Sunday, March 30, 2014

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2014 Team Breakdown

LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM:     78-84 (Third in AL West)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order:

LF        Khris Calhoun
CF        Mike Trout
1B       Albert Pujols
RF        Josh Hamilton
3B       David Freese
DH       Raul Ibanez
2B       Howie Kendrick
C          Chris Ianetta
SS        Eric Aybar

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Jered Weaver
SP        C.J. Wilson
SP        Garret Richards
SP        Hector Santiago
SP        Tyler Skaggs
RP       Ernesto Frieri
RP       Kevin Jepsen
RP       Joe Smith

The Angels continued to underperform and disappoint both fans and ownership.  Owner Arte Moreno didn’t want to spend Yankee money for years.  But 2 years ago he relented and added C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols on huge deals.  He then added Josh Hamilton last year.  And it still didn’t yield the results people expected.  Now, with the A’s winning the West back to back years and the Rangers still considered by many to be the best team in the division (for the 2nd straight year, despite Oakland consistently winning the division) the expectations in Anaheim have died down a bit.  And that can only help, as the team certainly wasn’t living up to those expectations in their first two attempts.  They still have a wealth of talent on this team, and on paper could theoretically be a favorite.  But they have to change what they’ve been doing and change hasn’t ben present in Anaheim very much in Mike Scioscia’s 13 years as the manager.

