You can put it on the board… YES! This week we are joined by lifelong Chicago White Sox fan Tom Flynn (@Mighty_Flynn) to check in on what’s been happening on the South Side of Chicago since the season came to a close. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
We check in on just about every relevant ex-Twin, including Johan Santana, who threw off a mound for several teams and Matt Garza, who signed with the Brewers. Eric takes the gang through a quick round of pepper and eventually we get around to discussing other happenings in baseball, including the new rule concerning collisions at home plate. Strangely enough, Drew Butera is mentioned a handful of times throughout the podcast and there is even talk of a dog running a sausage race.
Thanks for the download. You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs, and you can find Jay Corn on twitter @Jay__Corn! If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers that will help Johan regain some of his Cy Young prowess.
Episode 49 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
This week Paul returns from the wilderness to banter with Eric and Cody about Andrew Albers who continues to impress and pitch well with his 86mph fastball, Brian Dozier and his silky smooth hair, the loss of Jamey Carroll, the return for Drew Butera and other happenings surrounding the Minnesota Twins.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes(ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become warlocks and spread the word about our podcast.
Episode 46 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
This week my brother returns for a long journey at sea with the US Coast Guard and Cody and I clap for him. We talk about Clete Thomas, Drew Butera (known fondly to us as the Boat Anchor), and we drink way too many beers.
This might be the most enjoyable show I have ever recorded.
Episode 28 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
Eric and Paul are joined this week by not one, but two guests with international flavor. In the first segment the twins are joined by Gary from Italy (@ForzaGemelli) to talk about baseball in Italy and hopes for the Italian team in the WBC (including Drew Butera, the boat anchor). Later in the podcast fellow international traveler Thrylos (@Thrylos98) of tenthinningstretch.blogspot.com to talk about spring training battles and baseball in general. Eric and Paul go on to discuss injury news coming out of spring training, J.T. Chargois, Camile Pascual, the World Baseball Classic in both generalities and specifics before getting sidetracked talking about beer, and other nonsensical things.
Thanks to Mark Smith (@MarkArtSmith) for the new logo!
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help the Twins in games).
Unsurprisingly the Twins largest group of players on the 40-man roster come as high school draftees. There is a fairly good mix of position players and pitchers, though of the pitchers on the list none of them were drafted in the first round, compared to 4 first round position players*. This makes sense as the arms on this list are all bullpen guys, not a single player there with really dominant stuff.
*Byron Buxton, the Twins most recent 1st round draft pick was just 5 years old when the Twins drafted Justin Morneau in 1999. Morny has been with the team a long time, it will be interesting to see if the Twins look to move him later this year.
Likely because the Twins spent so many high draft picks on position players, the Twins have struggled to develop their own pitching and have turned to the free agent market to balance their roster. As with the high school draftees, none of the arms on this list are particularly dominant, though Burton was a pleasant surprise in 2012.
I listed Scott Diamond as a player acquired via trade, but he originally joined the Twins through the 2010 Rule 5 draft, but when he failed to make the roster out of Spring Training the Twins completed a trade with the Atlanta Braves in order to keep him with the organization. Of the other names here, only Butera sticks out, only because with his ties to the organization (his father Sal Butera was with the Twins for parts of 6 Minor League and 4 Major League seasons) I often forget that he was not originally drafted by the Twins.
Drafted out of College (4, 3 pitchers, 1 position player)
Again, because the Twins were not drafting and developing high school pitching they have used several early round picks on college pitchers in an effort to balance the system. Of the two 1st rounders here, only Gibson was the Twins 1st overall pick of the draft, Perkins was selected after Trevor Plouffe, with a compensation pick from the Mariners when they signed Eddie Guardado. In fact, in the 2004 draft the Twins had 3 first round picks and 2 more supplemental round picks, giving them 5 of the first 39 draft picks and 7 of the first 100. Of those seven picks, Plouffe, Perkins and Anthony Swarzak are all still with the Twins, 9 years later.
