Thursday, December 30, 2010

Twins Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

With the start of a new year only a couple days away there is time to sit back and reflect on what 2010 meant for the Minnesota Twins (This will be more of the focus for my post tomorrow).  It also means that it is time to look to the new year and what 2011 could bring to the hometown team.

Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press looked at all of the Minnesota teams and what the best and worse case scenarios would be for each of them.  He offers a lot of different things that will have to go right for the Twins to succeed and some of the things that could happen to make 2011 a disaster.  Mr. Powers didn't get into much detail with each of these items so I will try and fill in some of those gaps.

Below you will see the statements that he made and how I feel the 2011 Twins will play out in relation to each of those statements.

"I hate to say it but I see similarities between the Twins of next year and the Vikings of this year."  It is pretty hard to compare a professional football team and a MLB baseball team.  Both teams did have a lot of veteran players that were part of their teams, but the Twins have gone in another direction.  They have dumped older and slower players for more speed and youth.  The Vikings stuck with their old players and it looks like a youthful Joe Webb might have been a better choice.

"The Twins' World Series window was in 2010."  I sure hope not.  The Twins have a core of young players that should help to keep this team viable for the foreseeable future.  By investing large contracts Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau the Twins have built cornerstones to the franchise.  Don't tell these players that their only window of opportunity for a World Series was last season.  The Twins picked a bad time of the year to have a cold streak.


"Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan come back a hundred percent."  My vote would be that Morneau will be back at close to full strength and that Joe Nathan is going to need more time.  It was a sight to see for any fan that saw Morneau taking batting practice at the end of last season.  He was spraying HR balls all over Target Field.  With the amount of concussions that he has had in the past there are going to be challenges for him.  There might be days that he needs to rest his head and Ron Gardenhire is going to have accept that for one of his star players.  Nathan is not going to be 100% for most, if not all, of the 2011 season.  These type of arm injuries take time to recover from and Nathan is not going to be an exception to that rule.

"Bill Smith finds a way to patch up the bullpen."  Bill Smith could get lucky.  All of the players that could be members of the bullpen have something to prove.  Each of them could have the season of their life and find their niche in that bullpen.  At this point in the offseason I see the Twins adding one other veteran arm to the bullpen and relying on the younger talent that is part of the organization.  I also think that if the bullpen is an issue that Smith will try and fix it in the middle of the season.  Over the last two years he has been able to add the right pieces to the puzzle to make the Twins champions of the Central.

"Carl Pavano re-signs."  It's going to happen.  I think that Howard Sinker summed it up best with his post earlier today on the Star Tribune website.  Carl Pavano is getting older in age and probably doesn't have many seasons left in him.  Does he want to play on the Twins and have a legitimate chance at contending?  Or does he want to go to Washington and have only a handful of games with any meaning to them?  The choice is his.

"Kyle Gibson steps into the rotation and becomes a force."  Kyle Gibson will have to be part of the Twins rotation this season.  I don't think he needs to be a force for the team to succeed.  If he can come and give the team a boost in the second half of the season that might be as much force as they need out of him.  For the 2011 season I think the ideal situation would be to need Gibson to be a number three starter behind Liriano and Pavano.  He will pick up some big wins down the stretch to help the team make a run toward the post season.

"The Twins will compete for the wild-card spot.  The White Sox have spent a fortune this winter and likely will win the division."  The Central Division has gotten much stronger this offseason.  Both the Tiger and White Sox have made some additions that could make a three-peat for the Twins quite the challenge.  There is a long season where lots can go wrong for any of these teams.  I will say that getting two teams into the playoffs out of the Central would be quite the accomplishment with how strong Red Sox and Yankees look on paper.  If the Twins are a wild-card over one of those team I think I would be happy with how good the team looked.


"Morneau and Nathan aren't quite right."  Morneau will be fine and Nathan will need time.  See above for more details.

"Pavano signs elsewhere."  If a team is willing to offer him a third year then he most likely will be exiting the Twin Cities.  In that story-line others in the Twins organization would need to occupy the hole left in the rotation by the absence of the 'stache.

"Gibson needs several months at Class AAA Rochester."  Gibson won't be in the starting rotation coming out of Spring Training.  There is no way with the current contract situation in place that the Twins will bring him up until the beginning of July.  He will get a few months in Rochester to get his feet under him again.  Then it will be time for the bigs.

 "Alexi Casilla can't handle the starting shortstop job."  The Twins have plenty of other players that will be jumping at the chance to steal the starting job from Alexi Casilla.  This might be good for the organization to have players pushing Casilla to keep his production at a high level.  Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, and Matt Tolbert will give Casilla a run for his money and that could make the infield stronger down the stretch.

"In that case, the Twins go 81-81 and the summer becomes tedious."  With the way that the current roster sits.  I think this is a fair assessment.  There are a lot of question marks for the 2011 season, so it isn't hard to imagine there being some struggles next season.  One injury, a couple bad starting pitchers, and the season can slip away in a hurry.

Here's hoping the rest of the offseason isn't too tedious...


The Common Man said...

In general, I think this is a good breakdown.

Personally, I don't think losing Pavano would be the end of the world. We have five acceptable starters without him (Liriano, Baker, Duensing, Slowey, Blackburn), so he'd just be icing. And I don't think he's the difference between a division title and also-ran status, especially with Gibson probably ready to contribute by the middle of the summer.

Honestly, I can see the Twins stumbling their way to 83-86 wins this year, and falling short of the Wild Card. Then, unburdened by the huge contracts of Nathan and Cuddyer, they can spend a little more on middle infield help in 2012.

Regarding Casilla, I have no doubt that other players would love to take the SS job from him, but none of the guys you identify have the talent to do that. Hughes is not a middle infielder. Tolbert is horribly stretched outside of 2B and is an abysmal hitter. Plouffe is a right-handed Nick Punto if everything breaks right. I think the Twins badly misread their MI positions this Winter, and that's a huge weakness for the team in 2011.

NoDak Twins Fan said...

Hughes has played about as many games at 2B (225) as at 3B (265). So there is a possibility, even if it is a small one, that he could man 2B and have Nishioka at SS.

But yeah I agree with you, the middle infield could be a giant hole next season.