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No. 26 Twins: Minnesota's future depends on owner's willingness to spend cash

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Minnesota Twins.

2012 record: 66-96
Finish: Fifth place, AL Central
2012 final payroll: $101.2 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $80 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 26th
Hashtags: #minnesotanice #strikeoutallergy #sano #SI2 #sirocco #bigpitchers #weneedtotalkaboutkevin #marxism #holyawful2012rotation #cheapbillionaires

OFFSEASON ACTION

Somewhere on their way to dominating the American League Central, the Minnesota Twins lost their identity. Gone were the strike-throwing savants and slick fielders who buttressed them, replaced by a rotation best described as committing felonious assault on the art of pitching and a defense that could not guard a 7-Eleven.

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Joe Mauer hits a single off Detroit Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez. (AP)

The opening of Target Field infused into the Twins the money their billionaire owner, Carl Pohlad, had refused to tap. Minnesota, subject of contraction less than a decade earlier, watched its payroll soar over $100 million, only to see the team it bought flatline to early 2000s levels because its rotation consisted of Scott Diamond, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Liam Hendriks, Cole De Vries, Samuel Deduno, P.J. Walters, Brian Duensing, Carl Pavano, Esmerling Vasquez and Anthony Swarzak, or, as they were known in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Uff Da.

It's no surprise, then, that general manager Terry Ryan, now permanently back running the show after Bill Smith's disastrous reign, devoted this offseason to patching together a rotation. There are no long-term fixes in here, and the longest-term, in fact, a two-year, $10 million deal for a pitcher in Kevin Correia who never in his career as a starter has mustered even a league-average adjusted ERA, was rather excessive.

Still, there is a lot to like about Ryan's other moves. Getting Mike Pelfrey, coming off Tommy John surgery, for $4 million? Little downside. Moving Ben Revere, a Punch-and-Judy hitter whose main value is in center field, for a high-upside pitcher in Trevor May and a steady rotation piece in Vance Worley? Brilliant. Fetching a pitcher who the Nationals despised giving up in the 6-foot-9 Alex Meyer for Denard Span? Necessary, in that the Twins' drafting philosophy never has targeted potential top-of-the-rotation pitchers.

Along for the ride are Rich Harden (on a minor league deal, naturally), Josh Roenicke (expected to plug one of the five bullpen holes) and nary a move for a position player, which, seeing as the Twins lost their three best fielders (the great Revere, the well-above-average Span and the improved Alexi Casilla), shows Ryan wants to take care of one problem at a time.

REALITY CHECK

For the next six years, the Twins will pay Joe Mauer an annual salary of $23 million. To a team with a payroll over $100 million, this is palatable. To one that settles around $80 million, as the Twins will this year, it is an albatross.

And so like many of their low-revenue brethren, the question for the Twins' future is fairly simple: Will they spend? Will they spend to keep up with the Tigers and their seemingly limitless budget, and will they spend to make up for the Royals' superior young talent, and will they spend to counteract the White Sox's inevitable reaction to when the Cubs return to their profligate ways?

When a team comes off a season with a 5.40 ERA from its starters and 5.9 strikeouts per nine from its whole staff – for some perspective, the next-lowest K rate was 6.8 per nine and the highest 8.7 – and when its .775 OPS-against is the game's worst (non-Coors Field division), hope comes via new faces. And while Correia and Pelfrey are improvements on the slop of 2012, Worley, Meyer and May are far more important to when the Twins may actually win.

Coming soon is a plethora of young everyday talent that emboldened Ryan to deal Span and Revere. Center fielder Aaron Hicks is wildly talented and, until last season, just as impressive at underachieving. Whether last year's .286/.384/.460 line at Double-A was a mirage or a portent of things to come will help determine who wins the job out of camp. It's either him, Joe Benson or Darin Mastroianni, who has the best big league Italian name since Valentino Pascucci whiffed so much it was as though he wanted to replicate the motherland's sirocco winds.

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Minnesota's Ben Revere congratulates Justin Morneau (33) after Morneau hit a home run. (AP)

There's also Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario and the mighty Miguel Sano, all of whom could end up in the outfield, which allowed Ryan to get value out of surplus (as opposed to surplus value, a Marxist staple). The pitching prospects aren't nearly as bountiful. There is Kyle Gibson, a former first-rounder coming off Tommy John surgery who could crack the rotation out of spring training, alongside Correia, Worley and Scott Diamond, whose inclusions are bound to show after a lucky 2012.

Beyond the underrated Glen Perkins, the bullpen could be grim, and the Twins are stocked with mediocre fielders, from Trevor Plouffe at third base to Josh Willingham and Chris Parmelee in the outfield to ... actually, they have no idea who's going to be their shortstop.

When a team goes into the toilet like the Twins did after their near-decade of dominance, things like an everyday shortstop fall by the wayside. Whether it's Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier or Jamey Carroll, what's certain is that it much like his team, he won't be very good.

SAVIOR

The Justin Morneau who won an AL MVP award resurfaced last season against right-handed pitching. He hit .290/.371/.531 and homered every 18 at-bats or so. Left-handers, on the other hand, kept Morneau to a .232/.271/.298 slash line with two home runs in about 200 at-bats. Whether it is a lingering effect from his concussions or something different, his trouble against left-handers must abate if the Twins want to win – or want to trade him in July, with Morneau set to hit free agency in July. If his efficacy vs. lefties returns – in his MVP season, his lines were practically identical: .315/.345/.559 vs. LHP, .325/.391/.559 vs. RHP – watch out. At 31, Morneau could get just one more big payday, and as long as his head cooperates, teams will line up if they see any of his former self shining through.

HAIKU

Minnesota nice
Will not prevent the Twins from
Finishing in last

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