Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Minnesota Twins 2011 Season Preview

One of the reasons I launched my blog six years ago was because I felt the existing climate of Twins coverage tended to be one of extremes. Whether coming from the established mainstream media or the budding blogosphere, I found that Twins-related content often slanted too far toward either optimism or negativity.

So, along with my cohort, I set out to create a blog that would be written from the perspective of invested fans who try to see the big picture. All I've ever wanted to do is cover this team's ongoing story, with a flare of emotion but without resorting to blind optimism or cranky cynicism.

The barbs I've received this offseason about being overly negative, well, they sting. Not to the point that my feelings are actually hurt, but surely it was one of the last things I ever wanted to be accused of when I first got into this trade.

The thing is, at no point have I gone out of my way to criticize the Twins over the past few months. My goal as a writer is to see things clearly and objectively, but at the end of the day I'm a fan and want to see my team succeed, which is why I've been so frustrated by what I view as a horribly botched offseason.

Yes, the Twins had their moments. Carl Pavano for $8.5 million per year is undoubtedly a bargain, as is Jim Thome's $3 million contract. But these were moves designed to maintain the status quo; nowhere did we see any attempts to actively improve a club that was -- for a second straight year -- swept directly out of the playoffs by the Yankees.

Don't get me wrong, I'd take that same group from last year into another series against the Yankees any day, especially with a healthy Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. Had the front office done a good job of maintaining the aforementioned status quo, I'd be satisfied.

But they didn't. In fact, they actively disrupted it.

J.J. Hardy, Orlando Hudson, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and -- to a far lesser extent -- Brian Fuentes were all quality contributors to a 94-win team last  year. The Twins parted ways with all of them over the winter and added, in their steads, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Dusty Hughes.

For the most part, the Twins will rely on internal replacements such as Alexi Casilla, Glen Perkins and Jeff Manship to help ease the burden, but all have struggled in regular big-league duty.

It would seem evident that this offseason has taken away more than it's put back.  Certainly money was a factor in this, perhaps a prohibitive one with the burdensome contracts of Nathan, Matt Capps, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and others. But, for the most part, the front office made its own bed.

Of course, for the Twins, getting worse would not necessarily equate to missing the playoffs. They won the division handily last year, and the White Sox and Tigers have their share of issues in spite of impressive offseason hauls.

Plus, the Twins aren't by any means guaranteed to get worse, even if the loss of the departing players is felt. Morneau and Nathan are both back. If healthy and productive all year (still a sizable "if"), they can be difference-makers. And numerous returning players will be looking to build off of suboptimal 2010 campaigns; in my recently completed Position Analysis series I projected offensive improvement from regulars almost across the board.

If everyone stays healthy, the Twins are absolutely a team that can win over 90 games and capture the division crown. But no team ever stays completely healthy and this group boasts more high-profile health concerns than most. This brings us to the greatest weakness that was forged through this offseason of indifference: depth.

Casilla performed well as a backup infielder last year. Now that he's been nudged into a starting role (a task he's never been up to), the top middle infield depth comprises marginal minor-leaguers like Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes.

By trading Jose Morales during the offseason, the Twins left Drew Butera as their sole backup catcher. That means that at least one-fourth of the at-bats from the catcher position will be handed to arguably the worst-hitting position player in the majors. Butera's impact could grow should Mauer's achy knee act up.

Last year Manship and Perkins were the relievers the Twins called on in an emergency or in garbage time; this year they figure to be focal points in the bullpen. That says all you need to know about the relief depth.

Pressed to predict where the Twins will finish in the AL Central, I'd have to answer second or third. They're a talented bunch, but depth is lacking on this roster and with the myriad health concerns being faced by key players, I foresee some disappointment as the summer moves along.

That's not negativity for negativity's sake. It's a reasoned, honest opinion, which is all I've ever striven to provide in this space. Once the action officially gets underway on Friday night, I'll be a fan like any other, cheering for a win from the hometown nine. And if the Twins can stay healthy and live up to their potential, repeating as division champs and breaking their postseason curse, no one will be happier to point out how wrong I was than me.


Ben said...

Clear, concise analysis based on logical reasoning. I happen to agree with you. Zero depth in the bullpen and middle infield, as well as a plethora of injury question marks leave the 2011 Twins on shaky ground.