International Free Agent (4, 1 pitcher, 3 position players)
It remains to be seen if Pressly will make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, though the cards are certainly stacked against him. If the Twins are going to keep him long term, they’ll need to work out a trade with the Boston Red Sox to keep him in the organization if he is not on the big league roster.
So there you have it, 40 players and their origins within the Twins organization. With high school draft picks making up the lion’s share of the roster, the Twins amateur scouts seem to know what they’re doing. That bodes well for the future and Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd, the Twins’ highest drafted high school players in the past two drafts.
All player information obtained from Baseball-Reference. If I’ve listed any player origins incorrectly, please let me know.
This past Friday was the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players (also for non-arbitration eligible players, as Twins declined to offer a contract to Lester Oliveros, effectively removing him from the 40-man roster). The Twins had three arbitration eligible players and offered contracts to all three, including catcher Drew Butera. That means that all five catchers currently on the 40-man roster are likely to remain with the Twins heading into 2013. What else does this move say about the Twins 25-man roster (We already know that Josmil Pinto is not a viable candidate to make the 25-man roster, so we’ll omit him from the discussion going forward)?
The Twins are NOT going to carry four catchers on the 25-man roster. With Mauer and Doumit locks to make the 25-man roster, and the Twins unlikely to carry FOUR catchers in 2013, when the Twins tendered a contract to Butera that puts Chris Herrmann on the outside looking in.
The Twins like having a defensive specialist as their third catcher. Chris Herrmann would give the Twins a third catcher that has the ability to play multiple positions and pinch hit if needed, but he hasn’t yet developed into a great defensive backstop. Butera, on the other hand, is a defense first catcher. Butera’s BEST offensive season was 2012, and he hit just .198/.270/.279. Pitchers rave about Butera’s ability to call a game and he has had success throwing out runners (33% career caught stealing rate). Having a defensive, likable third catcher probably also helps the team between games when pitchers are throwing bullpens or side sesssions, but on a game to game basis, Butera is only called into action about once every four games.
The Twins do not believe that Chris Herrmann is ready to compete for a Major League job. Herrmann played briefly with the Twins after a September call-up in 2012, but otherwise has yet to play above AA. Herrmann could be the heir to Joe Mauer‘s throne if/when Mauer is eventually forced to move to 1B or DH full time. The Twins will likely give Herrmann development time in Rochester in 2013.
Drew Butera will continue stealing a roster spot, despite playing only occasionally, and having value ONLY as defensive specialist. Drew Butera cannot hit, so he has no value as a pinch hitter. He doesn’t play any other defensive positions (even as a Minor Leaguer Butera only played 3/450 games away from catcher), so he provides no additional roster flexibility when he isn’t catching, even if the Twins wanted to put him into the lineup. Even for catchers, he isn’t fast, so he can’t be used as a pinch runner (Butera has never attempted a stolen base in the Big Leagues, and has been thrown out 3 times in 5 attempts in the Minors). So he can’t hit, he can only catch (where he’s 3rd in line behind Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit), he isn’t fast, and only gets into games about 1/4 of the time. And yet the Twins want to keep him on the 25-man roster.
I’m not sure that another team could have claimed Butera if the removed him from the 40-man roster. Which means that the Twins could easily sign him to a Minor League contract and stash him at Rochester. Then, if the Twins needed an emergency catcher they could add him back to the 40-man roster and call him up AND he’d be available at Triple-A to help mentor and teach Chris Herrmann.
It was just a simple transaction, handing a 2013 contact to Drew Butera, but it has an impact on the upcoming season and gives fans a little more insight into the line up the Twins are likely to use to start the season.
On Monday I did a quick run down of the pitchers currently on the Twins 40-man roster. Today I will take a look at the position players, including five catchers, nine infielders, and seven outfielders. Several of these players will not be on the roster when the Twins head north to start the season.
Catchers (Age, Position, Highest 2012 Level) Drew Butera – 29, 3rd Catcher, MLB – If Butera is still on the 40-man roster when the Twins break camp, the Twins are doing it wrong. With Mauer and Doumit handling most of the catching duties, the Twins’ third catcher should be more versatile than Butera (and have some value as a bench bat), pitching ability notwithstanding.
