2008 record: 88-75
Finish: Second in AL Central, one game behind the White Sox
2008 opening-day payroll: $57 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $59 million
There is a school of thought in the Twin Cities that the events of last winter have brought from the local ballclub a reaction that is, let's say, overly corrective.
Keep in mind, the Twins – without Johan Santana, Torii Hunter and, for a long enough time, Francisco Liriano – were given little chance to keep up with the favored Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, yet dragged the Chicago White Sox clear into Game 163 before the division was settled.
This, quite frequently, is an organization impressive in its ability to make do.
Not only were the organization's faces gone, but none of the key acquisitions of last offseason – Delmon Young, Adam Everett, Mike Lamb, Craig Monroe, Livan Hernandez – played a major role in the Twins' contending. Most, in fact, hindered it.
Along comes this winter, and a new set of challenges, but nothing nearly as daunting for second-year general manager Bill Smith.
Except that the Twins – Smith – have done nothing so far but re-sign shortstop Nick Punto, leading some to wonder if Smith has gone gun-shy on them.
After a Ron Gardenhire declaration (followed by something close to a backpedal) that his preferred outfield consisted of Denard Span, Carlos Gomez and Michael Cuddyer, the presumption followed that Young would be dealt for a third baseman or a pitcher or both. Didn't happen.
Gardenhire, the highly competent manager, could still use a setup man or two for Joe Nathan. That hasn't happened yet, either. And Minnesota waits.
Gardenhire has his work cut out on both sides of the ball, but the Twins are again talented in a lot of places and the division should again be forgiving.
Assuming one of them isn't drastically outplayed this spring, it appears Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris will platoon at third. Anything will be an upgrade over Lamb, who in 186 at-bats as a third baseman last season hit one home run. That said, neither Buscher nor Harris looks like a bomber, either, meaning even more long-ball reliance on Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and, perhaps, a healthy Cuddyer.
It's been suggested that Cuddyer, a former infielder, could solve the outfield logjam and the third-base conundrum by moving to third, but the club so far isn't seriously considering that. Maybe it'll get some run in spring training.
Most interesting, and most critical to 2009, is the starting rotation and all the young arms in it. Last we saw them, Twins starters had a September ERA of 4.92, the highest of any month and nearly two runs higher than it was in August. The September afflicted: Nick Blackburn (5.64, but brilliant in Game 163 against the White Sox), Kevin Slowey (5.40), Glen Perkins (7.45) and even Liriano (4.66).
They pitched a lot of innings, and a lot of important innings. It's part of the maturing process, but not always a good part of it, and not always a one-month problem.
Beyond that, the Twins should bid farewell to the Metrodome with pretty much the same team they ended last season; a healthy catcher Joe Mauer (minor kidney surgery); and a good chance to stay with the Indians, Tigers and White Sox.
In that way, they'll make do.
Next: Colorado Rockies