That doesn't mean I still won't be watching and cheering though. Don't let the haters keep you down Nick.

Dean said...

I'm with you, Nick. No question in my mind that it's reasoned and honest analysis. I guess, as I always am with the Twins, that I'm guardedly optimistic. Not a bad place to be, overall.

tmeyer said...

I agree with all of this, Nick. You shouldn't worry yourself about being negative - the Sox and the Tigers are looking too strong to realistically expect this Twins roster, solid as it is, to beat out both of then.

Anonymous said...

I would totally agree with you except for one thing. I've had this line of thinking more than once over the last 10 years and the Twins have made me look crazy for thinking it. The twins are still the masters of player development and while we may not see who is going to step and carry the torch this year, history with the twins has proven to us that somebody will. Maybe this is the year it does fall apart, but I have the belief that as long as their is a TK/Gardy influence on that team that they will do the little things right and win games for it.

zooomx said...

The one thing we all sometimes miss when we react to the Twin's offseason, is their ability to prepare for this year, while still keeping an eye on season 2-5 years down the road. 3 years ago, our minor league system was a pretty desolate wasteland, with very few high ceiling prospects. You look now, and the 2013-2015 seasons might see some legitimate superstars rise to the ranks.

I think we score a little better this year than last year. I think we will defend a little worse. I think our starting pitching is deeper and will be a bit stronger. The one potential drop off is relief pitching... which is the easiest hole to fill as we progress through the season (look at last year).

Crain and co. were all paid more than they are worth (IMHO). I dont mind the Twins having the "rent-a-relief pitcher" mentality the next couple of seasons until we glean talent from the farm.

As far as being negative, Nick. You are a Minnesotan. We all complain and moan and throw our opinions out passionately, but we tend to be the same people that scream the loudest when our teams win. Love reading your stuff.

Ed Bast said...

Nick, thanks for the reasoned approach both in this post and the blog in general. However, I'm going to go ahead and disagree with you - I do believe the Twins will win the division again this year. Think about it, me being more positive than you. As currently constructed, however, I don't believe this team will win a playoff series. Last year I predicted a division champ and a 3-1 loss to the Yankees in the ALDS. I'll go ahead and repeat that prediction for this season.

It has been a long offseason, but as Twins fans we need to resign ourselves to the fact that our front office leaves something to be desired, and that their focus really isn't on winning a World Series. Just admit it, and move on. The great thing is, there is still enough talent on the roster to get hot and make a deep run. On paper we don't match up with the best of the best. But the best team "on paper" rarely wins the whole thing. So there's hope for this club.

Go Twins!

halfchest said...

First off, I've found it funny how some posters have been so harsh towards your commentary on here. If they thought you were negative then I wonder what they think about Gleeman.

That said I actually am pretty ok with the Twins off season. I think the Hardy trade was a move made in order to retain Pavano and make the Tsuyoshi move. I liked Hardy a ton and was super excited when he came to the Twins but I'm not concerned with his loss for one year either if it means we get Tsuyoshi and Pavano instead.

I absolutely love the bullpen and here's why. Strong backend of the bullpen to keep leads late in games and a lot of young guys getting their chance this year. I can see some of them turning out very well and leading to an overall cheap bullpen for the next few years. This in turn will hopefully free up money to possibly make a big move in the coming years (Jose Reyes anybody???).

The only thing that makes me nervous is our poor middle infield depth. Unfortunately you can't have a good backup option everywhere and that's where the Twins could be in a hurtbag.

cy1time said...

I thought this offseason you've had a bit of negativity, Nick, but never with malice and always with forethought. It's hard for a passionate fan to stay even keeled all the time. The way last year ended, limping into the playoffs and getting smoked in round one, left a bad taste in the mouths of a lots of fans.

The beauty of opening day is that the slate is wiped clean and we get to start over fresh. GO TWINS!

Anonymous said...

