There's been chatter here and there about how 2011 is some sort of rebuilding year for the Twins, or how they're looking at third place because of moves made so far by the White Sox and Tigers.
Let's assume Justin Morneau returns at 100 percent. I know that's a different take from some of my pessimistic thoughts from the end of last season, but hope springs eternal during the winter.
Is this a rebuilding or middle-of-the-division lineup? Span, cf; Nishioka, 2b; Mauer, c; Morneau, 1b; Kubel/Cuddyer, rf; Young/Kubel, lf; Thome/Cuddyer, dh; Valencia, 3b; Casilla, ss.
(I'm also making the assumption that Thome re-signs with the Twins, and the announcement is being put off until TwinsFest.)
You can move the parts around however you like, but that isn't personnel geared toward 2012. In fact, some of these guys -- Cuddyer, Kubel, Span, Casilla -- have much to prove if they expect to be part of the team after 2011. Cuddyer and Kubel had options picked up... Span is signed long term but dealable... Casilla needs to be on a mission to quiet the skeptics, who have reason to be skeptical. Gardy's challenge will be to again manage Thome's at-bats and to figure out the four outfielders-for-three spots situation. (The lineup debates should be spirited this season.)
If Pavano stays, the Twins will have seven candidates (if you include Kyle Gibson) for five spots in the starting rotation and a bullpen that needs upgrading by April. Few people are naive enough to think that a division title will just happen, and it won't happen with a leaky bullpen and an attitude that the roster is good enough as it stands on Dec. 31.
So there are challenges for both players and management. If the front office makes the case for missing bullpen links or (come summer) a top-of-the-rotation starter, I don't see the Pohlads vetoing the expense. Target Field has been a spend money-to-make money operation, and why would that change when expectations are beyond simply making the playoffs?
When I covered the Twins, I learned that Harmon Killebrew is a soft-spoken man with strongly held opinions about baseball. It was always fun to pick his brain back when he was doing television for the Twins, and the infrequent conversations since have always been sweet. Harmon knows 100,000 people better than he knows me, but he's made me feel otherwise when we chat. I've seen him work rooms, batting cages and Twins events. He does it effortlessly.
In my baseball writing days, he once piled six of us into a not-very-big car in Baltimore for a trip to an out-of-the-way restaurant that was a favorite from when he played. And I remember a friend being stunned to have Harmon come over and chat with us one night when we ended up at the same downtown Minneapolis bar after I was off the baseball beat.
Add good thoughts and prayers for Harmon to your to-do list for 2011 as he battles cancer.
I'll be on MPR at noon to do the annual year-end sports show with Gary Eichten. It’s at 91.1 FM and www.mpr.org on the web. We’ll talk Twins and a few other things.
How many bloggers and baseball folks can you fit into a two-hour podcast? Seth Stohs had 17 of 'em on Thursday night. You can listen here.
Happy New Year!