The offense continues to look stout, with the best player in baseball Mike Trout, stepping in as the leader of this offense.  Fresh off his new 6 year $144 million dollar contract, they are really counting on him this season. Last year’s numbers weren’t quite as good as his magical rookie year but still fantastic.  MVP worthy.  He hit 323 with 27 HR, 97 RBI, 33 SB and a league leading 109 R.  Other positive indicators included a dropping K rate and an OBP that swelled 33 points to an exceptional 432.  And his OPS went up 25 points as well to 988.  He’s the best player in the game for my money.  You are a little concerned that he stole fewer bases and got caught more, but he’s still a premier running threat who stole over 30.  He’s exceptional and I expect another MVP year from him.  Let’s see if they finally give him one as he’s earned it in both of the last 2 years in my opinion.  The big change is that Scioscia is moving him into the 2 hole, and letting Kole Calhoun leadoff.  Calhoun hit 282 in 58 games last year with 8 HR, so they’ll see what he can do in a full season.  I don’t know why they’d let him give it a go atop the lineup, but that’s the plan.  With all that thunder behind him I don’t get why you’d let a rookie leadoff with the chance of not doing a good job setting the table.  I think Trout should leadoff, but I’m not making the lineup.  Those are the guys who will set the table for the biggest disappointment on this team, first baseman Albert Pujols.  Injuries took their toll on this hitter who continues to limp into the back half of his baseball life.  In the first 9 seasons of his career he hit below 320 once.  He’s not hit higher than 312 in the last 4 years.  It’s been 3 years since he hit 300, with a 299 his last season in St. Louis followed by 285 in 2012 and a career low 258 last year.  That came with career lows in HR (17) and RBI (64) albeit in only 99 games.  If the Angels are going to be better, the biggest step forward they can take would be for Albert to return to the Hall of Fame numbers that he put up.  And while he doesn’t have to hit 350 again with 40 HR and 120 RBI, he does have to approach 300 with 25+ HR and 100 RBI.  If he can do that, his supporting cast will help him.  But he’s got to be a much better hitter, especially seeing as how he dominates their payroll.  And speaking of disappointments, Josh Hamilton was not at all what the Angels expected in his first year in Anaheim.  He hit 250 with 21 HR and 79 RBI.  He’s in the second year of his 5 years $125 million dollar deal and the Angels expect a lot more of him.  The numbers aren’t bad, but not nearly good enough based on what he’s done in the past, his spot in the order and the amount of money he’s being paid.  If he can up that HR total closer to 30 or maybe up that average closer to his career 295 mark, really do one thing or the other he can begin to help the Angels a lot more.  They need his bat, specifically his power to drive in runs and protect Pujols, who they also need to step up.  Not many teams have as many questions in the 3,4 spots of their order like the Angels.  However few have the potential either.  It’s unlikely both will struggle this year as much as they did last year.  But if both can find their former MVP winning selves, then this offense could be amongst the best in the business.  The Angels added 2 new bats to their order and I listed them as the 5 and 6 hitters.  They got new third baseman David Freese from the Cards in a trade that sent the oft-injured Peter Bourjous to St. Louis.  Freese is the first legitimate third baseman this team has had since Chone Figgins left for Seattle.  I listed him as the number 5 hitter for now but he’ll need to improve on last year’s numbers of 262 with 9 HR.  Despite being a somewhat famous name in this business, Freese is still somewhat of an unknown quantity.  He’s never played a full season in the league, but his closest was 2012 when he hit 293 with 20 HR.  Last year was definitely a down season in 138 games.  But his career mark is 286, so if he can approach that, or perhaps 270 with 15 HR, then he’ll be a strong addition.  He still has quite a ceiling.  The other new bat was DH Raul Ibanez, who this team gave a 1 year $2.75 million dollar deal to.  He hit 242 with 29 HR last year in the cavernous Safeco Field in Seattle.  At this point in his career he’s just paid to hit HR, and he can do it well.  The 29 was a surprise as he hit only 19 in the little league dimensions of the new Yankee Stadium in 2012.  So I don’t know what to expect from him, but 20 HR doesn’t seem unlikely and that’s all they want him for.  Howie Kendrick will be the number 7 man.  He hit 297 last year with 13 HR, 54 RBI and 55 R.  He’s kind of like a half a Mike Trout.  Hit half as many HR, drive in half as many and score half as many R.  And that still makes him one of the better, and under appreciated, players at his position.  He’ll never steal 20 bags or hit 20 HR, but he’s a consistent hitter with a career 292 mark and averages around 12 HR and 12 SB a season.  The key for him is health, as he only played in 122 games in 2013.  A healthy Kendrick looks like a lock for 290 with a 12/60/65/10 line.  Personally, I think he should be the number 2 hitter with his consistency and ability to do all things well.  Trout in the leadoff hole and Kendrick hitting second is the best possible lineup I can think of for this team.  I don’t like Trout second and burying Kendrick in the seventh spot.  That makes no sense to me.  I know that the number 2 man gets more fastballs theoretically, but that only works if the leadoff man gets on base.  Perhaps if they put Trout third, Kendrick second and then either Calhoun or Aybar leadoff.  I know the theory is to put Trout’s HR power in a spot where he can drive in more runs, but if he’s your best leadoff hitter and Kenrick is your best number 2 hitter (which he is), then let them do those jobs.  Even if Trout is the best option to hit third, put him up top because others will do a decent job hitting third but nobody else can leadoff effectively.  You can’t trust a third year player with 79 career games under his belt to leadoff.  Eric Aybar may be a decent option after hitting 271 last year.  But his 301 OBP won’t play at the top of the lineup and his ceiling is limited with only 12 SB.  Let him hit 9th, get on a decent amount of times and have Trout drive him in.  The eighth spot will go to either Hank Conger or Chris Ianetta.  I thought Ianetta would win the starting job with his better power ceiling, which is why I listed him as the starter.  This lineup has tons of potential.  But even if they don’t get the bounce back seasons they need from Hamilton, Pujols and Freese, a slight improvement overall makes this offense one of the better ones in the game and at worst they are average.

Defensively this team looks to be in good shape.  Trout is a Gold Glove caliber player in center with Hamilton, a center fielder, locking down one corner and young Kole Calhoun capable in the other corner.  I like Hamilton and his arm in right field, but Scioscia does odd things like bat Trout second so who knows which guy ends up in which corner.  Pujols is a great defensive first baseman and Kendrick is above average at second.  Aybar is a slick fielder at short and David Fresse has always been solid at third.  Ianetta and Conger are good behind the plate, though neither is overly great.  The outfield is excellent, and the infield is above average.  They are in good shape on that side of the ball.