I agree there are a lot of questions on the roster this year. I however, am taking the positive approach to the bullpen. We lost Guerrier and Crain, but in retrospect we got Nathan back (hopefully healthy and in form) which moves everyone else up. I also like the starters in the bullpen we have. If Slowey, Perkins and Manship can grasp the reliever mentality I think they will be just as solid as G&C. I think we lose a bit with Casilla at SS, but the exchange of Hudson for Yoshi could be a positive if his Spring translates over to the summer. Other than that our team is the same with Morneau back at first. Our depth however is a concern to me as you mentioned. If any of our stars go down for an extended period of time, I think we could be in for a tough summer. but that being said I think the Twins will be in the hunt for 1st in the Central the entire season despite the poor offseason.

Paul of the Twins Twins said...

Who knows if the Twins will or will not repeat. I'm hopefully optimistic, but I too think that we have a lot of questions, especially up the middle of the infield, and out in the pen.

Morneau will face his first big league game since the middle of last summer, and a concussion that's been lingering this long has to bad news long term. I'm concerned that Morneau will play less than 100 games and will be less than the Heman he was last year before going out with the injury.

I hope I'm wrong. I still see the Twins winning the Division, say with 86 wins, and put the Tigers and Chisox close behind with 85 and 83 respectively.

As a throw out question, who wins more games, KC or CLE?

Scott said...

I, for one Nick, have agreed with your analysis. I have usually thought the same things about our club prior to your posts. In a nutshell: Cuddy & Span will have better years, our starting pitching will be significantly better, Danny V will equal or surpass last years stats, Thome will be Thome awesome as usual, our middle infield will be a pleasant surprise with "Little Lexi" having a solid year to the surprise of all, The M&M boys along with our bullpen are my only worries. The front office made some questionable trades over the last year to hamstring our payroll preventing us to make a trade for an additional "piece" or two without giving up front line talent. Heres to a good season. GO Twins!!!

Anonymous said...

Nick... not with you.
The acquisition of Nishi cannot be underestimated... positive ripple effect on many levels.

All great teams have speed at the top of the lineup... even more important with how big Target Field plays. Nishi brings gold glove caliber defense at 2B and a bonified #2 hitter with speed. Twins will have better range up the middle with Alexi and Nishi with more speed on the basepaths (than Odog & JJ).

Our SP and bullpen will be fine... just don't pitch to Dunn and M. Cabrerra.

Yes - I'm drinking the kool aid, and it tastes great. Go Twins!

Mr. Suter said...

One thing Nick, you are far underestimating the "Twins Way." Who saw Danny Velencia coming in and giving us an everyday 3rd basemen over 5 feet tall? Gardy always brings someone up and we always exceed expectations. I do not recall anyone picking the Twins to win the Central in the past 10 years. We have only won, if I'm not mistaken, 6 titles in those years. We lost the best pitcher in the game and have won more titles than lost. The M and M boys were injured for the most part of last season and what do the Twins do? Win 94 games and destroy AL Central oponents.

What I am trying to put forward is that like you Nick, I try to use logic instead my heart. But there are things we as non-twins employees do not forsee. I would bet that NO ONE saw Valencia coming in and getting votes for rookie of the year. Denard Span a few years ago also came in and had a breakout year. I would venture to say that this year, our bullpen will overachieve and rival last years. Did you really feel good when Crain came in in the 7th or 8th? Did you get a chubbi when Guerrier would come in? Or Rauch? I never felt comfortable with those three. I got scared when Metallica played and I saw Jon Rauch run on to the field (along with his crazy eyes, is one lazy?), but that is it. So I seem to be more optimistic than my fellow bloggers who have too much time on their hands but to bash on my Twins.

I will leave you with some predictions.
1. Twins will win the Central with 92 wins
2. Mauer will miss some time but will eventually hit 350
3. Morneau will reverse his habit of coming out hot and ending cold, but coming out cold and ending hot
4. Rick Anderson will work with what he has and his guys will throw strikes and make teams beat us.
5. Thome will hit 600 before June
6. Yoshi will become a Twins Territory phenom and will outsell Mauer in Jersey sales
7. Luke Hughes will be the utility player by July, as the others gloves cannot mask a sub 200 BA
8. Slowly will be traded and Gibson will end the season as the 5th starter (I'm out of faith options for Blacky and Baker, wake up guys)
9. Twins luck out and do not have to play the hated, ugly, stinky, roid raging, Jeter douche Yanks.
10. Twins lose in 7 games agains the Philies, to a 9th inning homer by Chase Utley, given up by Jose Mijares.

