• The Bright Side

    A thick coat of snow fell upon Target Field over the weekend, transforming the structure into a lifeless, cold and white blob. On Tuesday, temperatures in the Twin Cities rose toward 30 and the clouds dissipated.

    Bathed in sun, with green plastic seat-backs peeking through the melting snow, the ballpark started to look like… well, a ballpark. This coming weekend, temperatures in Minnesota will near the 40s while pitchers and catchers unpack their bags in Fort Myers. Spring is coming.

    Normally, this is a time of year marked by unbridled optimism from fans. It's a fresh season with a new assortment of players and an infinite range of possible outcomes. Yet, right now the mood in Twins Territory is distinctly vanilla.

    In his latest blog post on StarTribune.com, Howard Sinker broke down (and by that I mean dismantled) the 2013 Twins, spinning a grim yet realistic picture of what folks can expect in the short term from this rebuilding club.

    Sinker laid out the question marks attached to the Twins across the board. His points are all valid. There's too much reliance on untested youth, too many positions that are complete unknowns, too many lotto tickets in the rotation.

    It's a fair critique that, at least to some extent, conveys the feelings of the fan base at large. Most people can see the long-term benefit to the Twins' offseason moves and are excited for what's to come when the loaded farm system (ranked this week by ESPN's Keith Law as the second-best in baseball) begins placing graduates. But the lip-service paid to the 2013 roster – even with flexibility to make legitimate additions – after two straight 95-loss seasons has been disheartening.

    There's a tendency to translate that disappointment into pessimism, but even without major external reinforcements, the Twins are in a position where they could easily surprise.

    When you think of perennial cellar-dwellers (a designation that the Twins would certainly earn with a third straight finish at the bottom), you don't usually picture a team whose lineup is built around two former MVPs, both under the age of 32. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are by all accounts as healthy as they've been in years, and that's a big deal.

    The Twins are taking gambles at a number of positions, but most carry significant upside. Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee, Aaron Hicks, Brian Dozier, Liam Hendriks, Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, Vance Worely and others might not all play up to their potentials, but if a handful of them do it's enough to move the needle.

    The pitching staff is bound to improve, and the offense can be above-average. The division, outside of Detroit, isn't overly intimidating. Last year, two American League teams improved their records by 20-plus games from the previous season despite playing in divisions with multiple powerhouses. The Twins have a clearer path to relevancy than did the Orioles or Athletics.

    Realistically, I'm not looking for that same type of storybook season here. But with more good breaks than bad, the Twins can be a .500 team or better. If it's hard to remember what "more good breaks than bad" feels like after the last two years, check the previous ten for a reminder.

    Also keep in mind that one auxiliary benefit of the organization's frugal approach this offseason will be tons of flexibility to make additions in-season, meaning that if the Twins are anywhere near contention midway through the summer, high-priced starters being shopped in salary dumps could be in play.

    Do I think a solid lineup along with an – at-best – average pitching staff should be viewed as favorites to knock off the Tigers and take the division? Absolutely not. But I'd be satisfied if the Twins hung around .500 for most of the campaign, playing meaningful games into the final months and providing promising future signs in a bridge year.

    There's nothing unrealistic about that scenario, in my mind. But maybe it's just the sunshine talking.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Bright Side started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 61 Comments
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      If you think about it... This could all be Nishioka's fault karma wise. He wasn't rostered when we were good.
      Cue up Spirit of Vodka Dave....
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by LoganJones View Post
      The part of the equation that fans are consistently overlooking is the quality of the team's opponents really hasn't changed much. If anything it stands to go down. The Tigers had a guy win a triple crown and still had the same basic offensive performance as the Twins (who lest we forget had 90 games with 5 or more runs allowed) who were nearly always behind in early innings. I know the Tigers have a much better pitching staff, but their O won't be much better, probably could be scheduled for worse, since a guy is likely to regress from a tripe crown season. Also, the Tigers lost basically 7 games to injury in their front line starters. Expect that number to go up. And if it's Verlander? sub .500 is very likely.

      Does anyone really expect the White Sox to be that good again? The Royals added 1 pretty good starter, but didn't adress their offense. Cleveland? They've added a bunch of people, but they surrendered even more runs than the Twins.

      It's very likely the Tigers will have a better season overall, since the division is in pretty bad shape, but there's hope. If the Twins can avoid a 6-16 april and a 9-19 August, things could get interesting. Get in, get lucky and it's 1987 all over again.
      Who's the more likely candidate for serious regression, the 30 year old Cabrera whose 2012 WAR was lower than his 2011 total, or the 34 year Willi whose 2012 WAR was double his 2011 output?

      And while the Twins will replace their third-best hitter with either a journeyman or a double A kid, the Tigers replaced the worst outfielder in baseball with one of the best, and will probably get a strong bounceback season from Avila.

      And a Verlander-less Tigers rotation would still feature 4 guys who would very likely be the ace of yet another dreadful Twins staff. Diamond and Porcello have nearly equal James ERA projections. Diamond is the Twins ersatz ace, while the Tigers shopped Porcello, who is now their 6th best starter.

