Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bruno Boys Fantasy Football: 2011 Week 7 "Start 'Ems"

Here is the Week 7 edition of our "Start 'Ems", featured at Bruno Boys Fantasy Football.


Minnesota Twins Offseason Checklist

To say the 2011 season was a major disappointment for the Minnesota Twins is an understatement. A myriad of issues, starting with injuries to key players all around the diamond, led to a 99-loss campaign. During the offseason there are many decisions they have to make and areas that need to be shored up. Here are some of the more important issues I feel they need to address prior to next spring.

- Determine Why Injuries Were Such An Issue This Past Season

Whether it be an issue in the medical and training staff in terms of injury prevention and recovery or an overall culture of players not being willing to play unless they are 100 percent (I'm looking at you, Joe Mauer), something has to change. I don't want to get into issues of pain tolerance, etc., but what occurred this past season will not cut it if the Twins are going to return to contention in 2012 and beyond. Answers have to be found, and it seems the organization is willing to make changes to the medical and training staff to make that possible.

- Shore Up The Infield, Offensively And Defensively

For a long time the "Twins Way" has included playing excellent defense, even when they were not a contending team in the late 1990's. That went away in 2011, as Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka was not capable playing second base or shortstop and did not look like a major-league level player offensively or defensively. Trevor Plouffe looks major league ready with a bat in his hands at times, but his defense leaves a lot to be desired as shortstop. Alexi Casilla missed the end of the season with a hamstring issue, but he should have a role in the middle infield in 2012, either as the starter at one of the spots or the primary backup at both spots. Even third baseman Danny Valencia, who was one of the regulars who spent no time on the disabled list and was the team leader in RBI, had mental lapses and drew the ire of manager Ron Gardenhire on multiple occassions. Even first baseman Justin Morneau has to be considered a question mark, as a myriad of injuries (most notably related to his concussion in July 2010) have plagued him in recent years. Help may need to come from outside the organization, via free agency or trade.  I would expect a fair amount of competition for roster spots and starting jobs in spring training.

- Make decisions on pending free agents

The Twins have some notable potential free agents this winter, including jack of all trades Michael Cuddyer, outfielder/DH Jason Kubel, relief pitcher Matt Capps and relief pitcher Joe Nathan. Nathan has a contract option worth $12.5 million for 2012, but it would be assumed the team would like to bring him back at a lower salary if they want to bring him back at all. In my opinion Kubel is the most likely to leave via free agency, as he can likely get a fairly lucrative multi-year deal elsewhere and the Twins may find his asking price too high. Cuddyer was probably the team's MVP in 2011, as his ability to play multiple positions enhanced his value and also stands to enhance his value on the free agent market. Capps had a dismal 2011, with a 4.25 ERA and nine blown saves, so he should be elsewhere for 2012. How many, and which if any, of these four notable free agents the Twins retain stands to shape much of their offseason plan.

- Find Pitching, Both Starters and Relievers

The Twins had the worst bullpen ERA in all of baseball in 2011, as they failed to piece together a relief corp after losing four notable pieces from the 2010 bullpen during the offseason. The starting rotation was not a lot better, as injuries hit Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn at various points and only Carl Pavano made over 30 starts or topped 170 innings. The "pitch to contact" philisophy espoused by the organization does not seem to suit Liriano, who can be great at his best and mentally fragile at his worst, but the time to trade him while his value was highest may already be passed.
Settling on a closer will be key, and Glen Perkins was one of the bright spots of the season with a 2.48 ERA in 65 appearances out of the bullpen. Perkins may be a candidate for the ninth inning, or perhaps the aforementioned Joe Nathan if he returns. Moving Brian Duensing back to the bullpen from the starting rotation should help things late in games, as he is excellent against left-handed hitters.
Finding five consistent starters is perhaps the biggest key, and determining what to do with Kevin Slowey (as to include trading him this winter) may help clarify things. Whether it comes from inside or outside the organization, the Twins need to address their lack of pitching depth this winter and be willing to make a fair financial commitment to doing so if need be.

- Find Another Catcher

Joe Mauer played just 82 games in 2011, as he missed time due to multiple injuries ranging from vague and bizarre (bilateral leg weakness?) in April to pneumonia that ended his season early. He did see some time at first base with Morneau out, otherwise it's fair to say he may have missed even more games than he did. It has become clear that catching regularly is too hard on Mauer physically, for better or worse, so finding an upgrade over Drew Butera as his primary backup has to be a priority. The challenge may be finding another position for Mauer on a regular basis in order to keep him healthy, since his value would not be as great as it would be if he caught 130 games in a season.

All in all, the two key players in any potential Twins turnaround next season are Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. If both guys can remain healthy and return to MVP form, or somewhere close, everything else becomes a little easier.

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I am a sportswriter based in Minnesota, and I contribute currently to a few sports related websites. I intend to use this blog to create visibility for my work.