Hope you like the post because it makes more sense than anything you twins haters can come up with.

p.s. One of the young outfielders could also make it up and be viable options for playoff roster spots. I.e: Benson, Revere, and is it too early for Hicks, probably, but 2012 look the fudge out for this guy. HOF if you know what I mean,
Mr. Suter out

Nick N. said...

I would bet that NO ONE saw Valencia coming in and getting votes for rookie of the year.

Maybe no one saw him having the impact he did, but Valencia was one of the Twins' best prospects and was widely viewed as the heir apparent at third base. In my prospect writeup on Valencia last offseason, I mentioned that "it'd be no surprise to see him manning the hot corner for the Twins in the second half this season, especially if Brendan Harris and/or Nick Punto struggle in the early months."

A quality prospect like Valencia is not to be confused with the majority of players currently populating the high minors for the Twins. Outside of Kyle Gibson and Ben Revere, there's little in the way of outstanding prospects close to making an impact.

Mr. Suter said...

Toot toot Nick. Congrats on picking that one but I was talking more of people in the media (not to say that you are not media, but your blog is not as wide spread as say ESPN). Every blog/preview I read or have read, year after year, has the White Sox or Tigers winning the division. Even though in the past ten years, their has been one time we have not been in the race in August.

So although I give you props for seeing Valencia translating to the majors, you did not touch on my other points that the Twins way will lead to someone coming up and helping.

What about this Diamond kid, a power arm in the Twins system for a year could be could. I have read the ceiling is a 4th starter, but what about plugging him into the bullpen in late August or July?

What about Slama, what if he all of sudden starts throwing strikes and becomes a viable option in the Pen. If I state all of these things, and only 1 is correct, can I come back in a year and toot my own horn.

"If you remember back 3 years ago, one of my blogs had Nick Punto not resigning with the Twins, TOOT TOOT." Good for me, I said it then and it came true, not I should have a twins blog-

Anonymous said...

P.S. You honestly saw Valencia being an everyday, All-star caliber third basemen?

Ted from Rochester said...

This article seemed a little too hokey.

Chris Dunn said...

Nick, most fans are idiots. Trust me. Living in NYC and having to endure countless Yanks-Twins matchups and trying to talk common baseball knowledge often falls on deaf ears. People like to think their team can do no wrong (clearing throat, Yankees), and others (every other organization)actually sit back and analyze the truths in front of them. I'm worried to hell about our bullpen and our catching if Mauer goes down. All Twins fans should be. I'm just glad you are an
"other". Thanks for providing true Twins breakdowns. Honestly, living in make believe land can get truly annoying.

Anonymous said...


Once you put your opnions out there people are bound to want to puff out there little chests and pound on them screaming "I am much smarter then you Nick, listen to my big thinking knowledge as it rolls from my finger tips into your computer screen."

That being said..who cares how we think the season will turn out. Really. Besides some people living in Northern California, how many people had the Giants beating the Rangers in the Series last year.

We can take all the UZR, WAR, WHIP and OBP in the world and sit and analyze the hell out of it. But in the end it still comes down to a 20-30 year old man hitting a round ball traveling faster then my 70's Chevy Vega could go with a round bat.

What we all think in March is usually laughable come August. But like 24 hour news shows, we got to talk about something don't we.

Anonymous said...

We have a backup IF playing SS and at a couple iffy/unproven arms in the bullpen. What team in the Central doesn't have gaps? Our 1-8 is as good as it gets, and our rotation is as strong or stronger than the others. We ran away with it last year, and until CWS and DET prove otherwise, we are the favorites.

Side note: since when does a couple months of domination over a shaky career (read: Crain wreck) make you an elite RP? Based on his track record, Crain to the CWS could be a net win. When the heat turns up, that guy melts.


BGrant said...

I'm not comfortable with any criticism of the Twins off-season decisions. The way I look at it that these guys (Smith, Gardy, et al) are the pros, and we as fans must trust that they know better than we do and are rarely wrong in their decisions. Additionally, the professional writers following the Twins also know more than we do, and should therefore never be questioned again. Not to belabor the point, but I also think we should stop questioning anything anyone in some position of power says. Instead we should simply do as we are told without complaint or argument until the day the Politburo no longer requires our use. In other words, trust the process.

