Who's up next in the End of Season Post-Mortem series? Minnesota Twins, come on down!
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
Anyway, here we are...the Minnesota Twins. Even with the AL Central heading into (another) down year, there wasn't much hope for the Twins entering the season having just come off a 99-loss 2011 season. Sure enough, the Twins were never a threat in the division but they can take some solace in that the should be be able to turn in a slightly better record this year. That's something, right?
What Went Right: After a brutal 2011, the Minnesota version of the M & M Boys looks like they might be back. Neither Joe Mauer nor Justin Morneau is putting up the kind of numbers that earned each of them an AL MVP award in recent years, but both appear to be back to being very productive players, Mauer especially as he currently leads the American League in on-base percentage. Morneau still isn't quite showing the same kind of power he had before being ravaged by injuries, but there is real hope for his future after a strong second half. With the resurgence of Mauer and Morneau, an occasionally healthy Denard Span and the big free agent signings of Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit, who both produced better than the Twins could have hoped, the Twins actually had the makings of a pretty solid lineup this year.
Alas, that offensive firepower often went to waste thanks to lousy starting pitching. One player that Minnesota can't blame for that is Scott Diamond. In the grand Twin tradition, Diamond misses nary a bat, but the rest of the results speak for themselves as he currently boasts a 3.46 ERA. Considering that the rest of the rotation is pretty much in shambles thanks to injury and/or ineffectiveness, the Twins have to take at least some solace in the fact that they have at least one solid arm to build on going into next season.
What Went Wrong: The Indians are giving them a run for their money, but it looks like the Twins are going to finish the year with the worst ERA in the AL from starting pitchers. With very little starting pitching depth to begin with, the Twinkies' rotation was taxed throughout the season after losing both Scott Baker and Carl Pavano to season-ending injuries, with Baker's coming before the season even began. They also wound up releasing Jason Marquis and Nick Blackburn mid-season as well. Add to that the mid-season trade of a Franciso Liriano and Minnesota either lost to injury or jettisoned their entire projected starting rotation during the season.
Most Surprising Player: While he has always been a quality player, Josh Willingham took his game to a whole new level in Minnesota this year. Thinking they were getting a cheaper version of the departed Michael Cuddyer, the Twins stumbled upon one of the best hitters in baseball for 2012. En route to posting career-highs in numerous stats, Willingham went from role player to middle of the order staple thanks to his 146 OPS+, which is currently tenth-best in all of baseball. That kind of performance puts Minnesota in great position as they can either hold onto Willingham and try and rebuild around him and the M & M boys, or they can use him and the team-friendly $14 million he has left on the remaining two years of his contract to try and restock their farm system should they decide to trade him this off-season.
Honorable mention to Jared Burton, a scrap heap relief pick up during the off-season who wound up sharing the closer's role for periods during the season.
Most Disappointing Player: Where do you even begin? The Twins used a plethora of players in their middle infield season and they were all disasters with the bat or with the glove or with both (see Dozier, Brian).
But if we really have to single out one player, it would have to be Carl Pavano. While he waved bye-bye to being a frontline pitcher ages ago, the Twins were really counting on Pavano this season to lead the staff with his typical yeoman-like 200+ innings and slightly above average performance. Instead, they got neither of those things. Pavano lasted just 11 starts before succumbing to a season-ending injury but managed to post a 6.00 ERA before going down for good. After that, the Twin rotation which was already being held together with Scotch table and bubble gum really became a patchwork mess of retreads and non-prospects.
Prospects Up: Top prospect Miguel Sano didn't disappoint in his first year of full-season ball. He continued to show tremendous raw power and excellent plate discipline. While that kind of performance was expected from Sano, the strong season from OF Oswaldo Arcia, who was coming off elbow surgery, was a special treat. With a .928 OPS split between Advanced-A and Double-A, Garcia could be on the fast track to majors.
Prospects Down: It was a rough season for Twins pitching prospects. It all started off when they lost their top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson to Tommy John surgery just before the end of last season thus preventing him from challenging for a rotation spot during 2012 as many expected him to do. With Gibson down, Liam Hendriks assumed the mantle of top pitching prospect and he did fare well enough to get promoted to the majors, but once he got there it was pure unadulterated ugliness. Thanks to 12 homers allowed in just 66 innings, Hendriks spent the season yo-yoing between the majors and minors. While he is just 23 years old and still has plenty of time to get better, his massive struggles in the bigs have to be very discouraging for everyone involved.
The Future: Where the Twins go from here will be of considerable interest. With $68 million before arbitration already committed to next year's payroll, the Twins will have a lot of tough decisions to make. That $68 million is a hefty load to carry as it is for a bad team in a smaller market, but they also have numerous holes they have to fill to regain any semblance of respectability. But before they even do that, they must decide on the direction and leadership of the club. GM Terry Ryan is technically serving on an interim basis and must decide if he wants to drop that tag or hire a replacement and return to his consulting role. After that, a call will have to be made on whether or not Ron Gardenhire will remain as the manager. As of right now, both look likely to keep their roles, but nothing is set in stone. But the real tough decisions will come when it comes to the roster. Nobody would blame the Twins for blowing the whole thing up and rebuilding from the ground up, but it also isn't far-fetched that they could try and make some savvy free agent pick ups and try and challenge for the division title in what is shaping up to be another weak year in the AL Central in 2013.
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