Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's resolutions abound for Twins

The end of 2011 could not come fast enough for the Minnesota Twins. At the beginning of the year, Twins fans had high hopes for 2011 after a memorable first season at Target Field in 2010. The hopes for the 2011 calendar year were quickly dashed through a variety of issues. It became a nightmare for the organization as the team lost the second most games in franchise history and saw players put on the disabled list 27 times. Overall, a tough year for any franchise to endure and especially troubling for a team who had become accustom to finishing near the top of the AL Central in the last decade.

Coming off of the disaster of 2011, the Twins could write a book about their New Year's resolutions for 2012. It is hard to narrow down the list to bring out the top needed improvements for the organization next season. Here are five things that could go a long way to improving the results on the field to turn the team around for 2012.

1. Free agent signings need to perform- Since the end of the 2011 season, the Twins have seen the departure of Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Joe Nathan. This means the team has been forced to bring in other players to take their spots. Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis and Matt Capps have all signed free agent contracts to fit into the mix for next season. If the Twins have any chance of contending, each of these players is going to have to produce on the field. The Twins feel they have found the best pieces to get this team back into contention for next year. There will be extra pressure on these players to give positive performances on the field but the Twins will need each of them to fit into their role for the team to succeed.

2. Starting pitchers need to have bounce-back years- The name of the game in baseball is starting pitching and the Twins had quite a few speed bumps in this department last season. In 2010, the Twins saw outstanding seasons put together by Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing. Liriano and Pavano looked like a solid one-two punch heading for the playoffs and Duensing was solid for the second year in a row in his limited amount of time as a starter. Pavano, Liriano and Duensing fell on some hard times in 2011. It seems that Duensing will be relegated back to the bullpen for the start of next season (see below). This leaves Pavano, Liriano, Marquis, Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn as the starting five for 2012. Pavano and Liriano are in their last season of being under contract with the Twins so they will need to show up in their contract years. Baker and Blackburn need to stay healthy and consistent on the mound to help the team win.

3. Bullpen issues need to be resolved- The Twins went into last season with a lot of question marks in the bullpen. As the calendar flips over to another new year, there are still plenty of question marks for the Twins. With the exodus of Nathan to Texas, Capps has been pegged as the team's closer for 2012. The lackluster numbers put up by Capps in 2011 make it hard for Twins fans to get exited about his return to the mound at Target Field. Duensing will be added back to the bullpen and he has proven very effective in retiring left-handed batters. Glen Perkins was outstanding in a relief role in 2011 and he will need a repeat performance to solidify some of the late innings. Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett, Lester Oliveros and a handful of other arms will vie for the other spots in the 'pen. Last season the Twins bullpen had the worst ERA in the Majors so the hope is that it can't get any worse. Right?

4. Concussion issues need to disappear- Denard Span and Justin Morneau are two of the players who are pivotal parts of the Twins long-term plan for success. They were each signed to multi-year contracts for the promise they showed on the field and for the importance they provided to the team. Different concussion related injuries have forced Morneau to miss time during the last two seasons and for Span to miss significant time last year. If the Twins are to climb their way out of the cellar, Span needs to be at the top of the line-up and Morneau needs to become a threat again. Concussions can be a serious issue for the long-term health of athletes. The number one concern for each of these players is to protect their long-term health but at the same time each of them has shown a passion to return to the field. They need to prove the concussion issues are no longer a problem and they can handle the rigors of playing an entire season. 

5. Mauer needs to be behind the plate- When the Twins signed Mauer to his monster contract, it was so he could be the superstar catcher for his hometown team. For the team to get value out of his huge deal, he needs to be able to catch on a more consistent basis then he did last year. Mauer caught over 900 innings in five of his first seven seasons but that number dropped to 141 innings last year. The Twins are likely to use Doumit and Drew Butera behind the plate for some games in 2012 but Mauer needs to prove he can be the backstop the Twins are paying him to be. The offseason reports that have come out sound promising and the hope for the Twins is that 2011 will just be a blip on the radar of an outstanding career for Mauer in a Twins uniform.

Bonus Resolution: Don't screw up the 2012 MLB Draft- This resolutions won't necessarily impact the team for next season but it could go a long way to shaping the team's future. The Twins will have five picks in the first two rounds and this could shape the franchise for the foreseeable future. Most experts believe this is a weak draft class so it will be important for the scouts of the Twins to have all of their homework done. The Twins haven't had a top three pick since the team took Mauer with the first pick of the 2001 draft. Good franchises are made or lost in the draft so it is important for the Twins not to screw it up.

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