Fort Myers, Fla. – You hear a lot of optimism from the Twins front office and players these days, which means they may not be aware that most of the people who make predictions about baseball think they stink.
One Vegas site predicts the 2016 Twins will win 77.5 games. USA Today picks the Twins to win 80 games but finish last in the AL Central.
Usually, I find myself in the position of telling people not to get too excited about local teams during offseasons. It’s too easy to daydream of perfect scenarios.
This is one time I think the local team is underrated. The 2016 Twins should be good, and they have a chance to be very good.
Last year, they won 83 games, a 13-game improvement from 2014. They won 83 games even though …
• Paul Molitor managed for the first time in his life at any level.
• Ervin Santana, their big free-agent acquisition and purported ace, missed half a season because of a drug suspension.
• Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario arrived during the season, and Byron Buxton got called up before he was ready to hit big-league pitching, meaning none of those three talented players contributed for a full big-league season.
• Joe Mauer had the worst season of his career.
• The Twins’ most valuable player over the past three years, closer Glen Perkins, couldn’t stay healthy and had a terrible second half.
• The Twins waited too long to give the shortstop job to Eduardo Escobar. (Mea culpa: I thought Danny Santana was the right choice, too.)
• The team got nothing offensively from its catchers.
• Nobody on the 2015 Twins had a career year.
The 2016 Twins will have a deep rotation. Jose Berrios is one of the best pitching prospects in the game and he may not make the team or be needed. Alex Meyer, once thought of as a rotation savior, now may be needed as nothing more than a middle reliever.
If Buxton does what the Twins hope he will do and seizes the center field job, the Twins will have the best-throwing outfield in baseball. Buxton and Sano have two of the best arms in the game, and Rosario has one of the most accurate.
Last year, the three pitchers the Twins have spent significant money on in free agency — Santana, Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco — contributed 23 victories and 300 ⅔ innings. Santana and Hughes should surpass those numbers this season, and anything Nolasco contributes, most likely as a long reliever, would be a welcome bonus. Twins President Dave St. Peter said his reports on Nolasco’s work ethic and attitude have made him optimistic about a career rejuvenation.
Before his drug suspension last year, Santana was known for his consistency. Hughes has typically performed well in every other season. He has averaged 17 victories in even-numbered years since 2010, and seven in odd-numbered years.
Hughes and Perkins are said to be in better shape this spring than they were last year.
“They didn’t make it through the year, either one of them,” General Manager Terry Ryan said. “Whether it’s conditioning or maintenance or a combination thereof, we’re looking for better from both. Obviously they’re going to be a key to whether we win or not …
“Phil had a very spotty year for us. I think you’re going to see a changed man here. I know he’s coming in in better shape. I saw him at TwinsFest, and he’s in tremendous shape, actually.”
The Twins’ organization depth is improved. Vice President Mike Radcliff believes surging prospect Max Kepler could be ready to play center if Buxton isn’t, and the farm system is stacked with interesting pitching prospects.
The Twins need a quality lefthanded reliever. Ryan believes Taylor Rogers or Fernando Abad could fill that role. The Twins believe Abad was tipping his pitches last year and could easily return to his 2014 form, when he had a 1.57 ERA.
I see an improved team, one that should add at least a handful of victories to last year’s total.