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2008 Minnesota Twins
The End of an Era 2008 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey,
March 30, 2008

In 2008, the Minnesota Twins will begin a new era, one in which the team will be without two of the more popular and successful players in recent franchise history. In the continuing tale of everything that is wrong with baseball, the Twins bid adieu to Johan Santana and Torii Hunter not because they were past their prime, nor because they were unpopular with the fans, nor because they were problematic in the clubhouse. Santana and Hunter weren't particularly greedy, they weren't stuck on a perpetually losing team, and they didn't return to their respective homes to fulfill lifelong dreams of playing for the teams they grew up rooting for. Torii Hunter, a gold glove defensive centerfielder, and Johan Santana, the most dominant pitcher in baseball, will no longer be Minnesota Twins in 2008 for the simple reason that they are among the best players in the league, and in Major League Baseball in 2008, only five or six teams can afford to pay the best players in the league.

2007 Standings - AL Central W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Pyth W Pyth L
Cleveland Indians 96 66 0.593 - 52-29 44-37 811 704 91 71
Detroit Tigers 88 74 0.543 8 45-36 43-38 887 797 89 73
Minnesota Twins 79 83 0.488 17 41-40 38-43 718 725 80 82
Chicago White Sox 72 90 0.444 24 38-43 34-47 693 839 67 95
Kansas City Royals 69 93 0.426 27 35-46 34-47 706 778 74 88

Many excuses will be made to justify the latest examples of the competitive disparity in baseball, the most laughable of which will be that baseball, like our nation's economy, is a free market, and the market has winners and losers. To the extent that this argument isn't immediately dismissable on its face, we'll leave discussing it for another day. Some people will point out that the Twins have been successful for the last few years, like the Oakland A's, by being smart and developing talent, and there is no reason they can't continue to succeed if they continue to develop talent. Others will point out that small market teams regularly make bad deals, and if they didn't tie up their meager payrolls in bad salaries, they could afford to resign their stars.

Those arguments are fine and all. I disagree with them, but my disagreement should not dissuade anyone from their opinion. However, consider the following: the New York Mets just acquired one of the best players in baseball to one of the biggest contracts in baseball, because the Minnesota Twins knew they wouldn't be able to pay what the Mets could pay when he became a free agent. In a few years, when the Mets are still paying off Johan Santana's salary - not to mention that of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado, to name a couple - do you think the Mets will have any trouble at all continuing to pay these salaries and then paying top dollar to David Wright and Jose Reyes, their two young up and coming superstars, when they become free agents?

The answer is no. The answer is no because, while the Minnesota Twins - like the Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, Oakland A's, and Florida Marlins - can't afford to resign their own star players, the New York Mets - like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs - can afford to re-sign all of their own great players, as well as all of the great players on all the other teams as well.

And that is what's wrong with baseball.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Delmon Young OF
Carlos Gomez OF
Livan Hernandez SP
Brendan Harris SP
Departed Pos.
Johan Santana SP
Torii Hunter CF
Carlos Silva SP
Matt Garza SP
Jason Bartlett SS

2007 Starter    Joe Mauer
Projected 2008 Starter   Joe Mauer

Clearly one of the class talents in baseball, Mauer struggled with injuries in 2007. As great as it is to have a great offensive catcher, Mauer's talent transcends his position, it might be nice to have his bat everyday and not wear him out behind the plate.

First Base
2007 Starter   Justin Morneau
Projected 2008 Starter   Justin Morneau

Surprise Candidate
Scott Baker
Baker had an FIP of 3.94 last year
Disappointment Candidate
Kevin Slowey
Slowey had an FIP of 5.59
The bad news is that Morneau is beginning to show all the signs of being one of these "every other year guys." The good news is that Morneau is due for an "on" year in 2008. When he is on, the 2006 AL MVP is a great talent. When he's off, he's merely pretty good.

Second Base
2007 Starter Luis Castillo, Alexi Casilla
Projected 2008 Starter Brendan Harris

The Twins completed a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays by which they acquired Brendan Harris and Delmon Young while giving up Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. A crazy trade, to be sure, because the Twins gave up "win the right way" players in exchange for "they hit so well, I don't understand why our team sucks" players. Harris is one of those guys; he hits well for a middle infield, but his defense doesn't make his meager offensive contributions worth it.

Third Base
2007 Starter   Nick Punto
Projected 2008 Starter   Mike Lamb

Joe Mauer
I haven't researched it extensively, but I would bet that very few players make it through 150 or more games in a season without getting to 100 hits, but Nick Punto managed to do just that last season. Thus, Mike Lamb will be a significant upgrade. Lamb is an underrated player, and it will be interesting to see what he can do in what might be the first full season of his nine year career.

2007 Starter   Jason Bartlett
Projected 2008 Starter   Adam Everett

It is sigh of relief time for the Twins fans. After trading defensive whiz Jason Bartlett, the Twins ended up with one of the few defensive players who is better than Bartlett, Adam Everett. If Everett hit .150, it would be worth it just to have his glove on the field every night.

