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HAPs: Minnesota Twins
2007-03-12 15:48
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Here is an interesting one. The Twins spent exactly one day alone in first place in the AL Central last year -- the one that counted, the last day of the regular season. The franchise took home almost every award they have to give away in the American League, with MVP Justin Morneau, Cy Young winner Johan Santana, batting champ Joe Mauer, and ML Executive of the Year Terry Ryan. But as is so often the case the postseason didn't go according to script. The Tigers, the team Minnesota hunted down like dogs to finally edge at the finish line, rolled through the AL playoffs with little mercy while the Twins got punked by the overdue A's in their ALDS. The Twins also lost their #2 and #3 starters, Francisco Liriano (for the '07 season) and Brad Radke (permanently) to injury. It's nagging questions about their rotation that have most folks picking Chicago and Detroit ahead of the Twins in 2007.

Me? I disagree. I think they're going to be real good again. 2006 seemed to me like a new beginning for Minnesota baseball. Yeah, Morneau didn't deserve the MVP. (It's killing me to say this, but that award should have gone to Derek Jeter.) Yeah, Torii Hunter has at least one foot out the door already. And yeah, they're relying an awful lot on the likes of Carlos Silva to be named as a World Series favorite. Despite all that, I think the Twins more than any other team will benefit from the absurd levels the free agent market reached this offseason. They might have reached on some fifth-class veteran starter if the Brewers and Royals weren't much more excited about doing so. Now the Twins' rotation after Santana and Matt Garza will be determined wholly on merit, and they have enough organizational talent to turn their perceived Achilles' heel into a net strength.

The biggest questions on the roster are the ones about the veterans they do have. Why is Rondell White back for an encore when Jason Tyner can so obviously play? Wouldn't they be better off dealing some of their surplus of slugging corner types for an upgrade from Luis Castillo at second? What possible reason could there be to bring a washed-up whiner like Jeff Cirillo into camp? If anything I have too much faith in the Minnesota organization's ability to generate highly effective tiny-salaried players from thin air, but like the A's, they've earned that respect over the past several years.

And that's why I think the Twins' rotation is going to be fine. They've got barely a proven major leaguer from three through five, but it means the world that #1 is Johan Santana, who has powers beyond the imaginations of mere mortals like you and I. Seriously, if you know you're going to have to face Santana one game in a three-game series, aren't you going to be pressing like mad in the other two games? I wonder if that has a demonstrable effect. Of course, if somehow you manage to beat Santana, like Oakland did last year in the playoffs, it has a reciprocal effect on the Twins. So no problem, just beat Johan Santana! Easier said than done. It appears that veteran Ramon Ortiz is going to crack the rotation out of camp, so I guess the Twins have more experience than I thought. With the Twins willing to give Silva the benefit of the doubt for now at least, that leaves it for young'ns Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, and Boof Bonser to settle among themselves who gets the last two spots. I feel fairly confident that Sidney Ponson will not be able to elbow two of those guys out of the way. As it stands, the Twins are set up nicely to make the switch sooner rather than later if Ortiz or Silva is ineffective.

As for the offense, all of the guys who Ozzie Guillen perfectly nicknamed "the f---in' piranhas" last year are back. Morneau had a slow start last season and probably won't this time around, so by that logic he'll win the MVP again. Joe Mauer is one of those guys. I met somebody who had seen him play three sports in high school at a wedding a while back and their voice was hushed as they described his absurd physical gifts. Torii Hunter in a contract year is a good bet to perform at his highest possible level. Their offensive role players like Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett are reliably productive for guys with such short major-league résumés. For young mashers Jason Kubel and Mike Cuddyer, the only things that can get in the way are injuries. Or veterans, but for once there aren't any here. See what I mean?

When it comes to the bullpen, the Twins have shown an admirable tendency to look for in-house solutions before opening up the checkbook. Thanks to the largesse of the Giants' front office, they seem to have reasonably hard-throwing righties falling out of lockers left and right. Joe Nathan is a top-five closer, Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek have yet to peak, and Juan Rincon is a trusted veteran at 28. It bodes well for the Twins' plans to fill the rotation with rookies that they have so many guys capable of multiple-inning shutdown relief appearances plus a hammer like Nathan. As you can tell, I'm quite bullish on this team.

