December 21, 2005

Nothing Doing

I try to keep Twins-related topics set aside for times like this, when not much is going on. In fact, right now I have no fewer than 10 things saved up to write about whenever the mood strikes between now and Opening Day. Stuff about Twins history, stuff about last season, stuff about future seasons. None of it is particularly time-sensitive, so I can always push them back when things like a trade for a good second baseman or the signing of a horrible third baseman occur.

Anyway, after finishing up my various writing gigs yesterday afternoon, I was considering breaking out one of those topics to write about for today. After all, the dust had settled on the Tony Batista signing, Jacque Jones had already made it clear that he was declining arbitration, and there didn't seem to be much else brewing for Terry Ryan. Instead, I began thinking about how depressing it is to be a Twins fan sometimes.

I'm not quite sure why it finally got to me yesterday, but I guess I just made peace with the fact that this offseason will be a disappointment. Ryan made a nice move for a quality second baseman in Luis Castillo, but then went bargain shopping in Japan for a hacktastic third baseman, took away much of Michael Cuddyer's value by banning him from the infield, and was ignored by free-agent targets like Nomar Garciaparra and Bill Mueller.

I'm not certain to what extent the Twins were ever seriously involved in discussions with Garciaparra or Mueller, but either way it's likely that the cost was too high and neither player was particularly interested in coming to Minnesota. Instead, Batista is manning third base, a move that wipes away whatever gains came from adding Castillo to the top of the lineup, and the best third-base option on the roster is relegated to right field or designated hitter.

And what's in store for the rest of the offseason? Well, if history tells us anything, not a whole lot. The Twins are still reportedly in talks with aging sluggers like Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas, but it's clear that whatever fantasies fans had about significant offensive upgrades taking place this offseason were never likely to happen.

The best-case scenario at this point -- barring the creation of a time machine to erase the Batista deal and send Ryan back to the 1980s so someone can give him a Bill James Abstract for Christmas -- is probably signing Piazza or Thomas to a one-year deal laden with incentives. Even in that case, it's not clear to me that the Twins' offense looks much better heading into 2006 than it did leaving 2005.

       2005                            2006
C Joe Mauer Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau Justin Morneau
2B Nick Punto/Luis Rivas Luis Castillo
SS Jason Bartlett/Juan Castro Jason Bartlett/Juan Castro
3B Michael Cuddyer Tony Batista
LF Shannon Stewart Shannon Stewart
CF Torii Hunter Torii Hunter
RF Jacque Jones Michael Cuddyer
DH Matthew LeCroy Mike Piazza/Frank Thomas

Aside from Cuddyer switching positions yet again, the only real changes are Nick Punto/Luis Rivas, Jones, and Matthew LeCroy leaving (or going to the bench), and Castillo, Batista, and Piazza/Thomas arriving. Is that an upgrade? Probably. Is it a big enough one for a team that had the worst offense in the AL? I doubt it, and that's even under the far-from-safe assumption that the Twins can land Piazza or Thomas.

To seriously compete for the division title in 2006 the Twins are likely going to have to find a way to score at least 50 more runs than they did this season. That's a big number, but it would still only take them from 688 runs (14th in the league) to 738 runs (ninth in the league). At this point, the chances of doing that look fairly slim and once again come down to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

They need Mauer to stay healthy and build on an outstanding first full season, and they need Morneau to emerge as a legitimate cleanup hitter. An optimist in search of more offense might also point to potential improvements from Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett, a bounceback from Shannon Stewart, or healthy seasons from Torii Hunter and Jason Kubel, but I've never been accused of being optimistic.

At this point I'd bet on below-average offense from shortstop, third base, left field, and right field, with first base and designated hitter looking iffy as well. The Twins will be competitive in 2006 regardless of their hitting, but it's December 21 and I officially have no expectations of them winning the American League Central. The pitching staff is great and may actually be better than it was in 2005, but the lineup is simply not good enough.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)
- Baseball Chain (by Matthew Namee)
- Daily Graphing: Chris Young (by David Appelman)

Pick of the Day (155-134, +$1,945):
New Orleans +8.5 (-110) over Minnesota

Thursday's Pick:
Dallas -6 (-110) over Sacramento

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