Seriously though, good work as always Nick. I wish the Twins had done some things differently, and I continue to be pretty seriously concerned about Bill Smith's player valuation abilities, but I'd cheer for this team even if they devolved into a Royals style franchise.

Anonymous said...

good post Bgrant. One complaint, kinda. The Royals are no longer the laughing stock of MLB. Sure, they will be lucky to win 50 games this season, but they have the best farm system in the game. They will soon be the Rays of the central. Within a few years, the Twins will be competing with the always young Royals. I agree that Smith has made some great moves in his time, and I agree that the twins system has helped to make these moves look good. We all get upset that we do not go after the top level pitchers, but that is not our way. We do not rent players for less than a year. Also, with Mauer's HUGE contract, we cannot afford to spend much, if anything on free agents or trade away blue chip prospects for guys that will cost 15-20 million for a few months (ie: Cliff Lee last year). If the Mariners wanted Revere, AND Ramos, AND Hicks, that is a deal we could not have made. (Although Ramos is too short and stubby to ever translate into the majors, I'd take Butera's punto average over that fatty midge Ramos).

Anonymous said...

Think of blog readers as your significant other - you can disguise the negative by pointing out a greater positive whenever discussion of the negative is necessary.

Anonymous said...

It's 100% reasonable to believe the Twins will beat out the Tigres and Black Sox for the Central title once again. I think a lot of Twins bloggers are negative even though they try to act like they are not. The Twins don't do the whole Sabermetric thing close to what most Twins bloggers would like. This creates a bias in their mind when writing about the Twins as when the playoffs come around they feel that's where the organizations lack of insight costs them. Power Arms, Big Hitters, UZR kind of fielders. It's pretty bogus compared to the overall Twins track record.


Anonymous said...

Why are the Twins worse now then they were last year? The Bullpen? The loss of Guerrier, Crain, Rauch and Fuentes at 15million plus over several seasons probably cost the Twins 3 wins in reality. If Nathan comes back 100%that number goes away. Take into account a healthly Morneau at 1st and moving Cuddyer out to RF is a huge upgrade. HUGE! If the bullpen does end up being horrible (It's been outstanding in pre-season) then it's the easiest thing to fix during the season. As for the infield Nishioka is a big upgrade from an aging problematic Hudson. All the reports are stellar from him. The drop-off at short looks to be present but hardly offsets the return of Morneau, Nathan and Nishikoa. Casilla may not be able to fill the roll Hardy had but again Hardy only filled it for 100 games with a 335 OBP and 6HR. The Pavano, Slowey, Blackburn, Baker, Duensing & Liriano group has looked great this pre-season as well. Baker, Blackburn and Slowey all look much more healthy than they did last year. I could see these starters playing much better. The same goes for Kubel and Cuddyer. Who were horrible last year. Delmon Young might even be better. The Twins had no ability to get whatever it is the blogger wanted them to do. If i'm correct I believe a big trade that was requested was Cuddyer for Derek Lowe. Yeah that would have been a huge upgrade that justified Bill Smith and the Twins. Please.


Dan Gausman said...

If the Giants were able to win last year with their roster, I don't see why the 2011 Twins can't win it all.

On paper I tend to agree that it seems like a 2nd or 3rd place finish, but hey, that was the '87 championship team too.

Mr. Suter said...

Sean, dude you rock my D off. That was a great, insightful, totally awesome post. One thing that we do underestimate is Cassilla. That guy is a blonde out there. Honestly, he makes so many stupid, bone head mistakes I would rather have Mijares playing short. At least Mijares has an IQ over 70, which I highly doubt Casilla does (I would like to point out that I laughed so hard when Mijares face planted last year, simply jogging to first base, what a fatty).

The only thing casilla is good for, is putting in the biggest chews ever. If he doesn't lose his job because he is a bad player, he will be put on the DL for having LIP CANCER. His teamates suffer from second hand spit just by looking at this guy. I get a nicotine buzz just watching his at-bats. Dude goes through a can a dip, not a can a day. Even Tony Gwynn thinks Casilla has a chewing problem (for those of you who do not get the gwynn referrence, google 'tony gwynn cancer'). Gov. Pawlenty is trying to put forth legislation to stop the union inside Casilla's lip.

