Twins Insider: Not a lot of love for the lineup

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2014 - 10:29 AM

Based on fantasy rankings, it doesn’t project to be much better than it was a year ago.

Everyone makes mistakes, but this seemed like a curious one. Baseball America’s annual fantasy baseball guide featuring position-by-position player rankings evaluated 33 shortstops among the 30 major league teams — but no Pedro Florimon.

An e-mail was dispatched to Baseball America managing editor J.J. Cooper to point out the error. And his response illustrated just how problematic the Twins offense was in 2013, and projects to be in 2014:

The Florimon oversight was no oversight at all.

“His offense makes him a negative fantasy player,” Cooper said. “If he gets 500 [at-bats], as we see it, his .210-.220 batting average will erase almost anything positive he gives a fantasy team in home runs or steals.”

Ouch. The Twins play Florimon largely for his defense, of course, and they believe the stability he brought to the infield last year outweighs any shortcomings he might have at the plate, a calculation that is meaningless in the defense-doesn’t-matter world of fantasy baseball.

But Florimon’s was hardly the only spot in the Twins lineup that projects poorly for 2014. Coming off the franchise’s worst run-producing season in 45 years, the anemic Twins offense remains largely undisturbed, only one month before spring training commences.

Past-their-prime hitters Kurt Suzuki, Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett have been acquired on the fringes of the lineup, but the mainstays of the batting order return for 2014, and a glance at Baseball America’s offensive rankings provides a sobering perspective on how the Twins offense measures up. (Again, the rankings are for fantasy games, which value batting average, home runs, RBI and stolen bases specifically, and do not penalize for strikeouts nor reward patience at the plate.)

Joe Mauer, in the magazine’s estimation, rates seventh among catchers, the position he has abandoned in the wake of a concussion last August but for which he remains eligible in most leagues this year. That’s a reflection of his relative lack of power over the past three years, an issue that might loom larger at his new position. Brian Dozier rates only 13th at second base, though the magazine describes him as a breakthrough candidate after hitting 18 home runs last year.

The rest of the Twins offense? Safe to say, talent evaluators aren’t impressed.

Trevor Plouffe is ranked 29th among major league third basemen. Josh Willingham, the highest-ranked Twins outfielder, comes in 52nd. Kubel is 65th, Oswaldo Arcia 70th and Alex Presley 99th. Florimon isn’t rated at all, and first baseman Chris Colabello, whose position has been claimed by Mauer, is 34th, albeit with the label of “sneaky breakout candidate.” Josmil Pinto is No. 21 at catcher.

That group of players, along with departed 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau, formed the nucleus of an offense that scored 614 runs last season, the fewest in a 162-game season for the Twins since 1968, and more than a run a game less than the 793 runs of AL Central champion Detroit. The Twins didn’t score with the long ball (11th in the AL in home runs) or manufacture runs (13th in stolen bases in the AL, last in stolen base success percentage).

The Twins have revamped their pitching rotation this winter, addressing a weakness that was even more glaring than the lack of runs, but little has been done to overhaul a lineup that suffered the third-most strikeouts in baseball history last year.

None of this is news to Terry Ryan, of course. Even as he signed free agents Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey for the pitching staff, the Twins general manager made it clear he considered the offense to be just as big a priority. But finding more run producers has proved difficult.

“We still have some work to do, no question. We struggled to score runs,” especially once Mauer and Morneau were subtracted from the lineup in September, Ryan said. The relative lack of trades or free-agent signings, beyond the trio of veterans acquired in November and December, “doesn’t put any finality on our roster as a whole,” Ryan said. “Things could still happen. We could make a move or two in spring training.”

Ultimately, the Twins hope the solution presents itself from within, in the form of top-rated prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, who have been invited to spring training with the Twins, and rebound seasons by former first-round picks Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmelee, who have disappointed in their initial big-league opportunities.

Until then? Maybe Twins fans should avoid fantasy baseball.

 

Phil Miller • phil.miller@startribune.com

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