The pitching is another curious matter for this club.  C.J. Wilson was their ace last year, which was nice but he’s paid to be the number 2 man on this team.  He went 17-7 with a 3.39 ERA and team leading 188 Ks in 212 IP.  His BAA was fairly average and his WHIP was way too high, as a result of his walks.  But outside of that, he was very good.  He kept guys from scoring, threw a ton of innings and logged plenty of wins.  C.J. Wilson should be solid again this year with about 15 Wins and another 200 IP effort if healthy.  The bigger question is their actual ace, Jered Weaver.  Injury limited him to 24 starts where he went 11-8 with a 3.27 ERA.  Those numbers don’t look bad.  But a deeper look shows us he wasn’t the pitcher last year that he has been in the past.  The previous 2 seasons he had sub 3 ERAs and the season before those two his ERA was 3.01.  So the 3.27 was his highest since 2009.  His WHIP climbed 12 points and his BAA went up 13.  His Ks have dropped 4 straight seasons, though last year he was limited in innings as well.  I don’t know that he’s going to strike out 200 guys anymore.  I don’t know that he breaks 180 ever again.  But the question is will the other aspects of his dominance return.  A fully healthy Weaver can be an ace with a sub 3 ERA, but injuries at the end of last year have people worried that Weaver may be somewhat diminished from his glorious past.  After Weaver and Wilson, the pitching staff looks vastly different.  Last year they used Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton as their 3-5 starters.  All three are gone now.  The new number 3 man will probably be Garrett Richards who continues to work on his stuff and tries to live up to expectations.  He played in 47 games last year with 17 starts.  He’s getting experience and improving, but he’s not quite where people expect him to be with is stuff.  He went 7-8, which is hard to judge with all those relief appearances.  But his 4.16 ERA isn’t where they want it to be and his WHIP and BAA are well above the league average.  They will let him try to work it out as a starter from the get-go and see if his skill has caught up to his stuff.  Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs will take the last 2 spots.  Santiago, like Richards, is a hybrid starter/reliever who went 4-9 last year in 34 games, 23 of which were starts.  His peripherals were better than his record with a 3.56 ERA and 137 Ks in 149 IP.  But he’s got to keep guys off base.  The 243 BAA was fairly average and the 1.40 was not at all good.  That means he’s got to cut down on walks and perhaps try to pitch to contact.  His strikeout stuff isn’t elite, and many pitchers find their other numbers improve when they don’t look for the strikeout.  Maybe that will help, I’m not sure.  They added Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in a 3-way trade that sent Mark Trumbo out of town.  Skaggs will be the 5 man with Mark Mulder getting hurt and missing the year shy of his comeback bid and the dismissal of Joe Blanton.  He went 2-3 in 7 starts last year with the Diamondbacks.  His 1.37 WHIP and 252 BAA were above average in a bad way.  He did have 36 Ks in 38 IP and his BAA was pretty close to the league average.  They hope he will grow into his stuff and be a strong starter for them this year and down the road.  The other are of concern is the bullpen.  Ernesto Frieri has great stuff and will close.  But his 3.80 ERA was way too high for a closer and his 1.24 WHIP was pretty average.  He needs to cut down on the walks a bit, but has great strikeout stuff with 98 Ks in 68 IP.  37 Saves isn’t bad, so he’ll close from the get-go this time and the Angels hope he settles in a bit.  Fernando Salas will have a chance to set up, after garnering 24 Saves in 2011.  But he’s not been nearly as good since then.  Joe Smith may be the safer bet with a 2.29 ERA in 70 games for the Indians last year.  Smith and Frieri look good, Salas has a strong past but isn’t a sure bet, and the rest of the names are a collection of young, unproven arms like most MLB bullpens.  If the Angels struggle again this year, the pitching will likely be the culprit. 