      Also, when you say that the Royals added a "pretty good starter", I'm assuming you're referring to Shields, who's posted a top-20 WAR among all MLB starters the past two seasons. But they also added Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, who both pitched well in 2010 and '11 before derailing last year. Their 2013 James ERA projections are 4.04 and 4.20 respectively. How many Twins starters do you expect to beat or even equal that while backed by a Span-less, Revere-less outfield?

      I'll be pulling for them, but they're probably going to be lousy again this year.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post
      In that specific area... I need to ask you a couple of questions.

      Is it possible that Twins Fans can out pray the Indians, Royals, Tigers and White Sox Fans? Would that be good for some W's?

      Also, is it possible that Nishioka did something real bad, evil, horrible and the Twins team and Twins Fans have been effected by that possible Heavenly Karma?

      I chose Nishioka for the example because he's the only player I can think of that was on the Roster for both of the bad years of 2011 and 2012 but not on the roster for the playoff year of 2010.

      If you think about it... This could all be Nishioka's fault karma wise. He wasn't rostered when we were good.

      The bad times came with him. Maybe the bad times followed him out the door. Something to think about!!!
      The theologian in me says that God is not going to favor any particular team based just on who prays the most; the Twins fans in me says let's try it and see what happens!

      As far as karma, my religious beliefs are based on grace instead, and on a God who lifts up those who are oppressed and downtrodden. Certainly I don't want to make light of those who truly fall into those categories, but speaking strictly in a baseball sense, I would have to think Twins fans currently fit into that category.
    1. savvyspy's Avatar
      savvyspy -
      I don't care what the record is. I view progress by some of the following occurring:

      1. Plouffe establishes himself as an everyday player
      2. Morneau is traded for someone that contributes at the major league level in 2014 or 2015
      3. Mauer over 85 RBIs
      4. Worley is a legit 200 inning #3 starter
      5. Diamond doesn't regress
      6. Parmalee plays everyday at 1B or RF and produces
      7. Burton and Perkins are solid at the back of the pen
      8. Correia is in Rochester or cut by June 1st
      9. Someone is a legitimate middle infielder
      10. Either Gibson or Hendricks pitches more than 150 innings (or whatever the max is for Gibson) and is around 10 wins and a sub 4.25 ERA andkm opposing batters aren't hitting .330 against then.

      i love this team's minor league system. I just don't see a core to build around that I 100% trust. I'd like to see Diamond, Worley, Plouffe, Perkins, and Parmalee be the core but there are question marks around all of those guys.

      Mauer I view honestly as a complimentary piece. He's a great hitter but they are just as likely to win 90 games with him as without him. Not a clubhouse leader in anyway and his salary hinders a true rebuild. That said, if other pieces are in place he's steady and gets on base.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by savvyspy View Post
      Mauer I view honestly as a complimentary piece. He's a great hitter but they are just as likely to win 90 games with him as without him. Not a clubhouse leader in anyway and his salary hinders a true rebuild. That said, if other pieces are in place he's steady and gets on base.
      .400+ OBP guys who consistently post a WAR of 5 or higher are not complementary pieces. Mauer is going into his age 30 season with a career WAR of 40. Do you realize exactly how rare that is for a player and how special that makes Mauer?

      I will never understand Twins fans' inability to appreciate Mauer for what he is and how rare a player he has become.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Quote Originally Posted by sbknudson View Post
      The theologian in me says that God is not going to favor any particular team based just on who prays the most; the Twins fans in me says let's try it and see what happens!

      As far as karma, my religious beliefs are based on grace instead, and on a God who lifts up those who are oppressed and downtrodden. Certainly I don't want to make light of those who truly fall into those categories, but speaking strictly in a baseball sense, I would have to think Twins fans currently fit into that category.
      I think Theologian in you may be right on the prayer. I remember as a boy kneeling before bedtime praying for Bombo Rivera and Danny Goodwin greatness and a victory over the White Sox tomorrow and the late 70's didn't go so well.

      I'd say the prayer and my Mom would wait for me to finish. She would tuck me in and tell me the prayer was nice but it would have been a good idea to mention Uncle Joe and his surgery on Friday.

      On Karma... I think I'm on to something... I think we got a bad dose of Nishioka Karma that spilled on to everyone. Its been nothing but injuries and bad pitching since he came to town.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      .400+ OBP guys who consistently post a WAR of 5 or higher are not complementary pieces. Mauer is going into his age 30 season with a career WAR of 40. Do you realize exactly how rare that is for a player and how special that makes Mauer?

      I will never understand Twins fans' inability to appreciate Mauer for what he is and how rare a player he has become.
      Does not hit home runs, Does not steal bases. Does not swing at 3-0 pitches. Did not date the hottest chick on the planet, Does not publicly say things like "jump on my back" and led the team to a World Series victory. Does try to sell you a Chevrolet, not a Cadillac
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      Did not date the hottest chick on the planet
      Might be he lacks confidence?
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      Does not hit home runs, Does not steal bases. Does not swing at 3-0 pitches. Did not date the hottest chick on the planet, Does not publicly say things like "jump on my back" and led the team to a World Series victory. Does try to sell you a Chevrolet, not a Cadillac

      Where exactly are you going with this and what does any of it have to do with how good a basebal player Joe Mauer is?
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      7th out of 14 in BA, 5th out of 14 in OBP, 12th out of 14 in SLG%, 10th out of 14 in OPS, 10th out of 14 in runs.

