1692 miles south of Minneapolis, in Fort Meyers, the forecast for tomorrow is around 50 degrees and partly cloudy, and as of this week it is official, Twins spring training has begun. At this time of year, as most baseball fans are, I am extremely “giddy” if you will, about the thought of baseball season. Opening day is 34 days away, with a couple of exhibition games against the St. Louis Cardinals sprinkled in just days before.
The x-factor that seems to be making this anticipation process more grueling than most years is the fact that I am not just waiting for a season, I am waiting to watch that season in a brand new outdoor ballpark, something that has seemed so foreign to Twins fans since 1981.
At this point in the offseason, with spring training now in full swing, and the rumor mill basically shut down until the weeks leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, there are basically two options of what to blog about. I could be like many other bloggers and get my hopes up by posting something about how player x is in the “best shape of his life” or how player y is “poised for a breakout year,” which both are based solely on opinion and perception. On the other hand, I could choose to break down the offseason of a particular team, examining what was done, and how it should improve (or hurt) that team in the upcoming season, based mostly off of statistics. Obviously, since I know none of the members of the Twins organization on a personal level, and have essentially no relevant insight into the player x and y type scenarios, I will choose the latter.
With that being said, here is my analysis...
- OF Carlos Gomez - .229/.287/.337 (Traded to Milwaukee)
- C Mike Redmond - .237/.299/.289 (Signed w/ Cleveland)
- INF Brian Buscher - .235/.360/.316 (Signed minor league deal w/ Cleveland)
- SS Orlando Cabrera - .289/.313/.430 (with Twins); .284/.316/.389 (Overall) (Signed w/ Cincinnati)
- Joe Crede – .225/.289/.414 (Unsigned FA)
- R.A. Dickey – 4.62 ERA; 1.62 WHIP; 64.1 IP; 42 K; 30 BB (Signed minor league deal w/ New York Mets)
- Bobby Keppel – 4.83 ERA; 1.56 WHIP; 54.0 IP; 32 K; 21 BB (Signed w/ Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters)
- P Ron Mahay – 2.00 ERA; 1.11 WHIP; 9.0 IP; 8 K; 3 BB (with Twins); 4.29 ERA; 1.67 WHIP; 50.1 IP; 42 K; 22 BB (Overall) (Unsigned FA)
- P Boof Bonser – Missed all of 2009 (Traded to Boston)
- SS JJ Hardy – .229/.302/.357 (Acquired via Carlos Gomez trade)
- SP Carl Pavano – 4.64 ERA; 1.37 WHIP; 73.2 IP; 59 K; 16 BB (with Twins); 5.10 ERA; 1.38 WHIP; 199.1 IP; 147 K; 39 BB (Overall) (Re-signed one-year, $7MM; accepted arbitration)
- DH Jim Thome – .246/.366/.481 (Signed one-year, $1.5MM)
- 2B Orlando Hudson – .283/.357/.417 (Signed one-year, $5MM)
- RP Clay Condrey – 3.00 ERA; 1.21 WHIP; 42.0 IP; 25 K; 14 BB (Signed one-year, $900K
- Notable minor league signings: OF Jacque Jones, P Mike Maroth
The biggest losses from last year clearly are Gomez, Redmond and Cabrera, even though he was a partial season rental. The Gomez for Hardy swap will be interesting to follow over the next few years for one reason; he was the centerpiece of the Johan Santana trade, and the only player that seems to be somewhat legitimate. When a superstar is traded away, or in this case, one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball, you would like to make sure at least one player you receive in return becomes a staple in your lineup/rotation. With Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey appearing to be basically washes, and Deolis Guerra struggling in the minors, it would seem that Gomez would have had to be that guy.
If this deal works out, and JJ Hardy “is what Brewers fans once thought he was,” then this will be viewed as a successful deal, but if Gomez goes to Milwaukee and turns into a 30-30 type player with perennial gold glove defense (as he has been projected to be in the past), we could be kicking ourselves. As a side note, there were a lot of things to love about Gomez; his speed, his gold glove caliber defense (I still believe he is one of the top 2 defensive centerfielders in baseball, Franklin Gutierrez being the other), and his general “youthful exuberance” which was always a nice spark to have. However, I will not miss him taking mammoth hacks at off-speed pitches nowhere close to the strike zone in favorable 2-0 or 3-1 counts, having extreme trouble knowing which base to throw the baseball to in just about every situation, or his general “brain farts” that you can come to expect from young players.
When it comes to Redmond, amongst other things, his naked walks through the clubhouse will definitely be missed, and although you may scoff at that notion, those types of things are exactly what made Mike Redmond so valuable to this team over the past 5 seasons. He was a veteran presence in a locker room with a lot of young guys, and he was always there to lighten the mood, but he was also a competitor, who knew when to turn it on and off. In his first two seasons with the Twins, he put up some nice numbers in a limited role, hitting over .300 twice, with a .341 average in 190 PA in 2006. He also filled in quite nicely for Joe Mauer through some injuries, and various off days. With Jose Morales, Drew Butera and Wilson Ramos in our minor league system, and Redmond not getting any younger, it just didn’t make sense for the Twins to retain him.