The Angels have a ton of talent.  Two years ago they had the most talent in the division.  This year, I’m not so sure.  But they are definitely in the top 3, possibly top 2 in terms of talent.  However Texas looks better on paper for the second straight season, and Oakland improved their team after winning the division the last two years.  It’s hard to say that the Angels are the favorite since their team looks about the same as the team that finished third the last two years.  The only difference is the pitching which got…worse.  That’s not good.  Especially since Oakland can always pitch and the Rangers have had better pitching than hitting the last few years.  And their hitters are still elite.  On paper Texas looks better than LA.  The A’s have had more success the last few years and look better this year, which makes them a better bet than the Angels.  So while I like the Angels and think they will be better this year, I don’t know that they can win this division.

And that’s bad news.  The farm isn’t exactly teeming with prospects.  They’ve added some young talent and have three young starters in Skaggs, Santiago and Richards.  But they aren’t sure things, and all have already spent time in the major leagues.  Beyond them, no one is sure what is coming up the pipe.  But we know that the A’s are young and good, the Rangers have some young talent premiering this year and in the years to come and the Astros are nothing but young guys who are getting experience and preparing to join a major league team with no major monetary commitments and a large T.V. deal coming from being in the fourth largest media market in the country.  The future for this team doesn’t look especially bright, and gets duller as you consider the future for the teams in their division.  They are built to win now, but can’t seem to do that.  Pujols will be with them for 8 more years.  Josh Hamilton for 5 more.  The current starting DH in LA is 41 and their starters at second, short, third and catcher already have put in some quality major league time.  At least they have Mike Trout, the best player in baseball for the next 6 years.  Alas, this year the team look talented, but not as talented in years past when they were expected to win it all.  I’m thinking an 83 win season and another third place finish.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Foul Pole

Tune into my show today where Lawrence Thomas and I will interview former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone and ESPN New York's Adam Rubin to get their thoughts about the the Braves and Mets this year.  You don't want to miss it.  It all starts at 4 Eastern/3 Central.  Click the link below:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Houston Astros 2014 Team Breakdown

HOUSTON ASTROS:  51-111 (Last in the AL West)

Projected Starting Lineup/Batting Order:

CF        Dexter Fowler
2B        Jose Altuve
C          Jason Castro
DH       Chris Carter
3B        Matt Dominguez
1B        Jesus Guzman
RF        L.J. Hoes
LF        Robbie Grossman
SS        Jonathan Villar

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Scott Feldman
SP        Jarred Cosart
SP        Brad Peacock
SP        Brett Olberholtzer
SP        Jerome Williams
RP       Chad Qualls
RP       Matt Albers
RP       Jessie Crain

The Astros were, quite simply, the worst team in baseball last year.  In fact, they have been the worst team in baseball for perhaps the last 5 years.  That’s not easy to do.  So congrats.  But all kidding aside, this team has been making moves, cutting salary and building up their minor league system.  They are saving money and are about to get a major T.V. deal.  That should make them even more money, especially with Houston being the fourth largest market in the United States.  So the Astros’ overall future is bright, even if this year looks to be another colossal disappointment.

