The Twins season is over, but pitchers and catchers will report in like 43 days (OK, not that quick, but baseball's offseason seems to breeze by these days). As such, here are a few things to chew on. Please add your feelings and extended thoughts in the comments.
Three areas the Twins must address in the offseason:
STARTING PITCHING (YEAH, NO KIDDING)
Everybody knows this, but to recap 2012: Twins starters had the worst ERA in the American League (5.40), which is perhaps the main reason their record only improved by three games over 2011 despite tangible gains in offense (701 runs vs. 619 a year ago) and run differential (54 runs better in 2012 than 2011). They were either completely out of a lot of games early or scrambling hard to at least make things close. The bullpen posted a respectable 3.77 ERA (9th in the AL), and the number perhaps could have been even better if guys weren’t overworked and pressed into long-relief situations.
We all also know, of course, that you don’t just press a button and out pops a capable five-man rotation. The Twins thought they could do that in 2012 with Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Jason Marquis and Nick Blackburn – crossing their fingers that the upside in all of them would emerge while ignoring or hoping against the downside that crept in with all of them (Pavano is getting older, Baker is injury-prone, Liriano can’t be trusted and Marquis and Blackburn are probably marginal fifth starters at best). So what do you do in 2013?
Well, Scott Diamond should be written in pen. What else? Good question. In a realistically ideal world, you would take a look at this list of potential free agents and find one guy with upside and sign him to a medium-sized two-year contract. You would find one more up-and-comer who is proven to be major league-ready in a trade (more on that in a minute). And you would have an open competition for the rest of the spots out of Sam Deduno (intriguing because of his stuff), Brian Duensing (still decent overall career numbers as a starter), Kyle Gibson (assuming he is ready) and maybe even Scott Baker on a reduced one-year comeback contract. Blackburn? A last, last, resort. That’s a rotation, potentially, with some arms and upside. It might not be a 90-win rotation, but you could see it being an 80-win rotation, which is the next step back to respectability for the Twins.
Baseball Reference says Denard Span
had the highest WAR on the Twins (4.8) in 2012. That’s better than Joe Mauer or Josh Willingham. He had a nice bounceback year, though he still isn’t the player he was in 2009 when he walked 70 times and had an OBP approaching .400 (this year it was .342). As good and dependable as a healthy Span can be, he is also the Twins' best trade asset. And in the offseason, you have to pull the trigger on a trade for that above-mentioned major-league ready starting pitcher.
Outfield is an area of organizational depth with Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia having strong 2012 seasons in the minors. They might not be ready right away in 2013, but outfield is a spot where the Twins can piece things together. You lose outfield range, but you might improve infield defense (again, more on that in a minute). Keep Josh Willingham in left. He’s probably a better DH, but as long as you have Mauer and Doumit, Willingham won’t be a full-time DH. Ben Revere plays center. Right field becomes a mix of Chris Parmelee, Darin Mastroianni, a prospect (when ready) and perhaps even Trevor Plouffe.
INFIELD DEFENSE IS THE SILENT KILLER
Here’s what we think of Plouffe now that 2012 is done: We like his bat enough to see him hit 500 times in a season. He can anchor the lower part of an order and give it real depth. Fielding? We’re not sure he’s ever going to lock down one position. He might be the kind of guy best suited to get 70 starts at third, 50 in the outfield and another handful at DH. That would be a partial help in solving infield defense, if the Twins were willing to sacrifice offense for defense at third in the non-Plouffe starts there. But the overall infield defense is a mess. The Twins made 107 errors in 2012 (11th in the AL). Of those, 78 were infield errors. That’s more than in 2011 (73), when Tsuyoshi Nishioka and a host of others made a mess of things. We didn’t think it was possible to have a worse infield D (at least in terms of errors) in 2012, but it happened. For perspective, the 2002 Twins committed 74 errors as an entire team. This year’s White Sox had just 38 infield errors – fewer than half the number the Twins committed. Maybe they need Jamey Carroll to lock down shortstop for a while longer. Maybe Pedro Florimon is the answer. Whatever the case, it is a fundamental flaw that silently accounted for numerous runs.