If you asked Ron Gardenhire (prior to the signing of Orlando Hudson), he may tell you that the biggest loss of the offseason was not signing Orlando Cabrera. From the moment the Twins acquired him last season, he brought a certain energy to this team, which provided enough oomph (yes I used that word), to get them over the hump and eventually win the division. He was exactly what the Twins needed at that time; he was a proven winner, and had been in those types of situations before, he provided a defensive presence at shortstop (even though his range was declining), and he gave us somebody who could hold down the number 2 spot in the lineup, setting the table for Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. His energy may be missed this season, but believe me, the Twins will be just fine up the middle.
Now on to the additions, first looking at Carl Pavano and Clay Condrey, the two pitching acquisitions of the offseason. Condrey is a sinker ball type pitcher with an extremely high groundball rate, he won’t wow anybody with velocity or strike many guys out, but he will be solid out of the bullpen, and we got him fairly cheap.
To me, Pavano accepting arbitration and eventually agreeing to a one-year, $7MM deal was an extremely important piece to the offseason puzzle. Some may look at his numbers over the past few seasons, see his high ERA and lack of innings pitched and disagree with me, but if you look a bit deeper, you will see why I believe this. Pavano pitched nearly 200 innings last year, with an ERA of 4.64, and 147 strikeouts. Although he gave up the most earned runs of his career (113 ER), there may be an explanation. Pavano’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) which measures the batting average of baseballs only hit in play, not including strikeouts, etc., was the second highest of his career at .335, well above the major league average of .303. This shows that Pavano had some bad luck once balls were hit into play. If that number lowers, closer to the league average, look for Pavano’s ERA to come down as well.
People also seem to forget just how well Pavano pitched down the stretch for the Twins last season. The Twins pitching staff was in absolute disarray last season when Pavano came in and provided a bit of stability. Look for that to continue again this season, with a rotation that includes a rotation filled with guys who somehow continued to be looked at as “young.” For a staff that lacks a true ace, Pavano should provide some much needed veteran leadership.
The acquisition of JJ Hardy, as I mentioned earlier, will be an interesting deal to examine over the next few seasons. Obviously, if his 2009 season was just a bump in the road, and Hardy returns to his 2007-2008 form there will be no examination needed as the deal would be deemed an instant success. Anytime you would be able to bring in an all-star caliber shortstop with 25-30 homerun power to hold down a position that has been an absolute black hole for your franchise, that would be considered a good thing. However, I will say, if “ifs and buts were candies and nuts, we would all have a Merry Christmas...” The bottom line is, Hardy is going to have to forget about 2009, and return to his 2007-2008 form to prove that this was a good deal. Twins fans are well aware that past success doesn’t necessarily guarantee future success (see Delmon Young for Matt Garza/Jason Bartlett swap). The huge positive out of all this is that the Twins know who their opening day shortstop is, and believe they have a guy who will hold down the position for years to come.
The signings of Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson are really where the Twins proved that they are looking to be more than just a division champion this season. Clearly they believe they are championship contenders right now, and are looking to be more than just a doormat for the Yankees or Red Sox march to a World Series. The Thome signing was great for two reasons; they signed him for dirt cheap (one-year $1.5MM), and he provides a bench presence that will actually cause opposing managers to alter pitching decisions based on matchups. Let’s face it, Jim Leyland wasn’t sitting in the dugout during game 163 thinking to himself, “hmmm... I could bring in Fernando Rodney, but then they would just counter with Brian Buscher, and we sure as heck don't want to see him come to the plate!...” My point is, Jim Thome is a big time power threat coming off the bench, and will get somewhere around 350 plate appearances through being a DH and pinch hitting. On the days when Thome might DH, the Twins could have six guys in the lineup with 20 HR type power (if Hardy returns to 2007-2008 form).
The Orlando Hudson was the biggest signing of the offseason, and clearly the one that made the most noise across the baseball media world. This was the signing that caused writers to say, “the Twins are looking for more than just a first round exit in the playoffs this season.” I love the Hudson signing for so many reasons; I believe that Hudson was the best available second base option this offseason, he is a gold glove defender, he fits perfectly into the number 2 spot of this lineup, and he is a veteran that knows how to win. The Twins opening day lineup should look something like this; Span, Hudson, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Young, Hardy, Punto. With Span and Hudson setting the table for Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Kubel, this lineup should score a lot of runs. Let’s not forget that Thome will be sprinkled in there occasionally as well. The signing of Hudson also makes the Twins rock solid defensively in the infield, allowing Punto to focus solely on third base, possibly in a platoon with Brendan Harris.
After looking at the busy offseason the Minnesota Twins have had, and taking into consideration the moves that other AL Central teams have made, I expect the Twins to win between 87-90 games and win the division. I expect the White Sox to finish second behind possibly the 2nd best starting rotation in baseball with Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia. The Detroit Tigers’ signing of Johnny Damon caused me to reconsider placing them 3rd in my predictions, but I still see them falling short of the White Sox simply because of pitching. Although the Tigers will have a solid rotation featuring Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, I just think that the losses of Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco are too big for this team. Rounding out my AL Central predictions are the Indians coming in 4th due to rebuilding, and the Royals in 5th who seem to be constantly rebuilding.
This is my first time doing a complete offseason review, complete with predictions, and as a result I will be forced to be held accountable for these predictions throughout the season, and may end up eating my words. One thing is for sure, I am extremely excited about what the Twins did this offseason, being very active and clearly showing a commitment to winning right now. Opening day is only 34 days away, this should be a fun ride!