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Offseason Outlook: Minnesota Twins

The Twins spent nearly a decade at or near the top of the AL Central, but 2013 marked their third straight 90-loss season.

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The Twins have already cleared up one of their first orders of offseason business by issuing manager Ron Gardenhire a two-year extension and retaining the entire coaching staff. While many fans anticipated a change following the team's run of 90-loss seasons, ownership and GM Terry Ryan recognized they hadn't given Gardenhire much of a chance to succeed with the players they'd provided in recent years. They'll look to change that this offseason, as owner Jim Pohlad publicly voiced that he has had enough when he called the team's play "embarrassing." Pohlad said that he would provide Ryan with the necessary funds to sign free agents this winter, adding that he's not adverse to three- and four-year deals, which the Twins have typically shied away from in the past.

One of the biggest Twins narratives of the offseason will be "What to do with Joe Mauer?" Perennially one of the league's best catchers, Mauer missed the end of the season with a concussion. The Twins have invested more in him, financially speaking, than any other player in history. Many in the Twin Cities media and Twins fanbase are calling for Mauer to move to first base to protect his health, now that Justin Morneau has departed. However, Ryan and Mauer himself have maintained that he will catch in 2014. The Twins do have a potentially viable alternative, as rookie backstop Josmil Pinto burst onto the scene in September after a dominant minor league showing and hit .342/.398/.566 with four homers in an admittedly small sample size of 83 plate appearances.

Turning to the infield, the Twins lack an heir apparent to the now-departed Morneau. Former first-round pick Chris Parmelee has failed to repeat his brilliant production from September 2011 or his big numbers from Triple-A Rochester in 2012. Chris Colabello is among the game's best stories, as the Independent League lifer caught on with the Twins at age 28 last season and mashed his way through the minors. However, upon reaching the Majors, his tremendous opposite-field power has been overshadowed by his alarming strikeout rate. The team could look to re-sign longtime cornerstone Morneau, or they could buy low on an upside candidate like Corey Hart with Parmelee and Colabello as fall-back options.

The Twins' middle-infield corps, led by Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon, was the best defensive group in the Majors, according to DRS (as I noted last month over at SB Nation's Twinkie Town). Though neither is a big offensive threat, Dozier was able to produce a roughly league-average line with the bat at least (100 OPS+, 101 wRC+). The switch-hitting Florimon batted just .180/.229/.230 from the right side, so one wonders if he could take a step forward simply by switching to the left side permanently. Even with Florimon's weak bat, the pair combined for four to six WAR, depending on your preferred version of the metric. The middle infield probably won't be a high priority, though one name to keep an eye on could be Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz. The Twins were said to have interest (despite a high price tag), and he should be able to sign in February.

Trevor Plouffe earned a nod as the team's third baseman when he mashed 24 homers in just 465 PAs in 2012, but the former first-rounder's power regressed in 2013, and he's a poor defender at the hot corner. The Twins figure to bring in some form of competition to push Plouffe at third base, perhaps just a minor league free agent or two. Casey McGehee, who hopes to return to the Majors after a big season in Japan, could merit consideration given the team's problems at corner infield.

In the outfield, Josh Willingham will man left field. One would think that top prospect Oswaldo Arcia's .251/.304/.430 batting line and 14 homers in a half-season of big league PAs as a 22-year-old have earned him a look as 2014's right fielder. Fellow top prospect Aaron Hicks flopped in his initial center field tryout, but Hicks has typically developed at a slow pace throughout the minors and skipped Triple-A entirely to jump to Minneapolis on Opening Day. While his strikeout rate was sky-high, Hicks showed better power than expected and possesses one of baseball's best arms in center field, so he should have a chance again in 2014. Alex Presley, acquired in the Morneau trade, could start in center if the team wants Hicks to open his age-24 season in Triple-A.

Pitching remains the Twins' biggest problem, and perhaps no stat is more telling than the league-worst 5.26 ERA turned in by Twins' starters. No team was even close to that bad, as the Blue Jays finished 29th at 4.81. The 871 innings turned in by the Twins' starters was also the lowest total of any team. Kevin Correia pitched better than most expected in his first season with the Twins, and journeyman Samuel Deduno's surprising 4.09 ERA in 187 innings for the Twins from 2012-13 is likely enough to earn him a rotation spot as well. Beyond that, things are murky. Scott Diamond was the team's best arm in 2012, but his contact-oriented arsenal caught up to him in 2013. Mike Pelfrey posted a nice FIP, but his 5.19 ERA and inability to work deep into games should keep the Twins away, though he did express interest in returning. Andrew Albers was another independent league gem found by the Twins, but with just 3.8 K/9 in 60 innings, it's fair to wonder if he can repeat his 4.05 ERA over a full season. FIP liked him at 3.96, but xFIP (4.42) and SIERA (4.71) weren't so optimistic. Top prospect Kyle Gibson struggled tremendously in his first taste of the bigs, but the 2009 first-rounder will be two full years removed from Tommy John surgery next Spring. With a respectable Spring Training showing, he should crack the big league roster.

If Pohlad's word is true, the Twins need to prioritize adding higher-upside arms than they did last winter. Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Masahiro Tanaka are probably too expensive, but the next tier of starting pitchers could be realistic targets. Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir and Phil Hughes are all relatively young and all carry more upside than arms the Twins have targeted in past seasons. Ricky Nolasco and Scott Feldman could make sense as innings eaters with more upside than Correia as well. If they want to think outside the box, Randy Messenger could be a Colby Lewis-style addition after three very strong years in Japan (Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reported last year that the Twins had interest).

The bullpen is the team's strong point, anchored by Glen Perkins, who has emerged as one of baseball's best closers. Beyond Perkins, Jared Burton and Casey Fien are solid options in the seventh and eighth innings, though Fien seemed to wear down a bit in August, allowing 10 of his 27 runs in a seven-game span before a strong September. Brian Duensing is tough on lefties, and rookie southpaw Caleb Thielbar was a revelation (1.76 ERA in 46 innings). Anthony Swarzak led Major League relievers with 96 innings pitched, and he did so with a 2.91 ERA and 3.28 FIP. Josh Roenicke spent a whole season in the team's bullpen but has already been outrighted. He could be replaced by Michael Tonkin, who had a nice season between Double-A and Triple-A.

This could be one of the most important offseasons in Twins history, as the team is rich in prospects that could comprise the Twins' core for their next sustained run of success. Byron Buxton is the consensus top prospect in the Majors, and Miguel Sano is right there with him in the Top 5. Eddie Rosario could be in Triple-A early in 2014. Alex Meyer is among the game's best starting pitching prospects, and Gibson, who was a Top 50 prospect himself prior to 2013, can't be written off just yet. That Meyer/Gibson tandem isn't far off, and it's not too late for Trevor May to take a step forward or forgotten man Vance Worley to experience a turnaround. Further away are 2013 first-rounder Kohl Stewart and 2012 first-rounder Jose Berrios, both of whom have lofty ceilings.

However, the Twins need to bridge the gap to that wealth of minor league talent, much of which figures to work its way onto the big league roster over the next two seasons. If they're able to do so by adding veteran rotation pieces with upside that will still be effective in 2015-16, and perhaps a corner bat, the future looks bright in Minnesota.








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