Minnesota Twins 2011 Season Preview
- Blog Post by: Nick Nelson
- March 30, 2011 - 12:11 AM
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.
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