Twins’ team construction is ongoing

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues at No. 14 with the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins are eager to see Francisco Liriano's progress as he fights for a a spot in the rotation.
(Bill Baptist/Getty Images Sport)

2009 record: 87-76
2009 finish: First place, American League Central
2009 final payroll: $72.8 million
Estimated 2010 opening-day payroll: $93 million


The Twins picked up the whole organization, box by box, and moved it to 1 Twins Way. Target Field opens in April, first for a couple of exhibitions against the Cardinals and then for the regular season April 12 against the Red Sox.

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen says the new place – no more right-field “baggy,” no more synthetic turf, no more disappearing baseballs, no more brain-rattling cacophony – could turn the Twins from piranhas to sardines. The Pohlads can only hope the ballclub draws that well.

Central Division winners in Game 163 last season, the Twins added shortstop J.J. Hardy(notes) (in the Carlos Gomez(notes) trade with the Brewers) and Jim Thome(notes), giving offensive life to their middle infield (Orlando Cabrera(notes) wasn’t re-signed) and bench. It did not, however, address a pitching staff that ranked 11th in ERA, 12th in starters’ ERA and 11th in starters’ innings in the American League. They did sign right-handed reliever Clay Condrey(notes).

With a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report, the Twins were still hoping to sign a veteran starter along the lines of Jarrod Washburn(notes) – but those options are beginning to dry up.

The winter has perhaps been more significant for what the Twins haven’t been able to do: sign catcher Joe Mauer(notes) to a contract extension. Estimates put that contract in the eight-year, $200 million range – a massive commitment for a smaller market, even one with a new address.


General manager Bill Smith bought low on Hardy, who was being pushed off shortstop in Milwaukee by Alcides Escobar(notes) and was so lost he was sent back to Triple-A for a few weeks in August. He ended the season batting .229 (.169 against lefties) and probably needed a fresh start somewhere.

Smith also sold low on Gomez, 3½ years younger than Hardy and the centerpiece of the Johan Santana(notes) trade two years ago. While Gomez can run, he can’t hide his bat. In 1,102 big-league plate appearances, his on-base percentage is .292 – and nearly half of those plate appearances have come from the leadoff spot.

In spite of two decent months from Cabrera at shortstop, the Twins ranked near the bottom of the league in production from their middle infielders. So they took a shot at Hardy, who hit 50 home runs over the 2007-08 seasons and was an All-Star in ’07. And they might still have room – and money – for second baseman Orlando Hudson(notes).

While at first glance the White Sox and Tigers have the better starting rotations in the Central, Francisco Liriano(notes) will be pivotal. Reports out of the Dominican Republic say Liriano has regained his velocity and the late bite on his slider. The Twins are eager to see for themselves. In the meantime, he’s behind Nick Blackburn(notes), Scott Baker(notes), Kevin Slowey(notes) and Carl Pavano(notes), and battling Brian Duensing(notes) and Glen Perkins(notes) for the fifth place in the rotation.

Next: Los Angeles Dodgers

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jan 28, 2010