Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Benchmarks for 2013: Final thoughts

This sporadic series started more than a month ago, an attempt on my part to identify areas that the Twins in general and manager Ron Gardenhire in particular needed to fix or at least improve.

The idea was to answer this question: Wins and losses aside, what does Gardenhire need to accomplish in 2013 to remain manager of the Twins beyond the coming season?

What I wound up answering might be more along the lines of: What does Gardenhire need to accomplish to win more games in 2013?

The Twins lost 195 games the past two seasons, so it figures they would have a long list of things to improve.

I started with a list of six missions and added a seventh. The thing is, those seven are so broad as to encompass the vast majority of the roster: Much of the pitching staff needs to have names plugged into roles, the middle infield is uncertain, center field is vacant, the lineup lacks table-setters, and the clear front-runners for third base and right field have yet to establish themselves.

Gardenhire is set at catcher, first base, left field and DH. He has a closer and a top set-up man. Beyond that, he has projects, prospects and problems.

How fixable is this team? Recapping the areas:

  • The putative starting rotation entering camp -- some order of Kevin Correia, Scott Diamond, Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley, plus a starter-to-be-named -- appears no better, and probably worse, than the one that came to spring training last February: Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Jason Marquis and Carl Pavano. The 2012 rotation imploded so quickly and so decisively that it would be difficult to avoid improvement, but even cutting the runs allowed by 100 -- which is a lot -- would still leave the Twins in the bottom half of the league. My conclusion: This is a multi-year project, and the primary figures for 2013 on the major league level are Diamond, Worley and Kyle Gibson.
  • The vacancies in the middle-of-the-diamond defensive positions (shortstop, second base and center field) and at the top of the batting order are intertwined. If those issues are to be solved in 2013 with the talent on hand, Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier have to emerge as the center fielder and second baseman, respectively. Hicks and Dozier aren't guaranteed to succeed, but the other candidates are either short-term fixes or not suited to regular use in key offensive roles.
  • Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee should get sustained playing time. Given the lack of realistic alternatives to either, that shouldn't be an issue.
  • The bullpen roles -- well, bullpens are always works in progress. Gardenhire has a pretty solid track record with his bullpens, and of the areas of concern, this is the least concerning.

A lot of work awaits Gardenhire and his staff -- and the players they will teach and evaluate -- this spring. Time to get it started.

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