While the Twins are officially in spring training right now, I think a more accurate description would be that they are in a period of spring cleaning. They are wiping away the grime of an overmatched starting pitching staff of the past few seasons, dusting off some injury-prone players, and throwing out pieces that are no longer part of their long-term plans.
More than anything, the Twins need to find a way to get quality innings from their starters. The additions of Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, and Doug Pelfrey don’t exactly fill me with feverish anticipation, but I can’t see how this trio won’t end up being an upgrade. Add to this an already solid Scott Diamond (assuming he is healthy) and a full-of potential Kyle Gibson (two years removed from Tommy John surgery) and the Twins might just have enough to be competitive. Not division winning competitive, mind you, but perhaps hovering around .500 competitive.
Terry Ryan’s recommitment to pitching is great to see. The realities of baseball economics are what they are, thus the Twins just aren’t going to spend fat cash to bring in top free agents. What that leaves them with is a situation where their best chances of being competitive are through pitching and defense, playing as they do in a pitcher’s park. Except instead of the “pitching to contact” philosophy they have employed, I would like to see them adopt a “strike out as many effin’ guys as possible” mentality. Of course this requires more talented pitchers, but shouldn’t avoiding contact be a pitcher’s main goal no matter who they are?
The restocking of the pitching staff did require the Twins to jettison some quality outfielders, but I’d much rather have a stronger pitching staff than a glut of speedy, power-challenged outfielders. Denard Span and Ben Revere are decent players, but Aaron Hicks is projected to offer just as much defense and even better offense, and let’s face it, the Twins are not in a position to win now. Obtaining better pitching while letting Hicks grow into the job is really a no-brainer.
The Twins also signed their usual handful of potentially high-ceiling injury machines. This year’s crop is led by Rich Harden, a former strike out machine who has spent so much time on the disabled list that he now receives his mail there. And then there is Rafael Perez, another fireballer that is attempting to put his injury woes behind him. History says that the chances of either of these guys returning to form are slim, but if one of them can contribute in a meaningful way, it will have been money well-spent.
With Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit, Chris Parmalee, and Trevor Plouffe forming the nucleus of the batting lineup, the Twins should be able to score some runs, especially if Hicks can settle into a reliable lead off hitter. Morneau had an okay season last year and has hopefully put his concussion woes behind him. He is in the final year of his contract, though, and it’s hard to imagine that Terry Ryan won’t move him for more prospects before the trading deadline. The best situation for both the Twins and Morneau is for him to return to his MVP form, as it would bring back high value in a trade while also landing him a rich contract from some other team.
Going from unwatchable to competitive requires a lot of turnover. As the Twins continue to sweep out the old and welcome in the new, better results are expected. Under Terry Ryan, the Twins became a perennial contender, and although they didn’t win any titles, they provided many summers’ worth of sports entertainment. Hopefully Ryan learned a few things during his time away and over the next few years can find the right formula to get the Twins over the hump (i.e. beat the Yankees) and into the World Series.
I’m willing to wait-mostly because I have no other choice.