The offense is flawed.  Flawed is too weak a work.  The offense is bad.  Jose Altuve is an all star at second.  Dexter Fowler can play.  Jason Castro was a surprise and Chris Carter has some power.  That’s literally all the good news for Houston’s offense.  What’s the bad news?  Everything else.  But let’s break it down intelligently.  The Astros traded for Dexter Fowler this offseason.  In 119 games last year he hit 263 with 12 HR and 19 SB.  Outside of Coors Field, expect his power numbers to drop.  And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his AVG fall a bit now that he can’t count on the cavernous Coors outfield to give him spots to drop hits in.  His speed is great, but he’s not an All Star.  I’ll start him at the top of the lineup, though Altuve may be better suited there.  But if his power drops like I suspect it to, then he will be the leadoff man.  If somehow it climbs or stays the same, they may move him to third.  Altuve is the best hitter on the team and will hit second.  He hit 285 last year with 35 SB.  His OBP isn’t great, which is why they’ll let Fowler have the first shot at leading off.  But don’t be surprised if he takes the top spot back at some point.  But that’s it for him.  No power and his R scoring opportunities are tied to his teammates, so that’s bad news.  I’m thinking another 280 season with 30+ SB.  His R total will be between 50 and 70, depending on where he hits in the lineup.  The other good news from last year was the emergence of Jason Castro.  He hit 276 with 18 HR.  That’s very good, especially for a catcher.  I’m putting him third in this lineup for now.  He may drop off a bit, but he’s got the potential to be their second best offensive piece.  DH Chris Carter does one thing well, and that’s hit HR.  He had 29 HR to go with 82 RBI last year.  But that also came with a 223 AVG.  I’m putting him cleanup, but not expecting a lot.  I have him dropping off a bit with maybe a 25 HR/75 RBI season.  Good, but not what a major league cleanup hitter who hits below 240 should do.  Matt Dominguez was solid last year.  For that, he gets to hit 5th.  He had a 241/21/77/56 line last year while playing third in Houston.  It was his first full year and right on par with what most people expected.  He hit more HR than previously thought, so that was a nice surprise.  This guy won’t be a star, but he’s a solid hitter.  And he’s the last hitter we know much about in Houston.  I have Jesus Guzman playing first and hitting 6th after Dominguez.  He had 9 HR and a 226 AVG in 126 games.  That’s not good.  L.J. Hoes hit 284 and swiped 10 bags.  But that was only in 47 games.  That’s almost all of his big league career (49 games) so who knows what he does.  Robbie Grossman hit 268 in 63 games last year while Jonathan Villar hit 243 in 58.  That’s the bottom third of the lineup.  Actually it’s 6-9.  Not great.  It’s not that they couldn’t become great, but there is so little experience we really don’t know.  Houston will be good eventually, but the bottom of this lineup will struggle next year.

All this puts extra pressure on a pitching staff that doesn’t need to be dealing with a lot of pressure to begin with.   The Astros biggest acquisition this offseason was Scott Feldman who they gave $30 million to over 3 years to be their ace.  Despite all the jokes about Feldman being overpaid, he wasn’t that bad last year.  He went 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA over 30 starts with the Cubs and Orioles.  There was one troubling trend as his ERA jumped about 80 points while with the Orioles, and that’s the same league he will be pitching in full time this season.  And the AL West is much tougher than the AL East (how crazy would that sentence sound 5 years ago?).  But his BAA was about the same, so cutting out some walks will go a long way.  He’s not a strikeout guy, but he’s a capable starter.  Perhaps a number 4 on the best teams, a number 3 on others, but a solid number one for Houston, though Sandy Koufax he ain’t.  Their number 2 man is probably Jarred Cosart who went 1-1 in 10 starts with the Astros last year.  He’s not a big strikeout guy (33 in 60 IP) but had an impressive 1.95 ERA to go with a 220 BAA.  But his 35 BBs in 60 IP were a huge issue, which led to a 1.35 WHIP.  If he can stop walking people, this guy could be good.  But with 10 games under his belt, we still don’t know yet.  It gets a little more dicey after that.  Brad Peacock went 5-6 with a 5.18 for the Astros last year.  He missed all of 2012 due to injury, so the Astros hope his 18 starts last year were just him making his way back.  Prior to that he had 3 games of experience with the Nationals, including 2 starts.  His ERA there was under 1, but he also had 6 BBs in 12 IP.  And that was in 2011.  So he’s another unknown quantity like Cosart, except that his body of work last year wasn’t as impressive.  Brett Oberholtzer is another unsure quantity in this rotation, but, like Cosart, was impressive in limited duty.  He turned in a 4-5 record with a 2.76 ERA over 10 starts.  Both his WHIP and BAA were well below the MLB average.  He’s not a strikeout guy, but he gets outs.  And the number 5 spot in the rotation will likely go to former Angel Jerome Williams.  He appeared in 37 games for the Angels last year, 25 of those games being starts.  He’s not a great starter with a 9-10 record and 4.57 ERA last year.  His WHIP and BAA were not very good, but not awful.  He’s a career 4.35 pitcher who pitched within his means last year.  The good thing about Williams is that he’s a known quantity.  He may not be the best, but he won’t kill them.  And with sentences like that, you know the Astros may be in trouble on the mound.  Their bullpen isn’t overly exciting either, though they did add Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers.  Crain will likely close, but he’s out for a few months to rehab.  So maybe they let Qualls do it.  Or Josh Fields.  Either way, there isn’t a lot to write home about when it comes to bullpen depth or talent.  The best thing I can say is that maybe Qualls, Albers or Crain really kills it back there, in which case the Astros can package them to a team with a chance of winning this year to continue to stockpile prospects.  They may hang on to Crain, but the others would be good trade bait.  Either way, the bullpen has some veteran experience, which is more than most of the team can say.


