Mar 22, 2013, 3:15 PM EDT
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
Apr 17, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT
The Phillies’ rotation is about to get stronger.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Twins scored six runs on one hit, eight walks (!) and three wild pitches in the bottom of the eighth inning tonight.
Apr 17, 2014, 10:05 PM EDT
Jonathan Papelbon had a little more giddy-up on his fastball today, but don’t ask him about it.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:31 PM EDT
Jeremy Jeffress turned down a minor league assignment with the Blue Jays and will seek an opportunity elsewhere.
Apr 17, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT
Lots of teams watched Joel Hanrahan throw today.
Apr 17, 2014, 8:16 PM EDT
Yangervis Solarte, Brian Roberts, and Scott Sizemore turned a triple play and got CC Sabathia out of a potential jam.
Apr 17, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
Mike Napoli suffered a dislocated finger on Tuesday, but only had to miss one game.
Apr 17, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Shane Victorino has been sidelined since the end of spring training with a hamstring strain.
Apr 17, 2014, 6:14 PM EDT
Yet another injury for Lorenzo Cain.
Apr 17, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Ji-Man Choi, a Triple-A first baseman in the Mariners’ farm system, has been suspended 50 games after testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug methandienone.
Apr 17, 2014, 5:08 PM EDT
You take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both and there you have Yasiel Puig … Yasiel Puig . . .
Apr 17, 2014, 4:24 PM EDT
Slow starts for the well-paid are beginning to be reversed.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:46 PM EDT
Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson was fantastic this afternoon against the Blue Jays, shutting them out for eight innings of four-hit ball. Gibson struck out four, walked one, and lowered his ERA to 0.93 on the season.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:09 PM EDT
This is some good nonsense for a slow day.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
It’s really, really cold in Minnesota right now and they’re playing outdoor baseball.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Your mileage may vary, but a 1-0 game in which each starter go the distance is baseball at its most sublime.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:14 PM EDT
St. Louis has placed right-hander Joe Kelly on the disabled list after he injured his hamstring trying to beat out an infield single Wednesday.
Apr 17, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Two big features in one week suggest we have hit Peak Puig.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:46 AM EDT
Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen began a minor-league rehab assignment by throwing a scoreless inning Tuesday at Single-A, but now Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com reports that he’s been “temporarily shutdown” with more back soreness.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT
This fight was precipitated by a pitcher being deliberate and a batter stepping out. Which, unlike today, was kind of unusual in 1974.
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (244)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (167)
- The Red Sox are still steamed that a PED guy played against them in the playoffs last year (133)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (125)
- There is still a racial divide in baseball (112)