By Christopher Reina
Similar to the situation in Oakland, the Twins made the playoffs in 2006 only to see their franchise fall far behind their division peers in 2007 and set to loom further back in 2008.
Instead of attempting to do a sloppy patchwork reload, Minnesota enters the new season looking to create a new identity for themselves and a new era of small-budget success.
2007 Record: 79-83
2007 Pythagorean Record: 80-82
Team FIC Batting: 6.77 per game (14th overall)
Team FIC Pitching: 9.38 per game (12th overall)
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What Happened Last Season
At the plate: The Twins were decidedly average offensively in 2007, finishing 24th in runs (718) and 27th in OPS (.721).
Justin Morneau didn't repeat as MVP, but he did hit 31 homeruns even if his OPS dropped by 99 points. The most significant difference was in how much he struggled against lefties; in 2006 he had a .904 OPS and just .697 in 2007.
In his walk year, Torii Hunter had another very good campaign, hitting .287/.334/.505.
Joe Mauer was plagued by injuries, limited to just 109 games where he batted .293/.382/.426 down, of course, from 2006 when he was the AL batting champ.
Michael Cuddyer's production declined, hitting 8 fewer homeruns and seeing OPS drop to .789.
On the mound: Johan Santana had an off season, if off means he had a 3.33 ERA, 1.073 WHIP, and a 9.66 K/9 rate. He mysteriously gave up a league high 33 homeruns up from his usual total of the low 20's.
With Francisco Liriano on the mend following Tommy John surgery, Carlos Silva became their number two starter, posting a 4.19 ERA while striking out batters at an absurdly low rate.
Matt Garza bloomed in his 15 starts with a 3.69 ERA, while Boof Bonser, another product of the A.J. trade disappointingly had a 5.10 ERA.
Scott Baker, long highly regarded within the organization, started 23 games and had a 4.26 ERA with a very respectable K/BB ratio of 3.52
In the bullpen, Joe Nathan was nearly as brilliant as ever, saving 37 games with a 1.88 ERA. He was supported by Matt Guerrier (2.35) and Pat Neshek (1.88).
What Happened In The Offseason
In no uncertain terms, the Twins gutted their franchise this winter, and it began when Terry Ryan stepped down as GM and Bill Smith replaced him. Even though this is Smith's first GM job, it isn't his first rodeo as he's already 53 and bucks the trend of hiring young wunderkids like Jon Daniels in Texas and Dayton Moore in Kansas City.
Smith has been assigned to rebuild a successful small market team as they transition into a new ballpark.
They also dealt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris, both of whom will start this season. Young was the runner-up in AL ROY voting and is a unique multi-talented position player who is just 22 and has had some questionable behavioral issues and although he gives the Twins another young bat, Garza looked like another talented young Twins' pitcher.
Most significantly, they dealt Santana to the Mets (after several weeks of wrangling) for a package that included Carlos Gomez (who will start in CF) and Kevin Mulvey, Philip Humber and Deolis Guerra, who will all begin 2008 in the minors. Guerra has the highest ceiling of the four but is still just 18-years-old and you have to wonder if they could have received a safer offer from the Yankees or Red Sox.
Free agents Hunter and Silva both moved towards the Pacific Ocean and the AL West.
Smith also imported Houston's left side of the infield, signing Adam Everett and Mike Lamb to short-term free agent contracts, as well as innings-eater Livn Hernandez.
There is no doubt that the Twins are rebuilding, but unlike the often-compared A's, they will remain competitive with a mix of proven MLB veterans and youngsters.
What Could Happen This Season
At the plate: The Twins have the potential to be much better than expected offensively in 2008. In Mauer and Morneau, they have two of the best players in the game at their respective positions while they have dependable veterans like Cuddyer, Lamb, and Everett, a high-ceiling Young that feels he has a lot to prove.
Gomez, who has struggled at the plate, has great speed and should be well-suited to play on turf.
On the mound: Minnesota will feel the big difference of this new era of baseball when it sees Livan Hernandez (even he seems slightly embarrassed about it) chug out to the mound on Opening Day. He is at the point of his career where his best contribution to the team is resting their bullpen until his arm practically falls off. Behind him, at least until Liriano is ready, will be Bonser, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn.
Nathan will remain in Minnesota indefinitely (although his contract makes him even more attractive to trade) as he just signed a $47 million, four-year extension and should be as consistent as ever.
What Should Happen This Season
The Twins were wise to trade Santana, if for no other reason because the Indians and Tigers are too talented for them to seriously contend as they were constructed last season and certainly this season. They will be competitive day in, day out, Ron Gardenhire will ensure that and they are talented and pesky enough with their NL style to give better team's fits.
This will be a transitional year that won't embarrass them before they move to their beautiful new ballpark in 2010 with an improved chance at competing.
Five biggest questions
1. Can Mauer stay healthy and increase his power production?
2. How ineffective will their rotation be?
3. Will Young's citizenship allow him to become an All-Star?
4. When will Liriano's elbow be ready?
5. Was Morneau's 2006 a simple anomaly?
More 2008 Season Previews
- Los Angeles Angels
- Atlanta Braves
- Washington Nationals
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Miwaukee Brewers
- Seattle Mariners
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Cleveland Indians
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Detroit Tigers
- San Francisco Giants
- Christopher Reina is the executive editor of RealGM and the creator of the Reina Value.