Monday, March 31, 2014

From the (almost) print column: Twins remake has the look of more losing

This was supposed to be the Monday print column. For unknown (to me) reasons, it didn't run. Since it's pegged to this afternoon's opener, I'm posting it now.


Opening Day is supposed to be about fresh beginnings and the promise of the new season.

With the Minnesota Twins about to start the 2014 season, I'm here to quash that kind of optimism among their followers. (I strive to be a realist, not a romantic.)

The Twins spent the offseason reinforcing a weak starting rotation. Terry Ryan and Co. did a pretty good job of it. Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and the returning Mike Pelfrey aren't likely to win any Cy Young awards, but the rotation won't be the burden it has been the past two years.

But the offense is ... offensive.

The 2013 Twins scored 614 runs. That was Minnesota's lowest full-season total since 1972, a year when hitting was so low the American League adopted the designated hitter rule.

The Twins' lineup repairs: Replacing Ryan Doumit and Justin Morneau with Kurt Suzuki and Jason Kubel.

That's not enough. The 2014 Twins will struggle to score runs again. It really doesn't matter what batting order Ron Gardenhire deploys; he can only hit Joe Mauer in one place in a game, and most of the remaining slots will inevitably be filled by guys who should be hitting eighth or ninth if they belong in a major league lineup at all.

In fairness to the Twins' brain trust, I don't think they intended their position-player moves to be largely recycling guys who were good five years ago. In the words of assistant general manager Rob Antony, "We were trying to give money away." The good veteran free agents went where they might win immediately; other free agents, to be blunt, would only be in the way.

What I'll look for in 2014 from this team isn't contention. It's progress.

These things will make the season a success:

■ Kyle Gibson establishing himself as a mid-rotation (or higher) starter. (He opens as the No. 5 starter, but he certainly has a higher ceiling than Kevin Correia or Pelfrey.)

■ Aaron Hicks hitting well enough to be a corner outfielder when Byron Buxton arrives to take over center field. (Possible but doubtful.)

■ Oswaldo Arcia getting a clean shot at establishing himself as a middle of the order bat. (If he plays, he'll hit. But he may be streaky,and the manager needs to live with those ups and downs.)

■ Josmil Pinto's bat justifying his glove behind the plate. (I think it will.)

■ Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier establishing themselves as something more than second-division regulars. (I don't know that either will hit enough.)

■ Michael Tonkin getting a late-inning role in the bullpen. (Please.)

Suzuki, Kubel, Josh Willingham, Pedro Florimon, Correia, Jarod Burton, Jason Bartlett ... they are all essentially irrelevancies. None of them will be part of the next good Twins team.

Probably the best thing the front office did this winter was not get themselves into a position in which the irrelevant players are in the way of the relevant ones.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.


  1. I missed your column in the FP this morning. Glad I thought to look here!

    I'm not optimistic about the Twins chances again this year; I pretty much agree with your assessments. But...that's the cool thing about baseball. You just never know when somebody is going to step up and have a great year, and one guy playing well can jump start the other guys a lot of times. I'm a Twins fan no matter what, but I'm hoping for some exciting baseball to help hold my interest this summer.

  2. Again, please realize that the young studs like Tonkin report to ST in mid-season form, full of you know what and vinegar, trying to make the team. I agree there is evident talent in his case but I worry if all those sliders thrown in Spring Training could result in "dead arm" during the season or worse yet TJ surgery.

  3. As the Twins are a rebuilding team, I don't understand devoting so many at bats to (soon to be) washed up guys like Bartlett, Kubel, and Suzuki; or even Willingham. If any or all of them have good years, it means nothing to the overall success of the organization. Parmalee doesn't appear to have much upside, but at least he HAS upside where Kubel has none. These guys can only take at bats away from Pinto, Arcia, and other younger cheaper players like Parmalee, Escobar, Hermann, etc.. On the business side, I can't see how the retreads help sell more tickets than the younger guys. If you are going to be bad, and the Twins are going to be bad, then be young, cheap, and full of promise.