Winter report card: Minnesota Twins
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.
2012 Results: 66-95, 5th place in AL Central (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: IF Alexi Casilla, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Matt Capps, RHP Carl Pavano, OF Ben Revere, OF Denard Span
Key arrivals: RHP Kevin Correia, RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Josh Roenicke, RHP Vance Worley
Thus far, the Twins’ offseason has been more notable for those going — namely, both of their young, fleet-footed outfielders — than those coming. The trade of the 28-year-old Span to Washington made sense for bringing 2011 first-round pick Alex Meyer, a power arm of the type the organization desperately needs, and for freeing up centerfield for the 24-year-old Revere, while the trade of Revere to Philadelphia for Worley and minor league hurler Trevor May was more surprising as it left centerfield in the hands of Darren Mastroianni, at least for the moment. A 27-year-old who hit .252/.328/.350 in 186 plate appearances as a rookie last year, he offers much less upside than either of the two traded players, but with prospect Aaron Hicks rebounding at Double-A, the future at the position isn’t all bleak.
With a career 7.7 strikeouts per nine, the 25-year-old Worley provides a dimension that the Twins’ starters have sorely lacked in recent years, the ability to miss bats; likewise for the hard-throwing May, a 23-year-old who whiffed 9.1 per nine at Double-A Reading last year. With Baker missing the entire season due to Tommy John surgery, the only Twins starter with a strikeout rate above 6.5 per nine was the erratic Francisco Liriano, who was traded to the White Sox on July 28. The rotation as a whole ranked dead last in the league in both ERA (5.40) and quality start rate (38 percent), so it makes some sense the major additions this winter have been starting pitchers. After putting up an impressive 3.01 ERA in 131 2/3 innings as a rookie in 2011, Worley had a 4.20 ERA in 133 innings last year before missing all of September due to surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
Less inspiring are the additions of Pelfrey and Correia, who are basically rotation filler. The former, who just turned 29 this week, signed a one-year $4 million deal coming off May 1 Tommy John surgery; he was limited to just three starts for the Mets before going under the knife, and likely will start the year on the disabled list. Though chosen with the ninth pick of the 2005 draft, his career 4.36 ERA and 5.1 strikeouts per nine mark him as the type of pitcher the Twins routinely churned out of their own system. Correia, 32, was signed to a two-year, $10 million deal after putting up a 4.21 ERA with just 4.7 strikeouts per nine in 171 innings for the Pirates; he owns a career mark of 6.0 strikeouts per nine but hasn’t broken 5.0 in either of the past two years.
Roenicke, the nephew of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, posted a superficially respectable 3.25 ERA in 88 2/3 innings out of Colorado’s bullpen, the first time he’d ever thrown more than 20 big league innings in a single season. As his 4.76 FIP attests, the convergence of his strikeout and walk rates (5.5 and 4.4 per nine, respectively) may make repeating that task a challenge.
Unfinished business: Middling returns. The loss of the perennially disappointing Casilla via waivers is nothing to mourn, but the Twins’ middle infield remains a mess. Jamey Carroll, who turns 39 in February, hit .268/.343/.317 last year and is better deployed as a utilityman than as a regular second baseman, and none of the candidates to play shortstop — 25-year-old Brian Dozier (.234/.271/.332 in 340 PA), 24-year-old Eduardo Escobar (.214/.278/.260 in 146 PA) and 26-year-old Pedro Florimon (.219/.272/.307 in 150 PA) — have track records that suggest they can meet even the meager offensive standards of major league shortstops. Strong middle infield defense is a necessity given the staff’s meager strikeout rates, but a lineup that ranked 10th in the league in scoring needs help as well. Even gambling on a rebound from a free agent like Kelly Johnson, Freddy Sanchez or Alex Gonzalez would be more worthwhile than accepting the current black hole.
Preliminary grade: B- The Twins have attacked the rotation, their biggest area of weakness, and while the immediate remedy isn’t impressive, they’ve added upside for the future as well. Some late-winter bargain-shopping for middle infielders could improve this grade a notch.