The Twins As League Tomato Can

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First it was the Red Sox and now it’s the Angels. Two teams with high preseason expectations and off to atrocious and scrutiny-laced starts are righting their flagging ships by beating up on the Twins.

For a franchise that had grown accustomed to winning and garnering a playoff spot as if by divine right (and being in a bad division), the Twins have rapidly become the league punching bag.

It’s going to last all season.

The return of former GM Terry Ryan was greeted with much fanfare and expectations of improvement. In the winter, he made a series of old-school “Twins” moves by signing the underrated Jamey Carroll; the innings-eating Jason Marquis; declining the contract option and re-signing veteran reliever Matt Capps; signing Josh Willingham and the competent backup catcher/first baseman/outfielder Ryan Doumit.

He also brought in an array of arms for the bullpen in the hopes that a few of them would be cheap, useful cogs in the machine.

But none of that addressed the fundamental problems that led to the 99-loss disaster of 2011.

The starting rotation is still contact-based and the pitchers are eerily similar to one another; the bullpen is serviceable but nowhere near what it was when manager Ron Gardenhire had durable veterans who knew their roles and were backed up by an All-Star closer, Joe Nathan; the lineup has black spots and no replacements on the horizon.

Already 6-17, Ryan doesn’t even have the option to clear out the house and build for the future because there are few players that any other team would be willing to give up a ton to get. Justin Morneau is a shell of what he was after concussions and their aftereffects. He might be worth a shot if he wasn’t due $28 million for 2012-2013. Perhaps they could eat some of the money to get back better young players in a deal.

Denard Span would bring back value, but he’s signed cheaply (a guaranteed $14.75 million with an option for 2015 at $9 million) and, with it so difficult to find a competent centerfielder, it makes no sense to move him unless they’re bowled over with an offer.

Joe Mauer is hitting again, but with Mauer, the residue of the failed tenure of demoted GM Bill Smith remains. Had the Twins held onto Wilson Ramos instead of trading him to the Nationals for Capps, they’d have a big league ready catcher who would free them to move Mauer to another position at least part time. In much the same way the Yankees are proving now with the burgeoning nightmare trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners, if you’re trading a top prospect who can catch and hit, you’d better get something useful and proven in return.

The Twins will get low level prospects for pending free agent Carl Pavano (trade him to the Yankees!) and probably less for fellow free agent Francisco Liriano.

The organization had been the dominant force in the AL Central for a decade, but now they’re relegated to the equivalent of a found opponent that the managers and promoters of rising boxers use to fatten up their charge’s knockout record.

If I were a Twins’ fan, I’d get used to the abuse because it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

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2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series
Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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