Friday, October 28, 2011

Can the Twins Contend in 2012?

Twins fans are generally a hopeful bunch. This is, in large part, a byproduct of the team's recent success -- they've missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons only once in the past decade, and have surmounted unthinkable deficits in dramatic fashion on multiple occasions. Beyond that, the people of Minnesota seem predisposed to optimism and positivity, at least when compared to some of the more venomous large markets.

Yet, as we prepare for the offseason to officially get underway, I'm sensing a great deal of despondence from the fan base when it comes to the 2012 team. In fact, many of the same commenters who scolded me for being overly negative in my preseason assessment of the 2011 club are now writing off the Twins' 2012 chances, dismissing the notion that they should rebuild with an eye on contending next season.

That's understandable. After all, the Twins lost 99 games this season, and they're plagued by persisting injuries, and their farm system is mostly barren in the upper levels. Still, we've gone through this whole song and dance too many times before. You can't write this team off.

While I didn't expect the Twins to come out on top of the AL Central this year, I did expect them to be competitive. And halfway through the season, they were. It's easy to forget this since our freshest memories are from those horrid final two months, where the team completely tanked and went 13-41, but in late July -- despite their horrible start and innumerable setbacks -- the Twins were six games out of first place and on the fringe of contention.

The offseason is a long time. It's a four-month span where players can dedicate themselves to resting and/or strengthening. There are no guarantees when it comes to Joe Mauer's knees, Justin Morneau's head, Francisco Liriano's shoulder or Scott Baker's elbow. But these same players that were key contributors for a 94-win team just a year ago are all eligible to return next year, and not one of them is older than 30. With better health, there's no reason they can't be the driving force behind a drastic team-wide improvement.

Granted, the Tigers appear to be in good shape right now, riding high after a very successful season that resulted in a postseason berth. But the same could have been said for the Twins a year ago. Crazy things happen in baseball. Unless Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski gets the green light to go on a shopping spree this winter, the AL Central should remain eminently winnable next year.

The flaws of this Minnesota roster are obvious and in some cases glaring. But, while the core players may be riddled with question marks, it's still a highly talented and relatively young crop. While an "all-in" approach for 2012 would be silly, the idea that Bill Smith and Co. should proceed as if the season is already lost is almost equally silly.

So, what's the best way to build for the long-term while remaining viable in the short term? We can discuss that on Monday when I share my offseason blueprint. Until then, you can brush up over the weekend by ordering a copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, which releases today tomorrow.


Ed Bast said...

I don't know, Nick, I find it hard to believe this team can improve enough to be better than Detroit, for one. Just look at their starting pitching compared to ours. Folks forget our starters were largely healthy until we just quit and shut everything down, and they were one of the worst starting staffs in baseball. It's going to be difficult to improve that staff this offseason.

Also, at this point, isn't it irrepsonsible to count on Justin Morneau for anything? It's tough, but we can't go into this season expecting him to be a star for this team anymore.

I don't doubt the '12 Twins will be improved. But you've got to look at the competition. Detroit might get better too, and they won 95 games. Chicago underperformed last year too. Cleveland and Kansas City are young and improving. The Gardy Twins have feasted on weak Central foes, but I don't think we can count on that anymore.

And being a contender in the grand scheme of things, i.e. playoffs? Forget about it.

Matt said...

You could look at it and say "well, every single thing went wrong in '11 and we were terrible. If every single thing goes right in '11, we'll be good."

Lots of talent, but can we count on any of it? I guess it remains to be seen. Even the rotation has talent (Baker and Liriano, while inconsistent and in the ice tub a lot, are both talented guys capable of being #1-3 on many teams) which, if they can stay healthy, can be good. Not great, but good.

Plus, to be taken seriously, someone needs to have a break out year. Can Casilla, Nishi, Plouffe, or Valencia do that? I don't have a lot of faith, but all of that is possible.

I have to agree with Ed, though. Getting to the playoffs is surely possible if things go well for this club. But beyond that, they've failed to show they're built to handle the post season pressures and top competition, even with healthy players in the lineup and toeing the mound.

Matt said...

"well, every single thing went wrong in '11 and we were terrible. If every single thing goes right in '11, we'll be good."

Sorry, typo, meant ...'12, we'll be good."

Nick N. said...

Any time you get to the playoffs, you've got a shot. It's all you can ask for.

Mike said...

The Twins had a lot of serious question marks coming into 2011, so many that I was surprised the FO didn't address them. The only one that really worked out in the Twins favor was Span rebounded nicely from a down 2010 season, until his concussion largely took him out of the rest of the season. And Baker was having a very good season until he had elbow problems. All the other question marks didn't do so well (Mauer was still injured, Morneau wasn't the same player, Valencia had a sophomore slump, Nishioka was bad, Casilla was bad/injured frequently, Young didn't tear it up like he did at the end of 2010, the new bullpen pitchers didn't pan out, Pavano couldn't back up a very good 2010, Liriano still had no consistency, Thome couldn't defy age one more season, etc.).

This year, the team will likely have quite a few question marks again, but I think it's pretty unlikely that so few turn out in the Twins' favor. And I will be shocked if they face so many injuries, especially the prolonged injuries. This is why I'm hopeful the Twins will be back in contention next year.

Of course, we won't really have a good idea of how they'll be until some additional offseason moves occur.

Ed Bast said...

"Any time you get to the playoffs, you've got a shot."

Unless, of course, you're constructed to merely "compete" against mediocre teams in baseball's weakest division and not the best teams in the game in October, as 12 straight losses and 1 series victory in 6 playoff appearances have undoubtedly proven.

cy1time said...

But Ed, you can't win the World Series if you aren't in the playoffs. I'd think that the run by the Cardinals would show you that anything can happen, even if you are 10 games out in August. We're lucky to be in the weak Central, at least we have a chance. Would you rather be Baltimore or Toronto and go into spring training every year with with almost no shot of even making the playoffs?

There's a lot of "what ifs" around this team. But it's not absurd to think that we can win the Central. We need better health, how can it not be better. We need a better bullpen, which can be done as shown in 2010. We need to improve the lineup, how you fill one hole might affect how you fill another hole. It might be broken, but not necessarily take it to the junkyard broken.

I agree with Mike, let's see what moves we make before we decide to pack it in for 2012.

Ed Bast said...

The '06 Twins came from a mile behind to win the division on the last day. The '09 Twins were 3 out with 4 to play.

Combined playoff record of those clubs? 0-6.

Prefer to lead the whole way and rest guys going into the playoffs? The '10 Twins were 0-3 in the playoffs.

Be honest about the past. Crossing your fingers and hoping we're good enough does not work, period.

It's this sort of mindset that's going to continue to hamper this ball club. "Hey, we can hang around in this division if we're just less terrible at a bunch of positions!" What is this team's 5-year plan? I'd rather reload now for a legitimate World Series shot a couple years down the road that just cobble together a team whose ceiling is a division title.

USAFChief said...

IMO it's impossible to say right now whether or not the Twins can contend in 2012.

To make any sort of educated estimate of the Twins 2012 chances, you'd need to know what their 2012 roster looks like, not to mention you'd have to know the health of Mauer, Morneau, and Span.

Kim said...

It's amazing how negative people can be. How is it even possible to tell whether or not the Twins will contend next year. We haven't even gotten to free agency yet. I also don't think you can base what will happen in 2012 based on this year. Everything that could have went wrong this year did. We realistically have no idea how we would have measured up against anyone in our division since the majority of our team spent a lot of time on the DL. I am going to see how they play next year before I make any judgements on whether or not they can compete. This team has a history of bouncing back after difficult seasons. Besides of which any good Twins fan would no you can't count this team out. They have one division titles with far less talent than the other teams in our division. They've also made a name for themselves with numerous comebacks to take division titles.

I hope I never get to the point where a World Series is the only way I'll be happy with my team. Do you realize how hard it is to get to the playoffs in the first place and once you get there it really is anyone's game. The most talented teams don't always win. If I put all of my happiness with my team on winning the whole thing I would probably be disappointed most of the time. Any baseball fan would. Six division titles in ten years is nothing to sneeze at.

I prefer to wait and see what my team does next year before I completely right them off.

Laches said...

Premature to make that call, we need to see what the Twins (and others) do.

You've got to consider Detroit the favorite because of the strength of their rotation. But it's still a winnable division. The White Sox are going nowhere fast. Cleveland and Kansas City are getting better, but still a year or two away.

Laches said...

Ed, I don't think you've rehashed the Twins recent postseason failures enough times or in enough detail on this blog.

Shane Wahl said...

I think cautious optimism is ok. The Morneau situation is horrible, though.

Anyway, obviously I am not going to give anything away, but I do sorta like your blueprint. I especially like what you want to do with RH after acquiring him. But your blueprint allows for some money to be spent during the season via a trade or two.

That said, I have a hard time imagining Plouffe as anything other than a DH and super-utility (though he is terrible everywhere). Maybe convincing Gardy to platoon him with Morneau would be worthwhile.

Jeff K. said...

Trade Liriano, Slowey, Benson, Slama,Span to the Mariners for Felix Hernandez and Brandon League. Resign Nathan, Cuddyer, Kubel. Trade Kubel to the Giants for Jonathon Sanchez. Sign Kelly Shoppach, Clint Barmes, Juan Pierre and either Ryan Ludwick or Jeff Francour (as these all would be very cheap FA pickups) as FA's.

1. B. Revere CF
2. A. Casilla 2B
3. J. Mauer C
4. J. Morneau 1B
5. M. Cuddyer RF
6. Ludwick/Francour LF
7. D. Valencia 3B
8. C. Parmalee DH
9. C. Barmes SS

1. F. Hernandez
2. S. Baker
3. J. Sanchez
4. C. Pavano
5. N. Blackburn

1. J. Mijares
2. B. Duensing
3. G. Perkins
4. A. Swarzak
5. B. League
6. K. Waldrop/ best rookie
7. J. Nathan

1. K. Shoppach
2. T. Plouffe
3. L. Hughes
4. J. Pierre

This can be around $112-115 million. Seattle I think would do the trade because of all they would be getting and the fact there are strong rumors they can't sign Hernandez in 2 years.

USAFChief said...

Jeff: Felix Hernandez is signed through 2014. Francour is signed through 2013.

All this information is available publicly.