2007 Starters   Jason Kubel, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Tyner
Projected 2008 Starters   Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, Michael Cuddyer

First of all, let's get this out of the way - Delmon Young has been a terrible prospect for years, living off of the fact that he was a number one overall pick out of high school and had a rock solid year at Single-A as an 18 year old. He strikes out way too much, never ever takes a walk, and hits into plenty of double plays. He appears to be a good pure hitter - he usually hits over .300 - but that a locked-in major league prospect does not make. He has power, and he has speed, but so did Corey Patterson.
Most Valuable Player Candidate
Joe Mauer
A healthy Mauer could be ready to put up ridiculous offensive numbers to go with his already world-class defense
Comeback Candidate
Francisco Liriano
Tommy John surgery is now routine, and Liriano could soon replicate Santana's production

Carlos Gomez is the "get" of the Santana trade; I think the Mets hosed the Twins here. Gomez has all of Young's bad qualities without the benefit of being a power hitter or hitting for a high average, though scouts love to point out that "he has the frame to become a power hitter." He stole 64 bases in 120 games as a 19 year old in Single-A for the Mets, which captured the hearts and minds of baseball fans despite the fact that he got on base at a .331 clip, struck out almost three times as much as he walked, and got caught stealing 24 times.

If Michael Cuddyer got traded to the Colorado Rockies tomorrow, he'd be Brad Hawpe.

Designated Hitter
2007 Starter Joe Kubel, Jeff Cirillo
Projected 2008 Starter Joe Kubel, Craig Monroe

Twins Fun Fact
The 2008 Twins will feature Nick Punto, Adam Everett, and Craig Monroe, three of the most worthless offensive players in baseball.
There is an overt irony to calling Craig Monroe a designated hitter; Monroe is to hitting as Manny Ramirez is to fielding. I mean, yeah, sure Manny stands out in left field, and wears a glove, and every now and then he catches a ball and throws it back to the infield. But do you really want Manny Ramirez to be defined by his fielding?

Joe Kubel was amazing in the minors in 2004. The Twins seem to think he'll be able to do something like what he did in the minors at the major league level. It is becoming less and less likely.

2007 Crew Mike Redmond, Jason Tyner, Lew Ford, Rondell White
Projected 2008 Bench Nick Punto, Craig Monroe, Mike Redmond, Lew Ford, Matt Tolbert

This is not a deep team, as demonstrated from their lack of bench depth.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, Sidney Ponson
Projected 2008 Starters Livan Hernandez, Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano

Boof Bonser

As much as has been made by the Santana deal, we all essentially knew it was coming, and thus it isn't as interesting, at least from the Twins perspective, as the decision to send Matt Garza to the Rays. Garza had 83 solid innings with the Twins in 2007, after putting up amazing stats (154/32 K/BB, 2.00 ERA, 0.88 WHIP in 135 innings) in the minors in 2006.

After watching Santana and Garza head out the door, at least Twins fans can take solace in the fact that the Twins didn't spend any money, much less the absurd amount the Mariners spent, to try to retain Carlos Silva.

So, with three of last year's starters gone, the 2008 Twins will feature Livan Hernandez, who at the very least pitches 200 innings every season, and four homegrowns who major in strikeout-to-walk ratio. In the minors, Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey have all been amazing strikeout pitchers and have all shown a penchant for not walking a lot (or in Slowey's case, hardly any) batters. The good news for the Twins rotation is that the farm system is producing nice young talented starters; the bad news is that the 2008 Twins rotation may look like a Triple-A squad.

Nevertheless, these guys are something to get excited about. Then, in May, Francisco Liriano may be ready to make his comeback, and then it could get real interesting.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, Dennys Reyes, Glen Perkins
Projected 2008 Relievers Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, Dennys Reyes, Brian Bass, Jesse Crain

Santana and Hunter are both gone, but Joe Nathan - one of the best players in baseball no one knows about - has been locked up for the next few years, so this is good news, because the Twins bullpen is one of the best in the American League, and could keep the Twins competitive if their young starters can give four to six solid innings each game.

Remember a few years ago when the Astros had Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel, and Brad Lidge, and the impression you got from that team was that it is nice to have middle relievers who are good enough to be closers? That is what the Twins have in Pat Neshek. It is nice to have one of the best closers in the game, and a middle reliever who would be pretty solid as a closer as well.

Outlook for the Season

If I wanted to be daring, I would predict that the Detroit Tigers are built to score lots of runs, but the Minnesota Twins are built to win. Certainly, as I stated in my Tigers preview, the Tigers have added major star power without really addressing their pitching needs, while the Twins, despite losing Santana, have retained a talented young rotation and a fantastic bullpen. So, an argument could be made that the Tigers look primed to bleed almost as many runs as they will score in 2008, while the Twins look set to score an average amount of runs, but this will far outpace the number of runs their pitchers will give up, and at the end of the season the Twins will once again embarass the Tigers by finishing atop the AL Central.

Indeed, in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, the Twins have two of today's exciting young hitters, and in Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young they allegedly have two of tomorrow's exciting young hitters as well. So, theoretically, things could come together very well for this team in 2008.

While an argument could be made, I just don't see it happening. Maybe I'll be proven wrong, or maybe I've hit the nail on the head. But the pitching remains, in my opinion, a year away, and Young and Gomez do not look like future major league stars to me.

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