Ryan Doumit – 31, C/RF/DH, MLB – Ryan Doumit might never pass for an average defensive catcher, but his ability to slot in at RF and DH allow the Twins to move Mauer and Morneau around and if he hits like he did in 2012 (.275/.320/.461, 18 HR and 75 RBI) the Twins will continue to reap the benefits of his very reasonable contract extension.
Chris Herrmann – 25, C/LF, MLB – Herrmann lucked into a September call-up when Mauer and Doumit were both a little nicked up and he struggled offensively while he was up. Herrmann was off to a pretty decent Arizona Fall League performance but an injury ultimately derailed his season in Peoria. Herrmann is pretty rough as a catcher, but he has a great arm, and like Doumit, has the ability with the bat to play well as a corner outfielder.
Joe Mauer – 29, C/DH/1B, MLB – Joe Mauer’s 2012 went a long way to erase 2011 from fan’s memories. He led the league in OBP and if you don’t consider his 2009 MVP season, Mauer was back to being Joe Mauer. He will probably never hit 29 home runs again, especially in Target Field, but the Twins’ flexibility with Mauer has allowed them to keep his bat in the lineup almost every day.
Josmil Pinto – 23, C/DH, AA – Pinto has virtually no shot to make the 25-man roster having barely played any ball above High-A. The Twins like his bat, but if he’s going to stick as a catcher he’s going to have to catch a lot of breaks. As Aaron Gleeman said in a recent podcast (I’m paraphrasing heavily), if he’s already splitting time at DH in the lower levels, he could easily be stuck at 1B or DH by the time he’s ready to put on a MLB uniform.
Infielders Jamey Carroll – 38, Utility Infielder, MLB – At 38 years-old Carroll is long past his prime as a baseball player, that the Twins might have to use him as a starting infielder in 2013 gives you a pretty good idea about how bad they’ve been at producing middle infield talent with their farm system in the recent past. Carroll lived up (mostly) to his solid defensive and on-base percentage track record in 2012, but if this team is really building toward the future, Carroll needs to be relegated to utility infield duties by mid-season to give the youngsters more opportunity.
Brian Dozier – 25, SS, MLB – 2012 started off so well for Dozier. Coming off a red-hot 2011 campaign, Dozier had a great spring and after crushing the ball to start the year in Triple-A the Twins called him up to be their everyday shortstop. From there things went poorly. Dozier hung on for 84 games hitting just (.234/.271/.332) while playing sub-par defense before the Twins sent him back down to Triple-A. Dozier wouldn’t be the first MLB regular who failed in his first Big League opportunity, but some of the luster has worn off and he’ll need another strong spring – offensively and defensively – to play his way back into the good graces of upper management. He should be on the 25-man roster to start the season, if for no other reason than to make sure 2012 was not a fluke.
Eduardo Escobar – 23, Utility Infielder, MLB – Escobar was obtained from the White Sox in the deal that sent Fransico Liriano to Chicago. Escobar played sparingly with the Sox over the past two seasons playing all over the diamond (3B, 2B, SS, and LF), but he isn’t a true shortstop. Between Dozier, Carroll and Florimon, Escobar is probably the odd man out, starting the year in Rochester.
Thomas Field – 25, MI, RF, MLB – Claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, Field has primarily played shortstop in the minor leagues, but has spent time at second base as well. He doesn’t have a big bat, even in the Minor Leagues (.264/.359/.414 across five seasons), but he seems to be proficient with the glove. I don’t expect him to make the 25-man roster, and he’s a guy I could easily see the Twins removing from the 40-man roster to make room for a free agent signing. EDIT: Per MLB Trade Rumors, Thomas Field has been claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim.
Pedro Florimon – 25, SS, MLB – Florimon is entering his second full season in the Twins organization after being claimed from the Baltimore Orioles at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Florimon played in 43 games with the Twins and hit poorly but showed flashes of spectacular defense, as is Florimon’s MO. After suffering through a combination of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, and Brian Dozier at SS the past couple of seasons the Twins like Florimon’s defensive upside, but he’ll have to hit better than .219 to beat out Brian Dozier and earn the starting spot at short.