Vegas has Minesota at 15-1 to win it all, and I don't see a better bet on the board. If I had fifty dollars I would put it on the Twins right this minute. Only I don't have fifty dollars. Their over-under is 83.5, which I think is ridiculously low -- they should cover that with a month left in the season. I expect the Twins to comfortably win 90 games and the AL Central as the Tigers return to planet Earth and the White Sox disappoint. If anyone gives them a scare, it'll be the Indians.

2007-03-12 19:03:53
1.   twayn
As a fan for 30 years, I have to agree with your assessment of the Twins. Ideally they'll break camp with a rotation of Santana, Ortiz, Silva, Bonser, and Garza. Ortiz is surprising people this spring and seems to be a good fit with the organization. Silva is a question mark most fans could live without, but the team is sticking with him. He'll rise and fall with his sinker, but Santana is teaching him a changeup this year. Bonser is ready for the show, and Garza is a top prospect who had a meteoric rise through the minors last year. With that rotation, plus the bullpen and pitching coach Rick Anderson, the Twins could do significant damage to opposing lineups this year. And it's almost sick how many good arms they have in the farm system, not to mention Liriano recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Look for Morneau, Mauer and Cuddyer to be solid again, and watch out for Kubel. He was a hot prospect before blowing out his knee, on par with Morneau and Mauer. He's healthy now, and hitting .409 in ST. Look for White to rebound from his poor performance last year. He has a noodle arm, yes, but he'll have a much better year at the plate. Word is he's in great shape, his shoulder is loose again, and he's swinging a hot bat. He was much better in the second half last year than in the first.

I think you may be overvaluing Tyner. He's a good backup outfielder with some speed on the bases, but no power at all. But since Lew Ford got his knee scoped today, he'll come north to start the year. Castillo is a placeholder this year while second baseman of the future Alexi Casilla (AA last year) gets some AAA seasoning.

2007-03-13 21:22:11
2.   das411
Yeah really Mark, Jason Tyner?? The same one the Mets let go because he was no Timo Perez, and that the Devil Rays didn't hold on to so they could keep Joey Gathright? THAT Jason Tyner???
2007-03-14 04:37:28
3.   Mark T.R. Donohue
2 Yes, when I think of organizations that really have it going on in the talent evaluation departments, the first names that spring to mind are the Mets and the D-Rays.

But seriously, I didn't say Tyner was a superstar, I just said he was probably better than gimpy ol' Rondell White. I realize White had a pretty good second half last year, but he just KILLED the Twins in the first half, and he ain't getting any younger.

2007-03-28 02:01:20
4.   mrjaybee
I was reading the CNNSI predictions for preseason power poll and they have the Twins ranked 17th out of 30 teams. While these baseball insiders and geniuses may indeed have very valid reasons for ranking our guys so low, I believe they are missing a few key elements.
1. Ron Gardenhire- Ron's baseball teams compete on every pitch, every ground ball, every play. If you don't play the game with respect and appreciation for being in the bigs, you don't play for this man. I love his style of baseball (read that Tom Kelly baseball) and the results are in. After five years under him, his club has finished first in the division four times and every season above .500.
2. Rick Anderson- Is there a more gifted pitching coach anywhere in baseball? Maybe not. His pitcher's respond to him and he preaches the basics. Keep the ball low in the zone, make the hitters put the ball in play and keep the game moving. If you don't think this is effective, check out the stats for Twin's pitchers under his tenure. He also has that low key approach with his pitchers that seems to keep things under control and moving forward.
3- The clubhouse. I don't think there is a better clubhouse atmosphere in major sports anywhere. Ramon Ortiz said it best when he observed there are no superstars in the Twin's clubhouse, just regular guys. They have great leadership from the veterans like Torii Hunter and Mike Redmond. You check your ego at the stadium gate in this organization or you will catch the fire. The club stays loose after a loss and no one beats anybody else up, except for the variety of practical jokes being played, even by the skipper.
Well, the little pirhannas are back in 2007 and the club that burned up the last half of 2006 is pretty much intact.
How far will they go in the playoffs? Will they get to the playoffs? Maybe not, and maybe yes but don't count them out and certainly, don't rank them in the lower half of MLB.
The future? I think the club will be better in 2008 and beyond as some of the young guns in the organization mature and develop. This is the golden age of Minnesota Twins baseball.

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