Field. OH, and I’m glad we signed Correia for 2 years instead of just the one, also happy we didn’t move Willingham for prospects when his value was at its highest this offseason. I mean, a 100 loss team definitely needs a 30+ year old slugger to knock in 100 RBIs for no apparent reason, we don’t need pitching prospects or anything.

    Should be fun.

    It will be a great playoff atmosphere all year in Target Field.

  4. proudlycanadian - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    Morneau was great in the WBC. He should have a very good season.

  5. idolized1 - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    I won’t lie – I wouldn’t mind seeing Gardenhire pack his bags. Obviously he is not the entire problem with the Twins, but he is sure a big part of it.

    Either way, I’m excited for the season and I still have high hopes for Worley. Hicks should also be fun to watch.

    But it doesn’t matter – Baseball is almost back and win or lose, you can’t beat that!

    • albertmn - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      The only real problem with Gardenhire is his inability to realize that pitching coach Rick Anderson needed to be one of the guys reassigned or fired. Well, that and a bit of a lack of talent. But, pitchers don’t get better on this team, and the pitching coach should be accountable for that. A pitching coach can’t make every pitcher an All Star (unless you are maybe Dave Duncan), but they should make at least some pitchers better, which doesn’t happen under Anderson. If it takes firing Gardenhire to get a different pitching coach on the team, dump Gardenhire today.

      • wlschneider09 - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        That’s one of Gardy’s major problems but it isn’ t the only one.

  6. beerndrums - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    Is Joe ‘roid’ Mauer still on the team?

    • Kleinz 57 - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:25 PM

      Obvious troll comment trolls, is obvious.

  7. vallewho - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    I got to see “BALLPLAYER: PELOTERO” and I really hope that Sano does well in the future. Great documentary.

  8. dluxxx - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    Man, as a Twins fan, it sucks to see this kind of dismal outlook. I’d like to think that we’re still better than Cleveleand and KC, but these glasses aren’t rose colored enough to see us going to the playoffs.

    However, it’s even worse to listen to the constant whining of other Twins fans… Seriously, you guys suck. I’m starting to dislike you more than Yankee fans.

    • vansloot - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:35 PM

      You admit to being a Twins fan, whine about how they suck, and then complain about Twins fans whining… your thinking seems to be as clear as Terry Ryan’s.

      • dluxxx - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:45 PM

        Nope, I’m a realist. It’s pretty obvious that the Twins pitching staff, although improved from last year, is still going to be at the bottom of the barrel by season’s end. But as you can see, I do believe that the team has improved. It will continue to improve over the next few years and will probably be back in contention in another couple years.

        What I’m not is a Twins fan that is going to wail and gnash my teeth about how the Pholads aren’t spending enough money to win, and then bashing on Mauer because he gets paid too much.

        Bill Smith did quite a bit of damage to this organization in his short period of time running the team, and Terry Ryan is doing a pretty admirable job of fixing that and building for the future. However, one area that has always been an Achilles Heel for him is his love of washed up veteran pitching.

        So, to reiterate, I’m a realist. I know my team isn’t going to compete this year. However, I do believe that the organization is moving in the right direction.

      • Kleinz 57 - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:32 PM

        The Pohlads not spending enough money isn’t really a valid criticism — and kudos to Gleeman for rightly setting Mauer critics straight on last season. In my opinion, the problem is the Twins organization itself. Not just Gardy but how the medical staff and front office have run things into a rut over the last few years.

        Yes, the farm system is very much something to look forward to, but the Twins had better get their act together on accurately diagnosing and treating injuries. That would be miles ahead of their past procedures: pretending injuries are not serious issues until it’s too late and guys are riding the DL for longer than might’ve been needed with an earlier response.

        The front office needs to change as well. Too long I’ve seen this franchise bank on “scrappy” infielders who can’t hit and starters who depend on pitching to contact. They’ve drafted/traded well the past two years. Let’s hope some power pitching and batters with pop is in the cards for the coming years.

    • Tim OShenko - Mar 22, 2013 at 4:52 PM

      Fellow Twins fan here, and I have to agree that the whining is just too much. I mean, sure I have next to no faith in the starting rotation, and think we’re in for a very rough season. But I’m still excited for baseball to be back and will be rooting for these guys regardless.

  9. dondada10 - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    The Twins: The Mets of the American League.

  10. buffalomafia - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    I thought Mauer was going to the Yankees?

    • dluxxx - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:31 PM

      Yup. And Kevin Love is going to the Lakers and Adrian Peterson is going to the Cowboys.

  11. mnwildfan15 - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    It’s the curse of Nick Punto!!!!!!!

  12. 6kings - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    Gleeman is basing his analysis of the pitching rotation without Scott Diamond or Kyle Gibson, both of which will be in the rotation by June. What an idiot.

    • undeadjesus - Mar 22, 2013 at 11:25 PM

      Well no shit. The nature of these articles are a snapshot of how the team looks [i]now[/i], heading into the season. Diamond and Gibson aren’t in the conversation when talking about the rotation as it stands now. And besides, would the inclusion of Diamond and Gibson into the mix really improve the outlook that much? Diamond was a part of that league-worst rotation last year and Gibson has never thrown a pitch in the majors. I’m not saying they’re bad, but let’s be realistic here: those guys aren’t top-tier starters. They’re middle of rotation guys [i]at best[/i], and that’s the best the Twins have.

      Things don’t get interesting until Alex Meyer makes his way to the bigs. Twins might finally have a legitimate #1. Trevor May looks promising too.

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