Justin Morneau – 31, 1B/DH, MLB – Entering the final year of his 6 year/$80 million dollar contract, Morneau will earn $14 million dollars in 2013. Morneau finally seemed to put his concussion behind him in the second half of 2012 and when he’s healthy he is still a valuable offensive weapon. He plays above average defense at first base, and if he has another strong half of a year and the Twins are out of contention by the All-Star break, the Twins could easily flip him for a prospect this summer.
Chris Parmelee – 24, 1B/RF, MLB – Parmelee does not have much of anything left to prove in Triple-A after hitting a blistering .338/.457/.645 batting line in 2012, but he’s yet to have sustained success with the Minnesota Twins. He had a red hot September in 2011, but with almost 3x as many plate appearances in 2012 he hit like a Pedro Florimon, with a little more power. The Twins will need to find regular at-bats for Parmelee in 2013, but with a crowded outfield, Mauer and Morneau splitting time at first, and a solid rotation at DH, there just is no room for Parmelee on the roster as it is currently constructed. I do not expect the Twins to trade Parmelee, especially with Morneau unlikely to return in 2014, and Parmelee might have to log a few more months in Rochester before a spot opens up for him on this Twins team.
Trevor Plouffe – 26, 3B, MLB – Was Plouffe’s six-week power surge for real? Did his thumb injury keep him from succeeding at the tail end of last season? Or was the real Trevor Plouffe something in between, a guy with questionable defensive ability and occasional power to left field? Terry Ryan said on Monday night in an interview on 1500ESPN that the Twins want to bring in some third base competition for Plouffe this winter, but the Twins have bigger holes at shortstop and in the pitching rotation, so it seems highly unlikely that that Twins will bring in anyone that could really threaten Plouffe’s hold on the starting third base job.
Daniel Santana – 22, SS/2B, High-A – Santana is widely considered as the best shortstop prospect in the Twins system, but without any playing time above High-A, he’s not making the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. Santana could move quickly through the system in 2013, probably starting the year in AA, and if he continues to play well and hit he could easily be in Rochester before the season’s end. Santana just turned 22 years old, so even if he is not Big League ready until 2015, he’d still be just 25 years old. A lot of upside here, but like many of the Twins’ best prospects, he’s a long way from donning the Twins uniform.
Outfielders Oswaldo Arcia – 21, RF, AA – Arcia took another big step forward in 2012 posting one of the best batting lines of his career in a full season at Double-A. Along with Double-A teammate Aaron Hicks, Arcia should be roaming the outfield in Rochester to start 2013, but if the Twins deal Span, Revere or Willingham he could potentially be looking at a MLB tryout in Spring Training. As a corner outfielder he’ll need to continue to hit at Triple-A to retain his prospect value, but if he succeeds he could be a Twins regular as early as 2014.
Joe Benson – 24, CF/RF, AAA – 2012 was a lost year for Benson. After a solid 2011 season he was rewarded with a September appearance with the Twins and while he didn’t light the world on fire, he flashed his defensive value and speed, along with a beautiful head of hair. In 2012 Benson started the year at Triple-A, struggled and was demoted to Double-A, struggled more, was injured, rehabbed in the Rookie League and at High-A, and then struggled again at Double-A before ending the year back on the disabled list with a knee injury. I think the Twins will put Benson back at Double-A to start 2013, but he could quickly join Arcia and Hicks in what would be a really fun outfield for the Rochester Red Wings.
