What else can you say about a team that went from first to worst last season, ending a three-year playoff run with an AL-leading 99 losses? It'd be one thing if it was planned, if after another early playoff exit in 2010, the Twins decided they couldn't win with the roster they had in place and began a full-scale rebuilding project. But it wasn't. The roster was virtually unchanged from one season to the next. They just stunk with it this time around.
So now the rebuilding project begins, and for it, the Twins brought back former general manager Terry Ryan, who orchestrated the team's return to contending status back in 2002. Ryan's first offseason back at the helm was a relatively quiet one. He let mainstays Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan walk, replacing them with less-heralded free agents Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Matt Capps. He signed career utility player Jamey Carroll to be the team's starting shortstop and journeyman innings-eater Jason Marquis to fill a hole in the rotation. Minor stuff.
Then again, you could argue the team's biggest acquisitions will come from within. Because of injuries both old and new, former AL MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau combined for only 560 at-bats last year. They hit a combined .259 with a combined seven home runs, leaving the lineup with two gaping holes that a small-market team had no hope of filling. Of course, neither is entirely out of the woods yet. An offseason of rest might not be enough to restore Mauer's pop, and Morneau might never be the same after the concussion that sidelined him in 2010.
The pitching staff has its own reclamation projects, with Francisco Liriano hoping to avoid last year's shoulder woes and Scott Baker recovering from an elbow injury. So yeah, the talent is there for the Twins. How much of it they can regain is what will ultimately determine their course for the next five years.
Bounce-back player ... Joe Mauer, C
Justin Morneau could easily fit into this category as well, but as if the 2010 concussion wasn't enough, he's also coming back from surgeries to his neck, wrist, knee and foot and, oh yeah, a second concussion. All things considered, Mauer is the safer bet to regain his elite form. He looked like the same batting title contender as always for much of 2011, hitting .317 in his final 202 at-bats. He simply couldn't drive the ball. His two months on the DL for bilateral leg weakness early in the year helped him regain enough strength to get by on his surgically repaired left knee, but the bottom line is he didn't get a chance to rehab it properly in his rush to return for opening day. He's had all the time he needs this offseason. Mauer may never be a model of health, but his best is still the best at catcher. You'll feel silly for passing on him if an offseason of rest was all he needed.
Breakout ... Scott Baker, SP
Baker has always been the owner of a stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio -- and the low WHIP you would expect to come with it -- but because of high home run rates, his ERA has never matched up. It started to last year. He had a 10-start stretch from the end of May to the end of July in which he posted a 1.85 ERA, lowering his season mark to an unfamiliar 2.86. But that's when his elbow began to bother him, more or less ending his season and undoing his progress in the eyes of many Fantasy owners. Who cares what he was doing last July? He's damaged goods now. No doubt, that opinion holds some merit -- his minor elbow injury could be the precursor to something major, ending his season in mid-April -- but if you focus on the negative, you're missing out on a rare opportunity to buy low on a long-awaited breakout candidate showing clear signs of a breakout.
Sleeper ... Ryan Doumit, C
OK, Doumit is a catcher. What makes you think he can be a Fantasy sleeper with the almighty Mauer ahead of him on the depth chart? Ah, but the depth chart isn't so straightforward in Minnesota. Doumit has experience at first base. He has experience in right field. At catcher and first base, the Twins have two players (Mauer and Morneau) who missed a combined 173 games last season, and in right field, they have one (Willingham) who has missed an average of 40.8 over the last four. They also have a wide open DH spot where Doumit can collect at-bats when he's not filling in somewhere on the diamond. Doumit's offensive potential has long made him a sleeper in Fantasy, but injuries and inconsistent at-bats held him back in Pittsburgh. The availability of the DH spot should counteract both. Project last year's .303 batting average and .830 OPS over 500 at-bats, and you can understand why he's a catcher to target with a late-round pick.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Denard Span||CF||1||Carl Pavano||RH|
|2||Jamey Carroll||SS||2||Francisco Liriano||LH|
|3||Joe Mauer||C||3||Scott Baker||RH|
|4||Justin Morneau||1B||4||Jason Marquis||RH|
|5||Josh Willingham||RF||5||Nick Blackburn||RH|
|6||Ryan Doumit||DH||Alt||Liam Hendriks||RH|
|7||Danny Valencia||3B|| |
|8||Alexi Casilla||2B||CL||Matt Capps||RH|
|9||Ben Revere||LF||SU||Glen Perkins||LH|
|Top bench options||RP||Brian Duensing||LH|
|R||Trevor Plouffe||UTL||RP||Alex Burnett||RH|
|R||Chris Parmelee||1B||RP||Anthony Swarzak||RH|
|1||Miguel Sano||18||3B||Rookie||Class A|
|Sano is awfully young, but his 20 homers in 267 at-bats back up the Miguel Cabrera comparisons. If you play in a long-term keeper league, he's worth the investment.|
|Parmelee lacks upside, but he showed good pop and a keen batting eye in a late-season trial. He's a potential low-end contributor given Morneau's health concerns.|
|The potential 20-20 man had a shot at a starting job before the Twins signed Willingham. He could still take over midseason if he gets his strikeouts under control.|
|Hendriks is in the running for a rotation spot this spring, but last season's poor showing makes him a long shot. Still, the control artist is worth monitoring in AL-only leagues.|
|5||Aaron Hicks||22||SP||Class A||Double-A|
|As long as Hicks continues to draw walks, his athleticism will keep him on the radar, but he seems to have stalled at Class A. He's no longer a must-have in keeper leagues.|
|Best of the rest: Eddie Rosario, OF; Oswaldo Arcia, OF; Kyle Gibson, SP; Alex Wimmers, SP; Brian Dozier, SS; Scott Diamond, SP; Lester Oliveros, RP; Kyle Waldrop, RP; Carlos Gutierrez, RP; Levi Michael, SS; David Bromberg, SP; Angel Morales, OF; and Deolis Guerra, RP.|