      Above average in OBP. Average in one category in BA. Below average in SLG%, OPS and most importantly runs scored
    1. ChiTownTwinsFan's Avatar
      ChiTownTwinsFan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post

      I will never understand Twins fans' inability to appreciate Mauer for what he is and how rare a player he has become.
      Because the 'average' Twins fan isn't a knowledgeable baseball fan.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by savvyspy View Post
      Mauer I view honestly as a complimentary piece. He's a great hitter but they are just as likely to win 90 games with him as without him. Not a clubhouse leader in anyway and his salary hinders a true rebuild. That said, if other pieces are in place he's steady and gets on base.
      -'Mauer I view honestly as a complimentary piece.' Um, how do you figure?
      -'Not a clubhouse leader in anyway ' Um, how is it in a major league clubhouse? I've always wanted to know. Must be awesome in the Twins clubhouse.
      -'His salary hinders a true rebuild.' Um, how? Explain. Twins cutting payroll by 32M over the last two years doesn't help put a contender on the field, but since we rebuild through the draft and trades for prospects, how is his salary hindering anything?
      -'He's steady'. Um, oh...steady....that's an interesting description of a player like Mauer.
    1. LoganJones's Avatar
      LoganJones -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      .400+ OBP guys who consistently post a WAR of 5 or higher are not complementary pieces. Mauer is going into his age 30 season with a career WAR of 40. Do you realize exactly how rare that is for a player and how special that makes Mauer?

      I will never understand Twins fans' inability to appreciate Mauer for what he is and how rare a player he has become.
      Simple matter of "the food here is terrible, and the portions so tiny."
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      .400+ OBP guys who consistently post a WAR of 5 or higher are not complementary pieces. Mauer is going into his age 30 season with a career WAR of 40. Do you realize exactly how rare that is for a player and how special that makes Mauer?

      I will never understand Twins fans' inability to appreciate Mauer for what he is and how rare a player he has become.
      Be fair. It's not that much of a skill to get on base at a .400 clip if you're starting from a batting average of .347/.365 some years.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      7th out of 14 in BA, 5th out of 14 in OBP, 12th out of 14 in SLG%, 10th out of 14 in OPS, 10th out of 14 in runs.

      Above average in OBP. Average in one category in BA. Below average in SLG%, OPS and most importantly runs scored
      But enough about Joe Mauer...
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Be fair. It's not that much of a skill to get on base at a .400 clip if you're starting from a batting average of .347/.365 some years.
      sarcasm?
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Be fair. It's not that much of a skill to get on base at a .400 clip if you're starting from a batting average of .347/.365 some years.
      That's at least a little bit like saying 'It's no big deal to drive in 120 runs if 50 of those are the hitter driving himself in with homers'. And when Mauer had those batting averages you mentioned, he posted OBP's of .429 and .444. Those are ridiculously high for an offense-first position, let alone catcher.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by LaBombo View Post
      That's at least a little bit like saying 'It's no big deal to drive in 120 runs if 50 of those are the hitter driving himself in with homers'. And when Mauer had those batting averages you mentioned, he posted OBP's of .429 and .444. Those are ridiculously high for an offense-first position, let alone catcher.
      yeah, I mean, look at a guy like Ichiro. two time batting champ, 4 times with an BA of .350 or higher. only had an OBP in the .400s once. Mauer has been over .400 5 times.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      For whatever reason, I keep comparing my expectations right now to my expectations last year just before Spring Training. That hasn't been such a rosy feeling, so an article like this is good to remind me that the expectations are better compared to what actually happened (especially in the rotation) instead of what I expected to happen. So I think that leads me to this year being worse than I expected last year's team to be, while better than what they actually were. My internal over/under for wins is 74.5. Some breaks could certainly get that up to a .500 team. (Of course, that means some other kinds of breaks could certainly drop that into the 60s, again.)
    1. LoganJones's Avatar
      LoganJones -
      As to the Mauer discussion. Who is the greatest hitter in Twins history? If you think it's Harmon, then you're going to find Joe's game a bit underwhelming due to the homer thing. If you think hitting is about getting on base, it's Rod Carew. Both of these guys are fine choices. If we compare the slash lines of all three players through their Age 29 season we find this.
      Harmon: .263/.373/.546 147 OPS+ (leaves out his 1st 5 years which were not representative)
      Carew: .328/.383/.430 130 OPS+
      Mauer: .323/.405/.468 135 OPS+

      So depending on how you value hitting, Mauer is either the best or second best hitter in Twins history through the age 29 season. Kirby should get a mention (.323./.357/.469 123 OPS+), but he'd only played 5 years by age 29.
      ETA: If you're an OPS+ supporter you might also think Tony O rates ahead of Mauer for the age 29 thing.
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