Aaron Hicks – 23, CF, AA – Formerly the Twins #1 prospect, Hicks was rated as high as the 19th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the 2010 season, but by 2012 he had fallen all the way off the Top 100 list. Then, as if motivated by his removal from the list, Hicks had a great 2012 and vaulted his way back up Twins prospect lists and sits firmly behind Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as one of the Twins’ best Minor League ballplayers. Hicks hit .286/.384/.460 in 129 games in Double-A last year, and he also hit well from both sides of the plate, something he’d struggled to do for the past couple years, so much so that there was talk that Hicks give up his switch hitting ways. Hicks combines a high-upside bat with spectacular defense and a great arm. He likely has all the defensive ability of Ben Revere, but with a bat that could profile well even as a corner outfielder. If the Twins move Willingham, Span or Revere this winter, Hicks is likely to be the best fit to fill in, but I would be a little more comfortable if he had some time in Triple-A to build on his 2012 success before handing him a starting job in Minnesota.
Darin Mastroianni – 27, CF/RF/LF, MLB – I feel like a broken record here, but if the Twins move one of their starting outfielders this winter, Mastroianni is probably the immediate beneficiary in terms of playing time. While he’s perfectly suited in his role as a fourth outfielder, he would likely be exposed offensively if given an increased workload. His defense is good enough for him to play everyday, but his bat would suffer. Mastroianni’s speed and versatility give him an advantage over Chris Parmelee for a 25-man roster spot, but if the Twins are dead set on finding room for Parmelee, Mastroianni could be squeezed.
Ben Revere – 24, RF, MLB – A year ago Twins fans were clamoring for Revere to earn a full time spot in the Twins outfield, and despite his weak arm, the Twins installed him as their everyday right fielder. Revere has the range and defensive ability to play center field, but Ron Gardenhire is a manager that frequently defers to his veterans, and even after another year of watching Revere make spectacular plays in the outfield, Gardenhire is unlikely to swap roles with Span and Revere. The biggest takeaway from 2012 for Revere was his offensive improvement. He’s always going to be a guy who’s batting average will sit around .300 with plenty of infield hits, and he won’t take a lot of walks, but if he continues to develop extra base power, he’ll be a Denard Span lite (which the Twins would be happy to have in center field if – again- they move Span this winter).
Denard Span – 28, CF, MLB – Span has been the Twin most frequently listed on MLB Trade Rumors, and if the Twins are really looking to bring back a quality starting pitcher, his team friendly contract makes him the most likely candidate to go. After battling concussion issues in 2011, Denard Span played 128 games in a mostly healthy 2012 campaign and his offensive season was almost identical to his career averages. The Twins hold a team option on Denard Span for 2015, so if the Twins keep him around, he could still be with the team when they have a realistic opportunity to contend for the AL Central. Span is a valuable player even if the Twins are bad again in 2013, but with so many holes in their starting rotation it is hard to see Span sticking around until Opening Day.
Josh Willingham – 33, LF, MLB -2012 was a great year for Josh Willingham. His best as a major leaguer and he was rewarded with a Silver Slugger for his 35 home runes, 110 RBIs and a .260/.366/.524 batting line. Willingham is unlikely to repeat those numbers in 2013, but even if he’s the player he was in Washington and Oakland, he’s a valuable corner outfielder and the Twins best power hitter (though a healthy Justin Morneau could certainly give him a run for his money). Willingham is likely locked into his left field role again in 2013, even if the Twins move Span and bring up a talented youngster. He doesn’t play great defense, but as Babs likes to say, it looks like he’s trying really hard out there, and effort goes a long way in earning forgiveness from the fans (something Delmon Young never got the hang of).
So there they are, TWENTY ONE TWENTY position players. The Twins are unlikely to carry five catchers on the roster once Spring Training breaks, and of the five, Drew Butera is the most likely candidate to be removed. Of their nine infielders, I think the Twins could remove Escobar or Field without too much concern of another team claiming either player (or not), and of the two, I think Field is the most likely to be waived. It would be tough for the Twins to sneak any of their outfielders through waivers and these seven are likely to remain unchanged in the near future. Mastroianni could become expendable if either Arcia or Hicks join the 25-man roster, but that is likely to happen only if the Twins move one of the current MLB incumbents, likely Span or Willingham, should that scenario arise.
