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Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Offseason report card: Twins

By David Schoenfield

2012 in review
Record: 66-96 (68-94 Pythagorean)
701 runs scored (10th in AL)
832 runs allowed (13th in NL)

Big Offseason Moves
Traded Denard Span to the Nationals for Alex Meyer. Traded Ben Revere to the Phillies for Vance Worley and Trevor May. Signed free agents Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Rich Harden. Lost free agents Scott Baker, Matt Capps and Carl Pavano. Lost Alexi Casilla on waivers to the Orioles. Not sure all those moves exactly qualify as "big." In 2011, the Twins had increased their payroll to $113 million -- more than double from where it had been in 2008. When that team lost 99 games, the front office went the opposite route and the payroll will be back to under $80 million this year, with nearly half that going to the M&M boys.

The Twins had two center fielders who could chase down fly balls and be reasonably productive leadoff hitters, so they ... traded them both. They may have gotten a decent return for Revere in a back-end starter in Worley and a pitcher with upside in May if he harnesses his stuff, but the return for Span seems a little light. Meyer was a first-round pick, but Span is an underrated player signed to a team-friendly contract and Meyer hasn't pitched above Class A.

Aside from those trades, it was basically a bunch of depressing moves like hoping on rehab guys such as Pelfrey, who wasn't that good when healthy, and Harden, who is never healthy anyway. And as it was pointed out to me on Twitter, they gave Pelfrey, coming off Tommy John surgery, as much as the Mets gave Shaun Marcum, a guy with a 3.62 ERA over the past three seasons.

Heck, they even signed Scott Elarton, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008, had a 5.41 ERA in Triple-A with the Phillies and basically had two decent seasons in the majors back in 2000 and 2001. The point isn't that Elarton is going to pitch for the Twins, but that their minor league system is so devoid of anybody resembling a major league pitcher that the front office felt compelled to sign a guy who hasn't been good in over a decade.

Position Players

The Twins are just biding their time until their highly rated position player prospects such as Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario are ready. Hicks has a chance to jump from Double-A to the majors and Arcia could reach the majors late in the year, but the others are further away.

Basically, check back in 2015.

In the meantime, this is still a team built around Joe Mauer, who did lead the AL with his .416 OBP although I think we can officially write off that 28-homer MVP season in 2009 as a power fluke. He's still an excellent player, however, but the Twins need him to catch more than 72 games. Justin Morneau is a platoon player at this point in his career (.902 OPS versus right-handers, but a Drew Butera-like .569 against lefties). Josh Willingham is coming off a career-high 35 homers (and is prime trade bait at the trade deadline) while Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit at least give the offense a semblance of respectability.

But shortstop and right field -- Chris Parmelee is a right fielder neither in bat nor glove -- are black holes and second base isn't much better. Unless Hicks jumps from Double-A, there isn't really a center fielder on the roster. The outfield defense with Willingham, minor league vet Darin Mastroianni and Parmelee could be among the worst in baseball. Remember ... the Twins' pitching was bad a year ago with Span and Revere out there regularly. I shudder to think what could happen this year.

Pitching Staff

Let's be nice here: These guys are placeholders. Even Scott Diamond, who pitched so well as a rookie (12-9, 3.54 ERA), is likely ripe for a sophomore slump unless he improves his strikeout rate that ranked 85th among 88 qualified starters. No. 86? Kevin Correia, one of the players the Twins signed in the offseason.

The pitcher to watch is Kyle Gibson, the team's first-round pick in 2009 who had Tommy John surgery in 2011. His stuff looked good in the Arizona Fall League and he has a chance to break camp with the club out of spring training.

Otherwise, as with the position players, it's a waiting game. At least Nick Blackburn isn't around. Oh, wait ... he's a non-roster invite after posting that horrific 7.39 ERA last season.

Glen Perkins is a serviceable closer, a guy who has gone from failed starting pitcher to setup guy and now to closer. Maybe the Twins should try him again as a starter. Jared Burton had a good 2012 (2.18 ERA), but he'd been injured the two seasons before that so he's a long shot to repeat those numbers. After that, the pen thins out pretty quickly.

Heat Map to Watch
Conventional wisdom says left-handed hitters like the ball down and in. Maybe Willingham has some left-handed genes. One reason for his big season was he destroyed fastballs. Twenty-three of his 35 home runs came off fastballs, with seven of those 23 coming on inside pitches. He's a dead-pull hitter: Only one of his home runs came to the right of center field, and even that one by only a few feet.

Josh Willingham
Josh Willingham ranked seventh in the AL with 35 home runs and third with 110 RBIs.
Overall Grade

Outside of the Astros, the Twins may have the least talented 25-man roster in the major leagues ... and that's with two former MVPs on it. For years, the Twins preached control pitchers and good defense, but that formula finally caught up to them the past two seasons. They realized they needed to get some power arms, thus the trades for guys like Meyer and May.

What Twins fans can look forward to is all the talent down on the farm. Sano, Buxton, Gibson, Hicks, Arcia and Meyer all ranked in Keith Law's top 61 prospects. They'll get to add another premium prospect this June with the fourth overall pick.

Until then ... well, there's always the sweet swing of Mauer.