Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer

Springtime Storylines: Can the Minnesota Twins get back on track after 99 losses?


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: Minnesota Twins.

The Big Question: Can the Minnesota Twins get back on track after 99 losses?

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Twins last season, as a decade of consistently contending came to a screeching halt with 99 losses in arguably the worst year in team history.

Nearly the entire roster was wrecked by injuries, including former MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau combining to play just 151 games as the Twins led baseball with 28 disabled list stints. Even worse, the uncharacteristically weak farm system failed to provide capable reinforcements for all the injured regulars and Ron Gardenhire’s team completely fell apart down the stretch, going 13-41 in August and September.

General manager Bill Smith was fired shortly after the season, with Terry Ryan stepping back into the GM role after his surprising retirement in 2007 led to Smith getting the job. Rather than blowing the team up as Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Joe Nathan departed as free agents Ryan patched some holes with veterans Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Marquis, overpaid to re-sign closer Matt Capps, and basically put his faith in the roster’s improved health leading to a significant turnaround.

They can’t possibly have as many injuries as last season, so improving on the 63-99 record should be easy, but by refusing to add any veteran relief help to what was the majors’ worst bullpen and continuing to lack top-of-the-rotation starters with bat-missing ability the Twins have put themselves in position to be much better without actually being good. If everything breaks right finishing above .500 is certainly possible and that would definitely be an accomplishment, but this is a team built more to simply avoid being terrible than to actually threaten the Tigers down the stretch.

What else is going on?

  • Mauer has a clean bill of health and played very well all spring, catching regularly and hitting .358 in 15 games. For now the plan is for him to be the primary catcher while also seeing some action at first base, but another injury could lead to him moving out from behind the plate with Doumit taking over.
  • Morneau got off to a terrible start early in camp, but turned things around in a big way during the past couple weeks while showing glimpses of his pre-concussion power for the first time since mid-2010. He’s also returning from four different surgeries, so Morneau is hardly out of the woods yet, but he’s finally shown some reason for optimism and the Twins hope moving to designated hitter will help keep the concussion symptoms away.
  • Francisco Liriano’s spring performance has been excellent, with a 2.33 ERA and 33/5 K/BB ratio in 27 innings creating hope that he can be the often-dominant guy from 2010 instead of the often-infuriating guy from 2011. Liriano is also an impending free agent, so a strong, healthy season could mean $75 million or more for the 28-year-old left-hander and unfortunately for the Twins the better he pitches the less likely he is to remain in Minnesota beyond 2012.
  • Liriano is joined in impending free agency by Opening Day starter Carl Pavano, Doumit, Marquis, and possibly Capps and Scott Baker, so if the Twins fall out of contention early they could be major players at the trade deadline. Of course, if most of those players are performing well enough to draw major trade interest odds are the Twins will be playing reasonably well, so it’ll be interesting to see if Ryan is more willing to swap soon-to-be free agents for prospects than Smith was in his final months at the helm.
  • Minnesota’s lineup is deep and filled with good on-base skills assuming Mauer and Morneau are healthy, so offense should be the team’s strength. On the other hand that isn’t necessarily saying much and the outfield and infield defense both look like obvious weaknesses behind a pitch-to-contact staff that needs all the help it can get.
  • I’ve resisted the urge to make this a 3,000-word preview because it seems unlikely that many HBT faithful would be interested, but if reading thousands and thousands of words about the Twins actually sounds good to you check out my personal blog, where I’ve been writing way too much about the Twins nearly every day for the past decade.

How are they gonna do?

Las Vegas pegs the over/under for Twins victories at around 73, which is higher than only the Astros and Orioles. As low as that sounds it would be a 10-win improvement from 2011, which is huge under normal circumstances, but even without being particularly optimistic about the Twins this season I’m pretty confident in their ability to win at least 75 games and wouldn’t be shocked to see the nearly 20-game improvement needed for a .500 record.

Report: Yasiel Puig started a fight at a Miami nightclub

Yasiel Puig

When last we posted about Yasiel Puig it was to pass along a rumor that the best player on his team wants him off of it. If that was true — and if this report is true — then expect that sentiment to remain unchanged:

Obviously this report is vague and there has not been, say, a police report or other details to fill it in. Perhaps we’ll learn more, perhaps Puig was misbehaving perhaps he wasn’t.

As we wait for details, however, it’s probably worth reminding ourselves that Puig is coming off of a lost season in which he couldn’t stay healthy, so trading him for any sort of decent return at the moment isn’t super likely. Which leads us to some often overlooked but undeniable baseball wisdom: you can be a distraction if you’re effective and you can be ineffective if you’re a good guy. You really can’t be an ineffective distraction, however, and expect to hang around very long.

Are the Padres adding some yellow to their color scheme for 2016?

Tony Gwynn

We’ve written several times about how boring the Padres’ uniforms and color scheme is. And how that’s an even greater shame given how colorful they used to be. No, not all of their mustard and brown ensembles were great looking, but some were and at some point it’s better to miss boldly than to endure blandness.

Now comes a hint that the Padres may step a toe back into the world of bright colors. At least a little bit. A picture of a new Padres cap is making the rounds in which a new “sunshine yellow” color has been added to the blue and white:

This story from the Union-Tribune notes that the yellow also appears on the recently-unveiled 2016 All-Star Game logo, suggesting that the yellow in the cap could either be part of some  special All-Star-related gear or a new color to the normal Padres livery.

I still strongly advocate for the Padres to bring back the brown — and there are a multitude of design ideas which could do that in tasteful fashion — but for now any addition of some color would be a good thing.

Brett Lawrie “likely to be traded” by the A’s

Brett Lawrie

Oakland’s re-acquisition of infielder Jed Lowrie from Houston makes it “likely” that the A’s will now trade infielder Brett Lawrie, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Slusser says Lowrie’s arrival “all but ensures” both Lawrie and Danny Valencia are on the trading block, adding that Lawrie “is considered the better bet to be traded.”

Acquired last offseason from the Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson trade, Lawrie hit .260 with 16 homers and a .706 OPS in 149 games while playing second base and third base. At age 25 he’s a solid player, but Lawrie has failed to live up to his perceived potential while hitting .263 with a .736 OPS in 494 career games.

At this point it sounds like the A’s plan to start Marcus Semien at shortstop and Lowrie at second base.

Gammons: The Red Sox could go $30-40 million higher on David Price than anyone else


Peter Gammons reports that the Red Sox are on a mission to sign David Price and that they will pay some serious money to get him. Gammons quotes one anonymous GM who says that he expects the Sox to “go $30-40 million above anyone else.”

The man calling the shots for the Sox is Dave Dombrowski and he knows Price well, of course, having traded for him in Detroit. But there is going to be serious competition for Price’s services with the Jays and Cubs, among many others, bidding for his services. It would be unusual for a team to outbid the competition by tens of millions as Gammons’ source suggests, but the dollars will be considerable regardless.