Thursday, September 29, 2011

Twins Year End Review

I wrote in a post earlier this year that the fate of the Twins season rode upon the health and performance of superstar Joe Mauer. Mauer managed to only play in 82 of the 162 games the Twins and was never really fully healthy in any of the games he played. Promptly, the Twins lost and lost and lost.

2011 marks the worst Twins season in over a decade. With a payroll of over $100 million dollars this Twins team is the biggest debacle in franchise history. So much was expected, so little achieved. This was a record year for Twins players getting hurt, but it was also a year where everyone on the team underperformed.

There is much work to be done in the off-season, but this much is painfulyl obvious – the Twins need a healthy and productive Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Mauer is more likely to come back to form than Morneau. Morneau’s concussion issues have many people worried he may have to retire. At best, Morneau may end up a full-time DH with Mauer and youngster Chris Parmelee sharing time at first base.

The Twins made two disastrous moves before the start of the 2011 season that help doomed them. Correcting these errors could be costly, but it must be done.

First move was trading promising catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for reliever Matt Capps during the 2010 season. I wrote at the time that I felt the Twins made the trade because they thought they had a chance to advance to the World Series. They were wrong. Capps has proved to be an ordinary reliever who is not worth even half of the $7 million he was making let alone Wilson Ramos.

Ramos is now a promising young major league catcher who hits solidly and fields well. With Joe Mauer status at catcher uncertain, the Twins need a solid hitting, good fielding catcher. They had one in Wilson Ramos, and basically gave him away for an overrated reliever in Matt Capps. They only good thing about Capps is he is leaving as a free agent and the Twins can use that $7 million he got paid for something more useful like a shortstop.

Move two was trading starting shortstop J.J. Hardy and reserve infielder Brendan Harris to Baltimore for 2 minor league relievers (Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson) who have little potential to help the Twins. The Twins said they dealt Hardy and Harris to save money and because they wanted more speed in the infield.

Hardy had a great year and was signed by Baltimore to a long-term contract extension. His replacements in Minnesota - Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe – were abysmal. Alexi Casilla can play short, but he is looks better at second base which is where the Twins say he will play next year. That leaves minor leaguer Brian Dozier, who has shown some promise, or the Twins need to go outside the organization to find a replacement and that is likely to cost them.

With a group of young outfielders in Ben Revere, Rene Tosoni, Joe Benson, Brian Dinkleman, and its possible Plouffe might switch to being an outfielder, the Twins will likely have options to replace the likely the departing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Therefore, most of the Twins efforts to fix the everyday lineup will center on finding a shortstop and a backup catcher.

The Twins pitching in 2011 was not any better than the play of the position players. Numerous injuries and poor performances led to a near complete meltdown of the staff.

Only Carl Pavano made every start he was scheduled to make, and only Glen Perkins performed well in the bullpen. Those two will return in 2012. Who else is anyone’s guess, but Scott Baker pitched well when he was not hurt (he missed at least 10 starts), and Nick Blackburn has a long-term contract that likely makes him untradeable.

Pavano, Baker, Blackburn, and Perkins are 4 out of a needed 12 pitchers. Where are the other 8 going to come from? Good question, but while working on finding a shortstop and backup catcher, the Twins will also be looking for as much good pitching as the can find.

I hope things go better for the Twins in 2012, but a lot is riding on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau plus the Twins ability to solve their problems at shortstop, backup catcher and the pitching staff.