Well it’s not good this year.  The outlook for the future has promise, but is still murky.  I know people applaud the Astros for committing to the re-build and having essentially 0 salary commitments coming into this year.  But what choice did GM Jeff Luhnow have?  They are, have been and will continue to be the worst team in baseball.  They have to re-build.  So they are.  The good news is, they committed to it, which is often hard to do, and should be getting a lot of money from their local TV deal soon.  So the long-term outlook is good.  But with a lot of these prospects still wet behind the ears, this is indeed a LONG-TERM outlook.  Bad this year, probably still bad next year.  They are playing for the year after next.  And remember, they’ve been rebuilding for about 4 years already.

They will once again be the worst team in the league this year.  They will finish last in the division and win about 60 games.  That’s about 10 games better than last year.  But I still have them losing 100.  There’s always next year (really the year after) Houston!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Check out my live radio show on live from 4-6 Eastern.  Lawrence Thomas and I will break down the NL Central and interview Gregg Giannotti of WFAN Pittsburgh to get his thoughts about the Pirates.  Check it out in about 5 min!!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Minnesota Twins 2014 Team Breakdown

MINNESOTA TWINS:  66-96 (4th in the division)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order:

CF        Alex Presley
2B       Brian Dozier
1B       Joe Mauer
LF        Josh Willingham
DH       Jason Kubel
RF        Oswaldo Arcia
3B       Trevor Plouffe
C          Kurt Suzuki
SS        Pedro Florimon

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Ricky Nolasco
SP        Phil Hughes
SP        Samuel Deduno
SP        Kevin Correia
SP        Vance Worley
RP       Glenn Perkins
RP       Anthony Swarzak
RP       Brian Duensing

The Twins are still in the middle of their re-build.  They are one of the smaller market teams in the big leagues, and spend money accordingly.  However, as occasionally happens with smaller teams, they did decide to give one monster contract to one player.  And that was hometown hero Joe Mauer, who is a batting champ and former catcher.  The Twins knew they had to keep him healthy, so the last few years he’s been moonlighting at first and DH.  As of this season however, he is moving to first base full time.  Mauer is great, but he can’t do it alone.  And that’s a problem because he also can’t do all the Twins need him to do.  He makes far too much money, based on what Minnesota can spend.  And because of that contract, the re-build is going slower than expected with patchwork pieces filling in around their one star.

