Jason’s Blog: Twins need bats
The Minnesota Twins began Grapefruit League play on Friday in Ft. Myers, Fla., a fact that seems inconceivable given Owatonna's forecast high temperatures for the first week of March hover between 1 and 20 degrees.
The warmth might not be on its way, but the Twins are, with Opening Day against the White Sox slated for March 31. Normally, this time of year is filled with hope and optimism for all 30 MLB teams, but for the Twins, the temperature isn't the only thing that's cold for their fans up North: the outlook is cold, too.
The hope and optimism surrounding the Twins right now stems from the anticipation of 2 minor league players: Byron Buxton, who is ranked as the top minor league prospect in all of baseball, and Miguel Sano, who hit .280 with 35 HRs between Class A Ft. Myers and Class AA New Britain last summer. It remains to be seen how much MLB action either will see in 2014--the assumption at this point is they will give Buxton another full year in the minors and they will start Sano in Triple-A.
That's it. If you want to see the most exciting players in the organization at Target Field, you'll probably have to wait until the Futures Game is played there on the Sunday before the All-Star break.
The Major League team has two returning stars, Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins, but beyond that, it's basically a collection of players who have good cause to be looking over their shoulders at when (not if) they will be replaced.
General Manager Terry Ryan, who will miss this year's spring training while recovering from surgery related to a curable form of skin cancer, has given the starting pitching staff a makeover for the second straight offseason. Last year it was Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, and Kevin Correia. Correia pitched 185 innings with a 4.18 ERA, Pelfrey went 152 innings with a 5.19 ERA, and Worley, who was the Opening Day starter, was demoted to Triple-A Rochester in June after posting a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts.
Those front-end starters have been moved to the back end of the rotation this year as Ryan signed Ricky Nolasco, who went 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA with the Marlins and Dodgers last season, along with Phil Hughes, who has a career ERA of 4.51 in 7 seasons with the Yankees (Last year Hughes struggled, going 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA). Ryan also rewarded Pelfrey's 5.19 ERA in 2013 with an offseason deal worth $11 million through 2015.
So that's your Twins offseason in a nutshell--they signed an above average MLB starter in Nolasco and threw a total of $35 million at two pitchers who had ERAs of 5.19 in 2013. Welcome to the Target Field era, I guess.
You can't fault Ryan for making desperate moves when it comes to starting pitching, though. The Twins expected top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson to progress in the Bigs last year, but despite being given every opportunity to do so, he couldn't get it done. They also were hoping for a bounce back year from lefty Scott Diamond, but that didn't happen, either. When all was said and done, Ryan was relegated to singing the praises of Correia and Pelfrey, the latter of which was given the obligatory "great veteran to have in the clubhouse" status this organization loves to reward.
So Ryan didn't get one of the top-tier free agent pitchers, but he shuffled the deck after last year and for good reason. Some guys I haven't mentioned who also are hopefuls for a spot in the starting rotation include Samuel Deduno, who along with Diamond is out of options, Liam Hendricks, and PJ Walters.
If you think this year's starting pitching makeover is uninspiring then I suggest you stop reading, because what Ryan did with the offense is downright negligent. Let's start by listing the batting averages of the returning players who had at least 200 at-bats with the Twins in 2013: Joe Mauer (.324), Trevor Plouffe (.254), Oswaldo Arcia (.251), Ryan Doumit (.247), Brian Dozier (.244), Chris Parmalee (.228), Pedro Florimon (.228), and Aaron Hicks (.192).
Obviously Ryan had to make some upgrades, right? Wrong.
Remember the Twins traded Justin Morneau late in the season to Pittsburgh and at the time there was the usual talk about how much they still love him and they could resign him to a new deal after the season? Mhmm, that didn't happen. The Colorado Rockies signed Morneau to a 2-year, $12 million deal.
What did Ryan do instead? He brought in catcher Kurt Suzuki, who hit .232 for Oakland last year, and signed Jason Kubel, who hit .216 for Arizona in 2013, to a minor league deal. And if the return of Kubel wasn't enough to ease the pain of losing Morneau for Twins fans, Ryan also signed Jason Bartlett, who didn't even play in the majors last year, to a minor league deal.
Add it all up and we have virtually the same payroll as last year (Around $76 million--ranked 21st in MLB), with a slightly altered group of cross-your-fingers starting pitchers and the same lineup that hit .242 as a team, minus a fan-favorite homerun hitter.
And you wonder why all the talk this spring is about Buxton and Sano.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.