Regular Season Record: 96-66,
1st in the AL Central, 1 game ahead of the Detroit Tigers
Home Ballpark: Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome
3B Jeff Cirillo (one-year contract)
SP Sidney Ponson (Minor League deal)
SP Brad Voyles (Minor League deal)
RP Randy Choate (Minor League deal)
1B/C Matt Lecroy (Minor League deal)
SP Ramon Ortiz (one-year contract)
RP Mike Venafro (Minor League deal)
Looking for Greener Pastures Elsewhere
SP Brad Radke (retirement)
RP Willie Eyre (non-tendered)
OF Shannon Stewart (free agent - signed with Oakland )
The Skinny: This is a team with tremendous front-line talent. The Twins have four clear superstar-level players, Santana, Mauer, Morneau and Nathan, who are all among the best in the league at their positions. The team's fifth elite talent, Fransisco Liriano, is coming off arm surgery and will miss the 2007 season. Liriano's injury, as well as the retirement of Brad Radke, sets the stage for the team's biggest challenge going into spring training - filling out the starting rotation beyond Santana. There's talent there, and the Twins have a good track record of developing arms, but little certainty. If Bonser continues his success from his rookie season, if Silva can rebound from last year's showing, if youngsters such as Garza, Baker, or Perkins can make the transition to the highest level, there the potential for a solid rotation. That's a lot of if's, though, and there's also the chance of a lot of headaches for Twins fans when Santana's not on the mound.
Strengths: The Twins had arguably the best bullpen in the league last year, and it should remain excellent in 2007. Joe Nathan's one of the best closers in the league, with Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain setting him up nicely. Denny Reyes was sensational as a lefty specialist last year, as was righty Pat Neshak in his first stint in the majors. There's no shortage of depth here, meaning Minnesota 's leads should be as safe as any team in the majors.
The other thing this team does exceptionally well is make contact. The Twins, led by AL batting champ Joe Mauer in this regard, struck out less than any other team in baseball, helping them post the league's highest batting average. This helped the Twins reach base at a solid clip, despite not being an overly patient team.
Weaknesses: The first weakness is team power. While Morneau, Hunter, and Cuddyer provide competitive middle of the order pop, those three combined for over 62% of the team's dingers last year. Add in Mauer and the total jumps to 71%. The other five spots in the lineup all slugged less than .400, providing virtually no power outside the heart of the lineup. If we include all extra-base hits, the Twins ranked 29th out of 30 Major League teams last, ahead of only the hapless Pirates. It's a testament to the team's contact hitting ability that they stayed in the middle of the pack offensively despite their power deficiencies.
The other significant weakness is depth. An injury to any of the team's big hitters would be very difficult to replace from within. Nick Punto's stretched offensively at third, and needs to maintain his growth in batting average from last year to have any sort of value as a starter. The team will be stretched to get much production out of left field or designated hitter, two of the most offense-oriented positions. Cirillo should be a handy guy to have around, but there's not much beyond him in terms of fall-back plans.
I was tempted to list the starting rotation as a weakness, as there is, no doubt, a great deal of uncertainty. Beyond Santana, it certainly has a chance to be a weakness, but given some of the young talent, and the team's history of turning talent into performance, I think the Twins will do alright with their rotation. Boof Bonser made great strides last year and was excellent toward the end of the season, and Matt Garza faced some stumbling blocks, but unquestionably has a Major League calibre arm. They'll likely struggle a bit early on, but should end up above average over the course of the season. A year from now, I suspect the rotation will be a major strength of this team.
2B Luis Castillo
3B Nick Punto
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
RF Michael Cuddyer
CF Torii Hunter
DH Rondell White
LF Jason Kubel
SS Jason Bartlett
Keys to Success: The most obvious factor in the Twins' success this year is that they need to get their rotation sorted out quickly and effectively. The bullpen support will help ease the pressure, as the starters won't be required to go deep into games to be effective. Nonetheless, no team in the AL Central can afford to fall behind early, as there are too many good teams in the division to rely on a late season push.
The second major factor is they need some added production from power positions. A rebound from Rondell White is possible, given his strong second half, but the most likely source of added production is probably Jason Kubel. A strong season from Kubel could go a long way in adding a little extra meat to the Twins' lineup.
Prediction: The Twins will struggle out of the gate due to inconsistency in the rotation without enough offense to carry the team. They'll start to get into a decent groove by about mid-May, and will be among the top teams in the league in the second half, with Garza and Bonser providing a strong 2-3 behind baseball's best pitcher. Although they'll fight their way into serious contention and end up with around 92 wins, it won't be enough to overcome their early struggles, as they'll narrowly miss the playoffs in a very tough division.
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