Nowhere is this piecemeal approach clearer than on the offensive side of things.  The lineup is anchored with Joe Mauer playing first and hitting third.  He continued to hit for a great average (324) but not the power you’d expect from a first baseman (11 HR).  However that was only in 113 games as a concussion limited his output.  Assuming he’s healthy he should be a cinch for 320 again.  But the question is will he ever develop into the power threat they need him to be.  His career high in HR is 28 in 2009.  After that year it’s 10 or less and he’s missed quite a few games.  So, in some ways the 11 HR in 113 games was a step forward.  In 2010 he hit 9 HR in 137 games and then in 2012 he hit 10 in 147.  So if he can develop power he can drive in 80+ runs while continuing to hit 320.  But likely, he’ll lose some average points if he swells to 20 HR.  They’d love a 20 HR season at 300.  But it’s more likely we’ll see 12-15 HR with a 310 AVG.  He’s not the problem, but he’s not all they need him to be either.  After Mauer, the drop off is precipitous.  I have Alex Pressley leading off after hitting 275 in 57 games last year.  The former Pirate did drop off in Target field though, falling from 283 with Pittsburgh to 264 in Minnesota.  There’s not a lot of speed or a high ceiling here, but he’s probably the best option.  If Aaron Hicks can learn to hit that’s who they’ll want leading off.  But if he only hits 192 again then he’ll stay the 4th outfielder.  I put their second best offensive player in the number 2 hole for now.  That’s second baseman Brian Dozier.  Dozier hit 244 last year but also popped 18 HR while swiping 14 bags.  The AVG isn’t great, but hitting second they hope he can see some fastballs and turn them into homers.  He may only be a power/speed guy, but that makes him one of manager Ron Gardenhire’s best weapons.  After Dozier, Mauer will hit third.  I have Josh Willingham hitting cleanup.  If any one player can help turn around their fortunes it’s the Twins left fielder.  In 2012 he hit 260 with 35 HR and 110 RBI.  Last year he hit 208 with 14 HR and 48 RBI.  At this point in his career he’s just a slugger, and that’s fine.  But they need him to be closer to his 2012 self, not 2013’s disaster.  Think, 240 with 25 HR.  It’s not great, but it would suffice.  If he struggles again, maybe Gardenhire switches him and Dozier.  Or just drops Willingham in the order, though the options to move up aren’t the most attractive right now.  Jason Kubel was re-signed to try to find the Minnesota magic that marked the beginning of his career.  2 years ago he had 30 HR.  Last year injuries derailed him.  He signed a minor league deal with incentives to make the big league club.  I don’t think he’ll be back to his old self, but I also don’t think there is enough talent in Minnesota to keep him off the big league club.  I’ll put him down for 230 with 15 HR.  And that’s the number 5 hitter.  Things only get worse from here.  Oswaldo Arcia showed some great power in 97 games last year with 14 HR and 43 RBI to go with a 251 AVG.  Ideally, that continues.  But as pitchers become more familiar with Arcia, I think he’ll digress a bit.  Maybe he stays at 250, but I don’t think we’ll see 30+ HR.  I’m putting him down for 240 and 15.  I think that would be a successful season for the Twins.  The bottom of the lineup will be made up of third baseman Trevor Plouffe (254, 14 HR), catcher Kurt Suzuki (232, 5 HR) and shortstop Pedro Florimon (221, 9 HR, 15 SB).  Plouffe is the best hitter of the trio, and could move up if Arcia, Kubel or Willingham struggle.  Then bench is limited with Chris Herman as left fielder/catcher with a 204 AVG in 56 games, Eduardo Escobar (236/3/10) who is best known for breaking up Yu Darvish’s no-hitter to start the season and Jason Bartlett, who the Twins are giving another shot at short.  Bartlett has been a disaster and didn’t even play last year, so him making the team is cloudy, much less him having any real impact.  So that’s the Twins offense.  Or, as most people refer to them, Mauer and some other dudes.  It’s not a potent offense by any means, but they can scrape together some runs here and there.  But that likely won’t be enough most games.