Thank you, I'll be here all week, Mr. Suter

Anonymous said...

I basically agree with you as far as off season acquisitions not completely supplanting offseason losses. That being said, one thing I have learned in my years as a Twins fan (aside from 'start pulling hair out vs. Yanks first round'), is that this organization is unbelievably adept at filling holes. Does this equate to post-season success? Not necessarily, but it does lead to a competitive team year in and year out for the AL Central pennant.
Personally, I have always liked Casilla (albeit, there is little but emotion backing up that sentiment). I like the fact that in the days of Go-Go they lived together and owned a piano that neither one could play. I liked that despite his lack of experience he seemed to come up with a hit in big situations his first half season up in the Dome. I like that Gardy has had to work with him to be less ‘fancy’ (getting in position on grounders and not backhanding balls when he doesn’t need to). Nishi is an unknown quantity, but our front offices scouts well and by design he seems to have the tools to play Twins baseball, run hard, and gap hit in the wide open expanses of Target Field.
The final point I will bring up, is the Twins have very much a learning system throughout the minors. We are not a team that rushes guys to the majors. I think we have seen stats in the minor leagues that are underwhelming for guys that end up performing well at the major league level (Valencia was mentioned in earlier postings). So many times guys are working on correcting deficiencies at the expense of gaudy minor league stats in order to become better ballplayers in the long term.
Anyway, hope we stay healthy and have another good year. Go Twinks!

Anonymous said...

It seems like most seasons there are reasons to be doubtful. If you knew going into last year that Nathan would be out all season and that Morneau would be gone most of it, you'd probably have been very skeptical of their chances of winning the division.

But the Twins play a disciplined brand of baseball and always seem to come up with some surprise performances. I feel like Span, Kubel, Morneau, Delmon, Blackburn, and Mauer could all EASILY play better this season than last. On the flip we've lost some guys and it is doubtful that Valencia can keep up what he did. Nishi and Casilla in the middle are a liability but I wouldn't be shocked one bit if they played solid baseball. I think both players have proven to an extent they are capable of solid play.

I don't know. In the end the Twins should be in it. And unless you believe in voodoo or Gardy creating a culture of playoff apathy, I'd say they have a shot at the playoffs right there at the end.

I just personally don't see how anyone in their right mind, sorry to be rude, could pick anyone but the Twins to win this division given their track record in the last 8 or 9 seasons and the fact that this is still, on paper, a stronger team than they usually have going in. And they won by a lot of games last year and played their best ball without an MVP.

Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

Wonderful preview! Really portrayed all I've been thinking...I certainly don't agree with any barbs slung your away about being overly negative. I've been grumpy towards this offseason too, both with the anger over the playoff losing streak and the awful front office moves covered here. The Nishi signing was great, however.

As others have pointed out, you can never count out the Twins' seamless ability to take any group of players and gel over the course of a season. It's part of what has made them fun to follow the past decade. This year could be a repeat of 2008: On paper, they look like they're going to take a step back, but could easily exceed expectations. It all remains to be seen and that's the fun of following your favorite team year in and year out.

Emotionally I'm a little concerned...I'm still upset over last year, which really looked like it was their best shot at a title, and I'm still going with my prediction that Chicago or Detroit will prevail this year. And even if we snag the division, we're still not built for October. I don't think I can stomach yet another first round exit.

I'm actually optimistic about the position player question marks like Nishi, Morneau, etc., although that could just be blind optimism. The bullpen is just hideous to look at. I knew we would lose a few from last year's 'pen, but losing four of our best relievers really stung. I guess we'll see what happens there, could be a source for some trade and waivers pick-ups like the last two years.

My hope is that we trade for at least one more ace if anyone becomes available. I'm starting to warm up to Liriano more and expect great things from him this year, but would like to see just one more excellent pitcher to pair up with him and Pavano. That could make a huge difference in October, rather than find ourselves looking at, say, Duensing and Blackburn in Yankee Stadium again. Ugh.

And if all fails, well, at least I've got the 1991 reunion in August to look forward to. I'll be flying all the way out from California to see it and of course enjoy the new stadium. Should be a blast.

I look forward to reading your stuff all year Nick. Here's hoping our faith is rewarded with a WS win!