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It's Jan. 6. It is ridiculously, stupidly cold outside. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training for the Twins in about 40 days. Really there are more like 3 months until real games happen, but pitchers and catchers reporting is a nice winter benchmark.
As such, we are more than halfway into the offseason -- and while the Twins have made significant moves in an attempt to bolster their starting rotation, the lineup is, well, another story.
There are very few spots written in pen, but if the season started today here is how we see the lineup shaking out:
Alex Presley (CF)
Brian Dozier (2B)
Joe Mauer (1B)
Josh Willingham (DH)
Oswaldo Arcia (LF)
Trevor Plouffe (3B)
Josmil Pinto (C)
Jason Kubel (RF)
Pedro Florimon (SS)
The caveats, of course, are numerous. The outfield is the most unsettled place, with Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello as well as Darin Mastroianni and perhaps Aaron Hicks also in the mix. Basically they have about four outfielders who should/could be DHs. But that's how we're guessing it starts out.
Pinto and Kurt Suzuki could very well end up in a basic platoon, and it wouldn't surprise us if Suzuki is the opening day starter since he has a better defensive reputation.
And we still think it is entirely possible that Miguel Sano will claim the starting job at third base to start the 2014 season, pushing Plouffe into a jack-of-all-trades role.
That said, there are only four guys we would write in pen, when healthy, to be starters somewhere on the field: Dozier, Mauer, Willingham and Arcia. Maybe Florimon, mostly by default.
The Twins can, of course, still add players and bolster the lineup. As of now, though, we are officially more worried about the lineup than the rotation.
We entered 2013 thinking the Twins couldn't be any worse. Well, they weren't worse. But they weren't better. They were exactly the same at 66-96.
The Wild and Vikings started their 2013 seasons coming off of playoff berths. The Wolves had loads of optimism. Now the Vikings have fired a coach, the Wild might not be far behind and the Wolves are ... well ... the Wolves.
Gophers football? A genuine feel-good story, albeit one with an unhappy ending. Gophers men's basketball? Anticipation is building, but we know nothing until Big Ten play starts Thursday.
But with 2014 upon us, all we can feel at this moment is optimism. It is the only note to strike when a new year begins. None of our four major men's pro sports team has even PLAYED in a World Series, Super Bowl or NBA/NHL final since the Twins won it all in 1991. That's a generation ago.
But maybe 2014 will be different. Right now, we have to believe.
Former Star Tribune colleague Steve Aschburner, writing for NBA.com, has a wonderful look back at the one year the Timberwolves played inside the soon-to-be-gone Metrodome. It's not overly long, so you should go read the whole thing. But if you just have time for one snippet, it is this fascinating and strange nugget:
“The Wolves used the visitors’ [baseball] clubhouse, on the other side of the laundry room,” said Clayton Wilson, the Timberwolves’ longtime equipment manager, who worked for the Twins before switching over with the move to Target Center. “Tom Kelly [Twins manager] could sit in there and listen to Musselman rip into the players. ‘Lohaus, you [bleep]!’ Muss would get in their faces a little bit.”
Kelly was a season-ticket holder, like Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.
“T.K. loved the Xs & Os,” Wilson said, “so he would go in pregame and listen to them, and then [during the game] he’d say, ‘OK, see how the coaches said they were going to deny this guy the ball and get it to that guy? That’s what they’re doing.’ “
There were more than a few nights, Wilson said, that Kelly – rattling around his Dome office in the middle of a Minnesota winter – would give the regular laundry guy a night off and wash the Wolves’ sweaty uniforms and socks.
Kurt Suzuki, who has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Twins, has a reputation for being a good defensive catcher. That would seem to make him a great fit on a team with a raw young catcher (Josmil Pinto) who is a better hitter than fielder at this point, particularly now that Joe Mauer is moving to first base and the defensively challenged Ryan Doumit has been traded to Atlanta.
But sometimes we simply say things enough times and accept them is true without actually stopping to examine the facts. So we want to ask: Do the facts suggest Suzuki really is a good defensive catcher? Well, yes and no.
*He has had three very nice seasons in terms of defensive runs saved, posting totals of 10, 6 and 8 in successive seasons. That's a metric measuring the number of runs he saved in a season above the average catcher. Five is considered above average, while 10 is great. The downside is those years were 2008-10. In his last three seasons, he is a -1 combined. So about average. Doumit was a -16 in that same three-year span from 2011-13, so it's certainly an upgrade.
*In terms of framing pitches, Suzuki traditionally ranks toward the bottom in MLB. In 2011, his last full season with one team, he was 10th from the bottom.
*That said, he has a .993 career fielding percentage and his 26 percent career mark for throwing out base stealers is right around the league average.
*Perhaps the best news is that pitchers throwing to Suzuki have a 3.88 ERA in his career. The MLB average during that time is a full quarter-run higher. Now, we're not entirely sure if that's a function of him or some good pitching staffs he's worked with primarily in Oakland, but we imagine a lot of Suzuki's reputation for being a good defensive catcher comes from that intangible area of "calling a good game" and "working well with pitchers." If that's the case, he'll do just fine here. And regardless, he'll be a defensive upgrade over what Doumit had to offer.
Esteemed baseball writer Phil Miller is never too busy to help out the blog. On some recent overseas travels, he snapped a picture and later sent it our way via e-mail.
Subject: Did you know Fiat makes a Punto?
Message: This car battles its tailpipe off.
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