Let’s be clear: ultimately, it’s about the wins. I get into at least a half dozen debates per month where I feel the need to remind people that all this fun baseball stuff we analyze – coaching tactics, offseason pickups, roster changes, revenue tendencies, trades, minor league development – are not goals in and of themselves. They are the means to an end. And that end is wins.
That said, even if the Twins somehow win the AL Central, 2012 will answer several questions that will seriously impact the rest of the decade for Twins fans. Besides the wins, let’s take a look at five other developments worth paying attention to if you’re a Twins fan.
Can Sunk Money Stay Healthy?
Between Joe Mauer ($138M), Justin Morneau ($14M), Denard Span($11.25M) and Nick Blackburn($5.5M), the Twins will end 2012 with $168.75 million dollars of future money ties to four guys that have had trouble staying healthy. If they can stay healthy and productive, then the team is likely competitive. But if not, the Twins may well want to consider creative ways of getting those salaries off the books, including trades that involve eating some salary or early retirement packages.
Can Minor League Talent Fill Some Gaps?
Much of this question will play out on a much smaller (and rundown) ballpark that is 315 miles southeast. In Beloit, Wisconsin, the Twins lower-A affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, may be fielding the Twins infield of the future, featuring consensus Twins number one prospect and third baseman Miguel Sano, top draft pick and shortstop Levi Michael and top prospect (and possible second baseman?) Eddie Rosario. The Twins should anticipate a lot of turnover over the next few years and will be looking for breakthrough years from those guys or players even closer to the majors, like outfielders Joe Benson and Ben Revere or first baseman Chris Parmelee.
Every name above either is perceived to have a limited ceiling or is still pretty far from contributing to the majors. A big step forward by several of them completely changes the perceived future of this team. But if you look again, all of those names have something else in common too….
Where Will The Pitchers Come From?
In the same way that the Twins lost most of their outfield (Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer) this last year, they’ll likely lose most of their starting rotation before 2013’s Opening Day. Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Jason Marquis are all free agents. Scott Baker has a $9.5M option which will be prohibitive if he can’t stay healthy. Only Nick Blackburn is a sure thing to return. Ooh, goody.
Unfortunately, the Twins top prospects in the minors aren’t pitchers. Liam Hendricks was called up last year and might be able to fill a middle-of-the-rotation role. It’s possible Kyle Gibson could recover sufficiently from Tommy John surgery to contribute as a major league starter next year. And then you get to guys whose futures are more borderline. There’s a reason the Twins were so aggressive in adding waiver pickups who were pitchers this offseason, and it will be interesting to see if they’re active at the trade deadline in picking up some young arms. Or there is another mid-summer event they might leverage….
Can the Twins Take Advantage of a Historical Draft?
There ain’t a lot of bright spots to a 99-loss year, but the second overall draft pick is one of them. That’s also the advantage of losing several high-performing free agents like Cuddyer and Kubel – the team gets extra draft picks back as compensation. Between that top pick and the quantity of top-75 picks the Twins have (and the new capped compensation they will pay these youngsters) the Twins have never had a draft loaded with this much opportunity, and likely won’t again for decades. It is the perfect chance for the organization to gas up a car that feels like it is running on fumes.
Can Twins Revenues Continue Rising?
Speaking of running out of gas, that’s exactly what it felt like to the scalpers last year. The lull and disinterest that set in caused the front office to put spending back into a lower gear. A less dismal season might reaffirm fans faith in the team and reaffirm ownership’s faith in its fans. A renewed financial strength will help this team plug holes over the next couple of seasons, perhaps offsetting the other transitions that seem likely to take place.