When you look up and down the Twins' projected starting lineup for 2015, there are a number of potential weak spots.
Neither Danny Santana nor Kennys Vargas is a lock to maintain their stellar rookie performances. Joe Mauer is a giant question mark at this point. We still don't really know who's going to play center field.
But one area that few people are talking about is catcher, where the Twins are counting on Kurt Suzuki to back up one of the best seasons of his career. What happens if he can't?
At the trade deadline in 2014, with Suzuki's name floating around in rumors, Terry Ryan decided instead to lock up the veteran backstop with a two-year extension. At the time, Suzuki was batting over .300 with an above-average OPS, and his strong first half had even earned him an All-Star appearance.
Yet, in the context of Suzuki's career, the quality offensive output looked somewhat unsustainable -- his .760 OPS at the end of July was 70 points higher than his career mark, and he hadn't even finished above .700 since 2009.
Had he really recaptured the ability that made him a major asset for the Athletics in the earlier portion of his career, or had he simply enjoyed a few good months? When your production is based so heavily on putting the ball in play and collecting singles, things can turn around in quite a hurry.
Unfortunately, that's just what happened to Suzuki. After signing his extension, he hit .248/.290/.366 the rest of the way. Those numbers line up far more closely with his career slash line: .257/.314/.376.
That kind of production wouldn't exactly be disastrous -- American League catchers hit just .241/.301/.374 overall in 2014, meaning Suzuki was essentially average even in his diminished second-half capacity -- but what if the 31-year-old continues to slide toward the sub par level he was at in 2012 and 2013?
This brings us to a question that is likely be discussed frequently this spring and summer: What do the Twins really think of Josmil Pinto?
The 25-year-old's future became murky after Minnesota extended Suzuki's contract for two years; would the team have committed $12 million to the veteran if they truly envisioned Pinto taking over the reins any time soon?
The answer is... maybe. Suzuki's $6 million salary wouldn't be all that ridiculous even if he's only playing part-time, especially when you consider the depth he adds at a position that -- outside of Pinto -- is almost barren at the highest levels. (Beyond these two, there are no catchers currently on the 40-man roster.)
Suzuki's presence allows the Twins to be very patient with the development of Pinto's defensive skills, and that likely played a big part in the decision to keep him around. But what if Pinto's proficiency behind the plate does not improve, or Suzuki's regression hits harder and faster than expected?
With a lack of appealing alternatives on the extended roster -- or, really, anywhere in the organization -- it's hard to say at this point. Unless they are willing to make some concessions defensively and let Pinto's bat carry him, the Twins might be tied to Suzuki -- for better or worse.