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Free Agents From Within?

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This offseason it seemed as though the Twins were losing free agents and not replacing them. Cuddyer, Kubel and Nathan come to mind right away. But in reality were the Twins picking up a different kind of free agent? These free agents I speak of are the guys already on the roster that can make significant impacts simply by returning to form and staying healthy. During the dismal 99 loss campaign of 2011 the Twins lost two former MVP's (Mauer and Morneau), their spark plug lead off hitter (Span) as well as a starting pitcher (Baker) to injuries.

What looked like your average "guy getting thrown out at home trying to stretch a triple into an inside the park homerun" turn into a mess for Denard Span. Span's head whiplashed back causing a concussion with symptoms that just wouldn't subside. The Twin's leadoff hitter and centerfielder missed 92 games in 2011 mostly due to "concussion-like symptoms" (a phrase all too familiar with Twins fans). When healthy, Span patrols the Target Field outfield providing surprisingly good range. On offense while his numbers have been down compared to his first two years in the league, Span provides speed on the basepaths as well as a guy who can put the ball in play and when playing at his best reaching base at a high rate. The Twins missed his consistency last year and will welcome his addition to the lineup with open arms.

When Scott Baker went down last season he was on his way to best season as a big leaguer. The intangibles that he always seemed to be lacking, such as confidence and persistence seemed to be very present. When Baker took the mound the Twins could expect a quality start at the very least and a lights out performance when everything was clicking. Then came the elbow troubles and the steam he had built up was gone. Coming into 2012 Baker claims everything is feeling great and his arm is ready for the season. Having a healthy Baker in the middle of the rotation will do wonders for a staff that was anything but consistent last season. If his elbow is healty and holds up I look for him to regain the confidence he brought to the mound last season providing the Twins with a guy who can be counted on to every 5th day.

While it would be nice to pick up splashy free agents such as the in-division foe Tigers did with Prince Fielder, that really isn't the Twins' way of doing business. However, when healthy, Justin Morneau is just as qualified at manning first base as Prince Fielder is. Defensively Morneau has the edge, while offensively Morneau can produce nearly as well. Back behind the plate Joe Mauer playing catcher is automatically an improvement over what was behind the plate last year. Drew Butera is a fine defensive replacement but is no where near being a competent major league hitter. Mauer, who had a plethora of issues last season ranging from bilateral leg weakness to walking pneumonia appears to be in shape coming into camp and hopefully ready to return to form. Expecting the Mauer from his 2009 MVP season is asking quite a bit playing in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but a return to the guy with the +.400 on base percentage and WAR in the 6-7 range isn't out of the realm of possibilities. That being said, these are big 'if's'. There is no way to know if an awkward slide will trigger another Justin Morneau concussion or if Joe Mauer's body can stand up to the demands of catching in a 162 game season.

I for one am an optimist when it comes to this ball club and if these players can play to their abilities I expect them to be competitive in 2012. If they don't and the injuries continue to haunt them it could be a long season for this ball club. But just like every other team starting spring training, they are 0-0 and have high hopes for this season. Here's hoping this offseason strategy pays off.


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