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2010 Minnesota Twins: Target Giveth and Target Taketh Away 2010 Spring Preview
by Keith Glab,
February 26, 2010

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Orlando Hudson 2B
J.J. Hardy SS
Jim Thome DH
Clay Condrey RP
Departed Pos.
Joe Crede 3B
Boof Bonser SP
Brian Buscher 3B
R.A. Dickey RP
Carlos Gomez CF
Bobby Keppell RP
Mike Redmond C

The Minnesota Twins have never employed an opening day payroll as high as $72 million.  Their recent history has been hallmarked by their star players departing, but the team somehow scrapping together enough bits to compete.  This was most evident in 2008, when the club lost Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Silva, and Matt Garza, yet still improved by nine wins over the previous season.

This year is different.  The revenue expected to be generated by newly-constructed Target Field has allowed the 2010 opening day payroll to exceed $100 million.  Rather than enduring their perennial deficit of talent, the Twins have made three key acquisitions without losing anyone of real importance.

2009 Standings - AL Central
Central W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Minnesota Twins 87 76 .534 0 49-33 38-43 817 765 .530 59-44 28-32
Detroit Tigers 86 77 .528 1 51-30 35-47 743 745 .499 57-57 29-20
Chicago White Sox 79 83 .488 8 43-38 36-45 724 732 .495 54-59 25-24
Cleveland Indians 65 97 .401 22 35-46 30-51 773 865 .449 48-74 17-23
Kansas City Royals 65 97 .401 22 33-48 32-49 686 842 .407 45-61 20-36

But they did lose some THING of great importance, and that was the HHH Metrodome.  Although it was supposedly an awful place to watch a baseball game, the Twins made it into the greatest home field advantage east of Denver over the years.  During manager Ron Gardenhire's tenure, the Twins were 137 games over .500 when playing at the Metrodome and 16 games under when playing anywhere else. 
Pos '09 '10
C Mauer Mauer
1B Morneau Morneau
2B Casilla/Punto Hudson
3B Crede/Harris Harris/Punto
SS Punto/Cabrera Hardy
LF Young Kubel
CF Gomez Span
RF Cuddyer Cuddyer
OF Span Young
DH Kubel Thome
So while the Twins have ostensibly improved their personnel, they may have needed to do that just to tread water with their home field advantage gone.

The amount their personnel has improved is not commensurate with their increase in payroll, though.  Orlando Hudson has somehow managed to go from being one of the most underrated fielders in baseball to one of the most overrated in the past two years.  While J.J. Hardy certainly can't be as bad as his .659 OPS from last year, he isn't likely to be an offensive upgrade over Orlando Cabrera.  Defensively, that upgrade is significant.  Overall, Hudson and Hardy represent big gains from last year's middle infield mess, but neither one is likely to have an All-Star season either.

While Jim Thome still swings a potent bat and will likely excel playing only against right-handed pitching, Jason Kubel's left field defense could spell trouble, particularly without Carlos Gomez zipping around the outfield anymore.  Denard Span is a very good fielder in his own right and a far better overall player than Gomez, but the outfield defense takes a big hit with Gomez gone and Kubel likely to spend more time in the field.  Rumors that Michael Cuddyer is going to serve as Span's backup in centerfield can't be true, can they?  The loss of Joe Crede doesn't help the team defense either, as the oft-injured Crede managed to save a dozen runs defensively last year even though he only appeared in 90 games.

Disappointment Candidate
Joe Nathan
Had his worst walk rate as a Twin in '09 and imploded in the postseason
Comeback Candidate
Kevin Slowey
Had 75 K and 15 BB while pitching with a bad wrist last year
The fact that the Twins' overall defense has declined is quite troubling, as the franchise has branded its pitching staff as one that puts the ball in play and lets their defense shine.  The Twins don't have anything close to a strikeout pitcher in their starting rotation (unless Francisco Liriano somehow regains his pre-surgery form, but most depth charts currently show him in the bullpen) and that could mean an awful lot of hits allowed.   It could become an even larger issue if Target Field plays like a pitcher's park.  The Metrodome depressed home run output by eight percent over the past three seasons.  If the new park allows more homers than average, every Twins pitcher is in for a rough season.

Twins Team Capsule

We Donít Need Joe Nathan. In Detroit, Francisco Liriano continued his impressive comeback against the Tigers, running his scoreless streak to 23 innings while striking out 10 and walking one in eight innings of work. The ninth inning was pitched by Jon Rauch, the Twins replacement for the injured Joe Nathan, and all Rauch did was nail down his seventh save in eight chances, striking out two batters and running his ERA down to 1.80. Rauch has never been as dominating as his six-foot-eleven frame would imply, but the closerís role certain seems to suit him for now.

Pos '09 '10
SP Baker Baker
SP Blackburn Blackburn
SP Liriano Pavano
SP Perkins Slowey
SP Slowey/Swarzak Duensing/Perkins
SP Pavano/Duensing Swarzak/Manship
CL Nathan Nathan
LP Mijares Mijares
LP Duensing Liriano
RP Guerrier Neshek
RP Dickey Guerrier
RP Crain Crain
RP Keppell Rauch/Condrey
As much emphasis as the team placed on shoring up its offense, general manager Bill Smith was convinced that a full season of Carl Pavano, more experience for his younger pitchers, and a healthier staff overall would be enough to upgrade the pitching.  With last year's defense in last year's ballpark, that may have been the case.  As it stands now, the rotation lacks anything resembling an ace and remains a huge question mark overall. 

The bullpen could be formidable, as there are enough strikeout pitchers down there to neutralize the changes in ballpark and defense.  Pat Neshek and Liriano could realistically have comeback years in the bullpen and a full year of Jon Rauch should be a plus.  Clay Condrey was probably brought in more for his World Series experience rather than his pitching ability, but there is enough depth ahead of him to hide his weaknesses.

Jason Kubel
But the real story for the Twins this year will be their offense.  These blokes are going to score some serious runs.  Last year's squad got nothing offensively from the centerfield, second base, third base, and shortstop positions for most of the season.  This year, the only obvious hole is third base, and there is quite a bit of depth on the roster with last year's regulars Nick Punto and Delmon Young now serving as utility guys. 

The possibility of a full season of Joe Mauer is tantalizing, but realistically, it's hard to expect the reigning MVP to improve on his overall value from last year.  Justin Morneau, however, seems to perform better during even seasons than odd ones for some odd reason.  He, like most of the offense, is in his late 20s, and could be primed for a big year.

To be fair, most of the pitching staff is in their prime years as well.  It may surprise some people to learn that closer Joe Nathan is 35, though.  This could be the year that he shows everybody just how rare seven straight seasons as a dominant closer is by faltering.   Even still, there may be enough depth in the bullpen behind him for the Twins to absorb that hit, although his contract would force the team into making some difficult choices.

Final Word

It would be silly to bet against the Twins winning the AL Central now that they are finally spending money like a first-division team.  Don't expect them to run away with it, though.  The Tigers and White Sox both appear to have improved as well, and there's no way that 87 wins clinches this division in 2010. 

As usual, once these Twins get into the postseason, they will fold.  Most of the thunder in their lineup is left-handed and can be neutralized by the better southpaws in the league.  No longer playing on turf, these Twins don't look like the kind of team that is going to manufacture runs terribly well, either.  Not that it matters, since a rotation like this won't keep playoff teams from scoring bunches of runs.

The Twins may win their sixth division title in nine years and still get their fans upset due to their increased payroll and constant playoff failures.  Hopefully the novelty of the new ballpark will prevent Twins fans of the teens to become like Braves fans of the 90s or Yankees fans of last decade.

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