Last night, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were awarded the Rookie of the Year awards, in the National and American League, respectively. Harper and Trout did amazing things as rookies, and in the case of Mike Trout, had the best season a rookie has ever had. Harper helped the Washington Nationals win their division, and Trout did his part to keep the Los Angeles Angels relevant until the final week of the season. Minnesota Twins, on the other hand, had plenty of rookies suit up for them in 2012, but outside of Scott Diamond, none of them did much of anything to help the Twins win games (in fairness, the rest of the team was not exactly doing a lot to help the Twins win games either).
As a group, those 16 rookies accounted for a grand total of 4.1 Wins Above Replacement. They were led by Scott Diamond with 2.2 WAR, and at the other end was Liam Hendriks, -1.2 WAR. In between the Twins saw surprisingly positive performances from waiver claim Darin Mastroianni(.8 WAR) and defensive specialist Pedro Florimon (.8 WAR). The Twins were also disappointed by break-out candidate Chris Parmelee (-.6 WAR) and would-be lefty-specialist Tyler Robertson.
Here, alphabetically, is a closer look at each of the Twins’ 2012 rookies, including their status heading into 2013, as several players will still retain their rookie eligibility.
Matt Carson – 31, OF, .227/.246/.242 (BA/OBP/SLG) – Carson exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2012, which is pretty impressive for a guy that is 31 years old and had played in parts of two previous seasons. The Twins called Matt Carson up late in the season when they were a little short on outfielders and Ron Gardenhire really seemed to enjoy having him around. He’s unlikely to return to Minneapolis in 2013, as he is off of the 40 man roster, and the Twins have plenty of young outfielders just waiting to break onto the Major League roster.
Cole De Vries – 27, RHP, 87.2/4.11/58/18 (IP/ERA/SO/BB) – Cole De Vries was the right guy in the right place at the right time in 2012. After signing as an undrafted free-agent in 2006 out of the University of Minnesota, De Vries spent the better part of the last six years quietly working his way through the Minnesota’s farm system. De Vries struggled in 2010 (after being converted to a bullpen guy) between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester, but in 2011 he turned things around and despite starting the year back in Double-A, he finished the year in Rochester with a combined 3.40 ERA. De Vries started 2012 in Rochester (once again as a starting pitcher) and when the arms were falling off of every Twins starting pitcher with a hear beat, he was called up to the big leagues and performed better than many had expected. De Vries has lost his rookie eligibility heading into 2013, but he remains on the 40-man roster and has an outside chance of being the Twins’ 5th starter this spring.
Samuel Deduno – 29, RHP, 79.0/4.44/57/53 – Deduno was having himself a very surprising 2012 campaign until a string of bad starts toward the tail end of the season ballooned his ERA over 4. Deduno is a guy that has great movement on his pitches, but unfortunately not even he knows where the ball is likely to end up and as a result, Deduno finished the year with almost as many walks as strike outs. Deduno seemed to get a handle on his wildness about half way through his season, and will need to show increased control this spring but could battle De Vries for that 5th spot in the rotation. Deduno is on the 40-man roster and has exhausted his rookie eligibility.
Scott Diamond – 26, LHP, 173.0/3.54/90/31 – He turned out to be the Twins’ most effective starting pitcher in 2012, leading the team in innings, and providing the Twins with a reliable performance every fifth day. Without Diamond the Twins’ best starter would have been Samuel Deduno, certainly not anyone’s idea of a staff ace. Diamond is the only starting pitcher from the 2012 staff that has been guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, and if the Twins can do enough in free agency, Diamond slots in as a solid number 3. Like Deduno, Diamond remains on the 40-man roster and is no longer eligible as a rookie.
There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement. In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres. Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres. Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago. Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko). Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the oldTrevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.
As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing. And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training. If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement. Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs. So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.
After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball. After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year. Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011. Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka. Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007. Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*
*And to some extent, they are. The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).
The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011. They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan. They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009. But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line. The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team. They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price. And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.
Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly. Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.
As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012. Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident. To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm. That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team. Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning. Now the Twins had to start getting creative. They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October. Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April. P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.
The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in. While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.
Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.