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.