The biggest issue in Minnesota last year was the rotation.  And GM Terry Ryan fixed it.  They added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to the top of the rotation to augment Vance Worley, Samuel Deduno and Kevin Correia.  Worley, their opening day starter, was a mess in 10 games before being sent to the minors.  He had a 1-5 record to go with a 7.21 ERA.  He’ll have a shot to be the 5th starter, but he’ll have to improve.  Correia will be their number 4 man after going 9-13 with a 4.18 ERA in 31 starts last year.  That’s not good by any means, but at least he’s the 4th starter.   This isn’t a championship team, but to have a number 4 starter with his experience and ability to keep the team in games (for about 5 innings generally) is a real help.  Samuel Deduno had a strong season in his 18 starts.  I put him down to be their number 3 man.  He went 8-8 with a 3.83 ERA.  He won’t win a Cy Young, but a sub 4 ERA from a number 3 starter on a re-building team is almost a luxury.  And with his youth, you like his upside and potential.  So the Twins clearly have some back end depth.  They needed top of the rotation men.  But they couldn’t justify spending that much on a team that won’t be contending for anything.  So they compromised a bit, bringing in better guys with experience, but not breaking the bank.  They added Ricky Nolasco to be their de facto ace but only gave him 4 years for $49 million.  He went 13-11 between Miami and Los Angles last year with a 3.70 ERA.  He wasn’t as good with the Dodgers as Miami is a better pitching park.  But Target Field is a good place to pitch.  I’m thinking he could win 15 and turn in a 3.50 ERA.  But that’s probably his ceiling.  A more realistic expectation may be 12 Wins and a 3.75 ERA.  He may pitch well enough to win 15, but this team won’t do him any favors.  After Nolasco, Phil Hughes steps into the number 2 hole after signing a 3 year $24 million dollar deal.   He’s a bit more of a wildcard and struggled last year going 4-14 with an ERA over 5.  I don’t think he’ll completely return to his All Star form, but getting out of Yankee stadium should be every pitcher’s dream.  I suspect an ERA around 4.25 and maybe 10 Wins.  That could come with 10 losses, but I could see him get to 200 IP.  It’s not ideal for a number 2 man, but for Minnesota it’s a tremendous upgrade.  And if any of those guys struggle, perhaps Mike Pelfrey fills the void.  The starters only have to give them 6-7 good innings before the bullpen can bail them out.  Brian Duensing, Jared Burton and Casey Fien all turned in sub 4 ERAs in a fair number of innings and look like great bullpen pieces.  Anthony Swarzak pitched to a 2.91 ERA.  And Glenn Perkins had a 2.30 to go with 36 Saves, a sub 1 WHIP and a sub 200 BAA.  Those numbers are All Star worthy.  It’s rare that a re-building team has a strong bullpen, but this team does and will use it a lot to keep them in games.


The long-term outlook for this team is better than the short-term outlook.  They have the best prospect in the game in Byron Buxton who is a star centerfielder in the minors for them.  They also have a star in 3B Miguel Sano (though he’s gone for the year due to Tommy John) and 2B Eddie Rosario.  Plouffe and Dozier had good years last season, so perhaps they are trade bait.  Or maybe the youngsters can play other positions.  Who knows?  But the Twins have a ton of talent in the minors on its way.  The pitching is a little thin, but there are some solid stopgap options.  With Mauer, Dozier and Plouffe, this team has a solid infield.  Perhaps having Buxton in center with Willingham and maybe Arcia gives them a competitive outfield.  And with some veteran innings eaters starting for a talented bullpen, this team could get better soon.  Maybe approach 500.  But that is likely next year.  This year will be a struggle.  Maybe they trade Plouffe or Willingham for pitching help.  Maybe these starters sort themselves out and play well in Minnesota this year.  But everything will not go right at the same time.  They won’t rush Buxton or Sano and they won’t be a contender either with this offense.  I’m thinking a good season is 70 wins, but this team likely finishes in the 60s.  And I’m putting them down for a last place finish in the AL Central.