Frustrating. That is the best way to describe the 2011 Minnesota Twins.
One year after winning the American League Central, the Twins stumbled to the worst record in the AL, finishing 63-99, their worst finish since dropping 102 games in 1982.
Injuries were the biggest reason for the dramatic turnaround, as the Twins utilized the disabled list a major league high 27 times, with key players such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span and Jason Kubel all missing extended periods of time with various injuries. The injury bug also plagued the pitching staff, as Carl Pavano was the only starter to avoid the disabled list.
In all, the Twins scored the second-fewest runs in the AL, while allowing the second most in the majors. Typically not a formula for success.
Then to make matters worse after the season, Michael Cuddyer, the lone bright spot from last year's club, opted to sign with Colorado after 11 years with Minnesota. Closer Joe Nathan and jack-of-all-trades Jason Kubel also left as free agents.
But, as bad as the Twins were last season this is still a team that won 94 games in 2010. So, the hope is that when healthy this club can compete with anyone, especially in an underwhelming AL Central, outside of the Detroit Tigers.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Minnesota Twins, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 FINISH (63-99) - Fifth Place (AL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Ryan Doumit (C/1B), Jamey Carroll (INF), Jason Marquis (RHP), Josh Willingham (OF)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Michael Cuddyer (OF), Jason Kubel (OF), Joe Nathan (RHP), Kevin Slowey (RHP)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Denard Span (CF), Jamey Carroll (SS), Joe Mauer (C), Justin Morneau (1B), Josh Willingham (RF), Danny Valencia (3B), Ryan Doumit (DH), Ben Revere (LF), Alexi Casilla (2B)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Carl Pavano (RHP), Scott Baker (RHP), Francisco Liriano (LHP), Jason Marquis (RHP), Nick Blackburn (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Matt Capps
MANAGER: Ron Gardenhire
WHAT CAN THE TWINS EXPECT FROM JUSTIN MORNEAU?
One of the sadder stories in baseball the past couple of seasons has been the concussion problems that former AL MVP Justin Morneau has had to deal with.
Morneau seemed to be on his way to another MVP award in 2010, but on July 7 of that season he was kneed in the head by Toronto's John McDonald while trying to break up a double play. The injury forced him to miss the second half of that season and last year was only able to appear in 69 games and had to shut it down after symptoms returned following a routine dive at first base on Aug. 28. He's also underwent surgeries on his neck, left wrist, left knee and right foot.
Even when he played last season Morneau hit a mere .227, down over 120 points from the previous year, and managed just four home runs and 30 RBI.
Now Minnesota is left wondering if he can even still handle the day-to-day grind of playing first base. But, forget playing the field some are wondering if he can even handle being a designated hitter at this point, as he has struggled mightily at the plate this spring. Although, he is swinging the bat better of late.
Regardless, with the addition of Ryan Doumit this offseason, the Twins will head into the season with him at first base and Morneau handling the DH duties.
The Twins probably won't contend this year with or without a healthy Morneau, but it would put a lot of people's minds at ease if he could get through a season healthy.
CAN YOU TRUST MATT CAPPS?
As a whole Minnesota's bullpen was a disaster last season, as the unit posted an awful 4.51 ERA to go along with only 323 strikeouts in 460 2/3 innings.
Perhaps the biggest culprit was righty Matt Capps, who pitched to a 4.25 ERA and blew nine saves in 25 chances. In his defense he battled a forearm injury for most of the season and he was effective in 2010, saving 42 games with a 2.47 ERA.
Still and all, the team is hoping he reverts back to his form from two years ago, as Minnesota turned the page on the Joe Nathan-era, opting to let him leave through free agency, while signing Capps to a one-year deal that includes an option for 2013.
Capps will have a solid setup man behind him in left-hander Glen Perkins. If Cuddyer was the lone bright spot on offense, Perkins filled that bill on the mound, as he pitched to a 2.48 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. Also, Brian Duensing could be moved to the pen after spending last season in the rotation.
IS THIS THE YEAR FRANCISCO LIRIANO STEPS UP?
After winning 14 games in 2010 there was a lot riding on the left arm of Francisco Liriano, but as has been his wont for the majority of his big league career, he let the Twins down.
Liriano made just 24 starts for Minnesota and was a mere 9-10, while pitching to a 5.09 ERA. Of course there was a highlight along the way, as he tossed a no-hitter against Chicago on May 2. But, for the most part it was more of the same inconsistency that has plagued his big league career.
Injuries have contributed to his struggles, but he's healthy after working on his mechanics in the Dominican Winter League.
This is also an interesting season for Liriano since he can become a free agent at season's end. Should the Twins struggle, he would be a very attractive option at the trade deadline. Plus it makes even more sense for the Twins to move him when you consider that thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement a team must offer a free agent a one-year deal for $12.5 million in order to get draft compensation.
If Liriano continues to be inconsistent, you think anyone is going to pony up that kind of scratch for him this winter?
X-FACTOR: JOE MAUER: Not only did injuries take their toll on Morneau, but the team only had their other former MVP, Joe Mauer, behind the plate 42 times last season, as he dealt with a range of injuries including bilateral leg weakness, neck stiffness, a viral infection and an upper respiratory infection that turned into a bout with pneumonia that ended his season on Sept. 14. With Doumit and Drew Butera on the roster Mauer won't need to catch everyday and with Morneau probably not playing much in the field, he could start to transition to first base. Either way, if the Twins are going to have any kind of success this season they are going to need Mauer to hit better than the .287 he hit last season. They'll need him to play more than half a season too.
The Minnesota Twins went from first-to-worst last season primarily because of injuries and the fact that their bullpen was absolutely atrocious. So just having Mauer and Span stay healthy should make the Twins better. By the way since new Target Field opened in 2010, Mauer and Span have combined to hit just one home run there. That has to improve. At this point Morneau is still a question mark. Anything they can get out of him is gravy. But, this still isn't a very good team on paper. Look at the lineup. There just isn't a lot of power there. Josh Willingham, who signed the richest free agent contract in team history this winter, will help, but let's be real, he isn't exactly Ryan Braun. But for some reason since winning the division in 2003, the Twins have seemed to exceed expectations in even numbered years, and fall short in odd numbered years. They look like a team that is going to finish under .500 but that has been the case before and they wound up winning. Stranger things have happened.