The Minnesota Twins spent some off-season time, and considerable money, trying to shore up one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball.
And well they should have after that woeful performance in 2013.
However, management did little to revamp an offense that was also one of the worst in baseball in 2013.
So, with Opening Day just around the corner, veteran manager Ron Gardenhire finds himself having to decide who to keep among the players provided for him by the front office.
Does a team as offensively challenged as this one really need three catchers, something Gardenhire likes? Or could one of those spots be filled by a hitter? (Management must agree, sending catcher/outfielder Chris Hermann down to Triple A on Monday, against Gardehire’s wishes.)
Second baseman Brian Dozier, who will apparently lead off if Aaron Hicks is in center field, led the team with 18 homers last year. Even if he doesn’t match that total, he probably shouldn’t be leading off.
But who else can Gardenhire put there? Alex Presley, who came from Pittsburgh in the questionable trade of Justin Morneau? Or Hicks, he of the .192 average in 2013?
What about first base, now the property of Joe Mauer who has three batting titles and a lifetime average of .323?
Trouble is, in the three years since his contract for $23 million a year kicked in, Mauer has averaged only 8 homers and 54 RBIs a year.
Morneau, a once-great player who has been a shadow of himself since a 2010 concussion, still managed 19 and 17 homers the last two years as the first baseman and had 77 and 74 RBIs, despite spending the last month of last season with Pittsburgh.
The hope is that Mauer has better numbers this year but that’s been an annual hope.
Can Gardenhire afford to play slick-fielding (at times) Pedro Florimon at shortstop again? Florimon hasn’t shown much with the bat the last two years, hitting an anemic .219 and driving in only 54 runs.
(Your correspondent got rained out of a game with the Orioles last week. That was probably a good thing because it would have reminded him that J.J. Hardy, virtually given away by the Twins after the 2010 season, has hit 77 homers, driven in 224 runs, and won two Gold Gloves for Baltimore the past three seasons. Boy, would he look good in a Minnesota uniform.)
Here’s the way the roster looks from this corner after what Gardenhire has termed an “inconsistent” spring by his hitters.
Light-hitting newcomer Kurt Suzuki will be the starting catcher, Mauer will be at first, Dozier at second, Florimon at shortstop and Trevor Plouffe at third.
Josh Willingham will be in left, Hicks likely in center, and promising (sometimes)Oswoldo Arcia in right.
It appears Jason Kubel will make the team but he’s more likely to DH. And Presley, Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello are in the mix, with Parmelee and Colabello also capable of playing first.
It’s looking more and more like Parmelee or Colabello will be the odd man out. Or will the Presley experiment end?
Josmil Pinto is the back-up catcher and Eduardo Escobar probably the utility infielder, although former Twin Jason Bartlett was still around as of Tuesday.
Gardenhire plans to keep 12 pitchers, with Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes (I watched him get banged around by the Phillies in a game Sunday), Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey set as starters. All are right-handers.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson and Scott Diamond are vying for the other starting slot and I’d take Diamond at this time because he’s a lefty. Maybe Gibson could take over if Diamond, or perhaps Pelfrey, falters.
That leaves lefty closer Glen Perkins, lefty Brian Duensing and right-handers Jared Burton, Casey Fien, Anthony Swarzak and Samuel Deduno in the bullpen.
And that may leave lefty Caleb Thielbar, or maybe Diamond, on the outside looking in. Those are decisions to be made this week.
Neither the pitching staff nor the starting lineup will strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
I watched the “A” lineup the other night against a Tampa Bay pitcher who won’t even be in the Rays’ rotation and the Twins, except for two hits by Kubel on 0-2 pitches and four by Hicks, were helpless. And Nolasco struggled against the Rays.
Sunday in Clearwater Phillies’ starter Kyle Kendrick (10-13 in 2013) also shut the Twins down.
True, those two spring training games don’t a season make. But Minnesota’s offense has basically been dormant most of the spring. We fans, and Gardenhire, have to hope for better things when the season begins but it’s hard to figure out where the home runs will come from.
Gardenhire hasn’t been given much to work with so the decisions he makes this week will be key. I’d look for at least a couple roster changes before April ends.
It wasn’t a surprise, the way things have gone for the Twins. Dozier hit a smash past the Philadelphia third baseman Sunday that was headed for the corner and sure to be an RBI double. But the ball girl, a Hooters employee, fielded the ball cleanly and it became a ground rule double, the runner stopping at third. The Twins even put it on their website … Hicks displayed his strong arm by throwing out a Phillies runner Sunday. He also airmailed another throw to the plate that beat the runner. Gardenhire criticized Hicks for a throw to the plate that was too high to be cut off in a game against Tampa Bay last week, saying an additional run eventually scored. The bigger play was the bobble by Mauer of a potential inning-ending double play ball. Three runs scored . . . Is the Twins franchise as star crossed as the Minnesota Timberwolves? First, prized prospect Miguel Sano had his season ended by an injury and now Byron Buxton, rated the No. 1 prospect in baseball by some, has been out more than a week with an injury.
Next week: A look at the final roster and where the team might finish in 2014.