September 15, 2011
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
Today we say farewell to the Minnesota Twins, who endured one of their worst seasons in recent memory. Major injuries to major players made Minnesota's margin for error miniscule. It's time to give the Twins two kisses goodbye.
Baseball Prospectus' Take
Signs of disaster: Nearly everything that could go wrong for the Twins did in 2011. Among American League teams, the Twins have scored more runs than only the Mariners and allowed more than all but the Orioles. They're headed for their first last-place finish since 2000 and their lowest win total since 1999. They've gotten horrible work from newcomers such as Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.226/.278/.249) and once-promising youngsters such as Danny Valencia (.247/.295/.396).
But much more disconcerting is the decline of the team's most valuable commodities. Joe Mauer's health was misevaluated at the start of the season; he spent two months on the DL due to leg woes and has hit a thin .290/.358/.372 with just three homers—an ominous showing for a player still owed $161 million over the next seven seasons. Justin Morneau has hit .227/.285/.333 with just four homers while struggling with wrist and neck injuries; he lost two months to surgery to repair a herniated disc. More troubling is the fact he's still battling post-concussion syndrome, and the Twins owe him another $28 million.
Carl Pavano regressed as feared; his strikeout rate tumbled to 4.0 per nine, and his ERA ballooned from 3.75 to 4.52. He's due another $8.5 million next year. Francisco Liriano, coming off his strongest season since Tommy John surgery, wandered back into the wilderness and posted a 4.84 ERA while walking 5.0 per nine. Instead of being a candidate for a long-term deal he's a big question mark.
Signs you can ignore: When injuries hit the Twins, Ben Revere was pressed into big league service after just 32 games at Triple-A. The 23-year-old rookie has hit just .249/.295/.283. He's shown off his speed and made some highlight-worthy defensive plays, but he could use more minor league seasoning and will need to develop more strength if he's ever going to reach his ceiling as a dynamic leadoff hitter. —Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
The Twins were trying to get more athletic and improve their range in the middle of the infield this year when they handed the shortstop job to Alexi Casilla and signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a three-year, $9 million deal to play second base. Casilla and Nishioka were both injured and inconsistent, and the team really missed the defense and offensive energy that the former double-play combination of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson brought each night.
The Twins were close to trading Denard Span to the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline for Drew Storen, one of the top young closers in the game. However, when the Twins got greedy and asked for second-base prospect Steve Lombardozzi to be part of the deal and Span hadn't yet recovered from his concussion, the deal collapsed. If Span is healthy, they should make the bold move and deal for Storen and Lombardozzi even if they have to put another prospect in the deal for the Nationals. Then they should let Revere become the full-time center fielder and use some of the money they have coming off of the books to re-sign Cuddyer because of his leadership, loyalty, and what he means in the middle of their lineup.
A trade for Storen and Lombardozzi would solve their closer dilemma and upgrade second base while reducing the payroll considerably with the impending free-agent departures of Capps and Nathan. The Twins have a long way to go, but getting younger with payroll flexibility is the better way to go than patching up a team that has so many issues beyond health. —Jim Bowden
Hopes and Fears
Worst-case scenario: 66-96
Teenage sluggers like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario provide upside but are still years away, so the future of the Twins consists of prospects that don't seem like much of an improvement over what's already on the roster, thanks to a consistent over-reliance on strike throwers when it comes to drafting pitchers and a seeming favoritism toward fundamentals over athleticism when it comes to selecting position players. That's enough to create a productive system in terms of quantity, but what the club needs now is quality, and that's not coming in 2012 or the year after. —Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .