Today I have a guest post from a close family friend. Jeff, knows more about baseball than most of the sports writers in this town combined. He breathes it, literally I think. His knowledge of the game and it’s players is incredible. And while I find that Jeff is a little misguided about the Yankee’s, I can’t argue with his logic. Today I’m featuring a guest piece that Jeff recently sent out to his friends. It was so well written and to the point that I had to post it.
Spring Training Edition
The harbingers of spring are all around us. Spring Training in Florida and Arizona while warmer weather is finally hitting the northern tundra and our armour of snow and ice is starting to melt away. Thank you! With that, I am compelled to comment on one of the finer things on this planet…of course you know who/what that is, the TWINS. Ta Da!
With spring comes eternal optimism. When we left off last Fall, the Twins had impressively made the playoffs despite the loss of Justin Morneau. Subsequently, they laid down like frightened lambs to the hated NY Yankees; but of course, that is in the past and we return to optimism. Speaking of the Yankees, it says here they will finish no better than 3rd in the always brutal AL East and possibly lower. They are getting old (ok, Cano is an MVP candidate) and their starting pitching SUCKS, and I mean that. But lets not dwell on the dark, we shall speak of the good!
Over the winter, the Twins had 3 priorities:
1. Sign Nishioka from the Japan league. Check
2. Resign Pavano. Check He took a discount to stay here.
3. Resign Thome. Check He took a massive discount to stay here.
To pay for this, the Twins had to let much of their excellent middle relief pitching go. 4 guys who each got multi year contracts at 3 to 5 million each annually. By the way, baseball is crazy. You don’t pay middle guys that much..you just don’t. The Twins know it and believe the farm can back fill these guys…for the most part. While we are on the subject of relief pitching. Joe Nathan is BACK after missing all of last year with the dreaded Tommy John surgery. He is pitching pain free and with greater velocity than usual for this time of year. Excellent news. (by the way, does Mariano Rivera EVER get old? I might be obsessed with the fricking pinstripes…) Enough about relief pitching. Most experts are worried about this area for the Twins. I’m not. I like the guys they have brought in AND the Twins have never been afraid to pick up the right guys at midseason for a bargain from teams that are bleeding and having fire sales.
Last year, the Twins were 6th in baseball in runs scored. Let’s review why this will be significantly better this year, shall we! Morneau was lost just before the all star break having an MVP season. He is back and playing and while he might not perform at that level (and why not?), but we should have him for the full year. That’s an improvement. Span regressed last year; Kubel had a down year, Cuddyer had a down year (possibly from playing out of position to cover for Morneau) and believe it or not, despite hitting .327 last year, Mauer had a down year (odown year for Superman). All of these guys have done things to return to their previous productivity including adjusting to Target Field.
The Twins only had two hitters who had great years; Thome & Delmon Young. What can be said about Thome; he was a godsend last year and likely won’t duplicate his .283 average and 25 dingers in less than 300 at bats? Delmon Young stepped up last year and had his best year as a professional. Now many would say he won’t duplicate that. I say, lets take a walk through the facts. Delmon turns 26 this year. That’s right, he’s been around forever and people have moaned about how he hasn’t fullfilled his promised stardom; he is ONLY 26! These are the, statistically proven, golden years for a hitter with 27 as the pinnacle. It says here that Delmon matches last year with a decrease in RBI’s because Morneau will be cleaning some of that up in front of him.
The Twins have upgraded at 2nd base with Nishioka. Why all the changes in the middle infield? Because Target field is death to power hitters. The Twins needed to upgrade their speed and Nishioka is a speedster who knows how to handle the bat and has a slick glove. The biggest question for the Twins this year is at shortstop where they have handed the job to the mercurial Alexi Casilla. He is also quite fast, but a most inconsistent major leaguer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something change here.
Starting pitching. Ok, short of the Phillies, no one has more depth and quality at starting pitching than the Twins. It’s true; they don’t have an Ace. Liriano has the talent to be an Ace but is…how you say…dumber than a box of rocks! But consider this: they have 6 proven starters and they are all pitching well in spring training and were pitching well at the end of the year. Slowey didn’t make the post season roster for god’s sake and he is a perenial 14 game winner with an ERA in the 4.5 range. We also have excellent prospects down on the farm. The Twins will likely make a move with their 6th starter. The smart money says they will trade for a proven middle relief pitcher, but I’m hoping otherwise. For a proven starting pitcher, the Twins should get no less than a quality shortstop!
So, am I picking the Twins to win it all? No way Jose. It’s tough to imagine any team in the World Series besides the Phillies and the Red Sox. The White Sox have improved immensely this off season and I think the wild card comes form, dare I say it, the AL central! I heard that Ebmeier…if you’re still reading! :)
For the Twins; it all rests on Morneau because as we all know: ”it don’t mean a thing, if we ain’t got his swing”!